What Does The TOK Subject Need From You, and How to Ace It?

Mariam Hassan
8 min read

What Does the TOK Subject Need From You, and How to Ace it?

Understanding the IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK): A Core Component of the IB Curriculum

As IB diploma students, TOK is a relatively foreign subject that many people have never heard about. Some may even think it is a new subject…but you probably already know a lot of what is covered in it. TOK is more of a new way of thinking rather than actual material. So, what is TOK? It is a core subject of the IB Diploma which heavily focuses on critical thinking. It is often mistaken for philosophy, yet they are not the same. TOK promotes analytical thinking and intellectual curiosity that helps students expand their limitations of knowledge and start thinking in a non-standard way. All of this is a good introduction to the subject which you probably already know if you are a current IB student, but the real question is, how to perform well on it? It might seem intimidating a bit at first, with countless new terminologies and concepts and everything being all over the place. However, a good way to be able to do well on this new subject is to get really familiar with what the subject wants and how it is assessed so you know exactly what to write in its assessments. A great place to start is to know its core contents.

What are TOK’s Core Contents Then?

First, you have the 5 main Areas of Knowledge (AOKs) which your entire TOK curriculum will revolve around:

  • History
  • The Human Sciences
  • The Natural Sciences
  • The Arts
  • Mathematics

Then there are the 12 TOK concepts that are crucial to embed in any type of TOK-related writing if you want to ace the subject. The second the examiner sees any of the TOK concepts mentioned in your writing, they’ll know that you know what you’re doing and not just trying your luck.

A tip to even take it a bit higher is to never just slam around those TOK concepts and put them anywhere you can in your writing. Instead, find clear links between some of your arguments and try to embed them into your writing.

Let’s say you are writing about knowledge and want to incorporate the “power” concept into your essay. Rather than writing “Power is a concept in TOK that directly affects knowledge due to … and changes how knowledge is perceived.”, write it this way instead: “The influence of power can significantly shape and at times even distort our perception to certain knowledge and our understanding of it, as it determines which perspectives are amplified and which are deprecated.”

Then support it with some real evidence and real-world examples to strengthen your argument.

Now the real deal comes to TOK’s assessments.

How is TOK Assessed and How to Ace These Assessments?

There are two assessments for the TOK, the TOK exhibition and the TOK essay.

The main focuses in both of these assessments are:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Linking between the prompts and the world and the Areas Of Knowledge
  • Having clear, relevant, and powerful arguments
  • Supporting those arguments with applicable and dominant evidence
  • Clear evaluation
  • Mentioning implications and a good conclusion summarizing the arguments

As long as you have these points as a checklist for when you are writing anything TOK-related, you can guarantee a great score.

Tips for TOK Essay

Some crucial tips for planning and writing your TOK Essay are:

  • Thoroughly analyze and look for keywords in the prompt. These keywords are what you will build your entire TOK essay upon, and they will be the root of your argument.
  • Choosing a prompt/prescribed title is also important, but since most questions are very broad and general, you can smartly manipulate them to fit your ideas and arguments.

Don’t try to choose the fanciest looking one because if you can’t execute it well, you’ll not get anywhere. Instead, choose a prompt you feel confident writing about. If you carefully analyze the keywords and what the question/prescribed title is asking from you, you can twist it to fit your argument and therefore actually write a good essay.

  • Clarity is an essential part of writing your TOK essay, if your essay is clear and has a good, smooth flow, it will be very easy to follow through your argument and pleasant for the examiner to read and understand what exceptional argument you are trying to deliver across.
  • Always have clear topic sentences for each paragraph preferably summarizing this specific paragraph’s argument to give an idea about what this paragraph will be discussing.
  • During your conclusion, try keeping it mainly for summary and further implications, this helps the examiner to collect all of your ideas together and see the extent of your critical thinking through the implications you come up with.
  • Never use ChatGPT to write anything for you because you will get caught and that won’t be nice. Instead, learn how to use it correctly. It is a great source to find sources/links for your evidence to support arguments.

Tips for TOK Exhibition

Try to think of the TOK exhibition as more of your own little show rather than a graded TOK assignment. This is about you and your own knowledge and passion. Here you can be more expressive with your ideas and you have full control over which objects to choose for your exhibition.

  • Always understand and analyze the TOK exhibition prompt to be able to have a clear focus and relevance between your 3 objects and the prompt.
  • Ensure that each object has a strong link to your prompt, and that doesn’t mean appearance-wise. Maybe you have a story or a powerful explanation that shows that strong link between the object and the prompt, which is usually more interesting for the examiners. This is TOK, let your ideas be out of the box.
  • If possible, showing multiple perspectives and interpretations through different AOKs and TOK concepts could be a great bonus as it shows how open-minded you are.
  • Maintain a logical flow between all your objects and the prompt to connect each part of your exhibition seamlessly.
  • Always try to make your presentation engaging and thought-provoking, this is your stage and your moment to show your mind-blowing thought process.
  • Seeking feedback from teachers or even peers is extremely useful as they can point out things you didn’t notice and can improve before your presentation.

Being stressed out and nervous is the most normal thing about IB and all students are going through it, but rather than procrastinating and then being burnt out from all the stress, try working on things step by step way before the deadline so you have enough time to draft, write, refine, and take feedback. At the end of the day, we all want good grades, but the only way to get them is to be organized and take our time to put out good quality work.

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