The TOK Essay:

Each student must submit for external assessment an essay on any one of the six titles prescribed by the IBO for each examination session.

The titles ask generic questions about knowledge and are cross-disciplinary in nature. They may be answered with reference to any part or parts of the TOK course, to specific disciplines, or with reference to opinions gained about knowledge both inside and outside the classroom.

The titles are not meant to be treated only in the abstract, or on the basis of external authorities. In all cases, essays should express the conclusions reached by students through a sustained consideration of knowledge issues; claims and counterclaims should be formulated and main ideas should be illustrated with varied and effective examples that show the approach consciously taken by the student. Essays should demonstrate the student’s ability to link knowledge issues to areas of knowledge and ways of knowing.

The goal is not to prove that you are right about something.It is to consider knowledge issues through claims and counterclaims.
how long: max 1600 wordsfirst draft: 10 January, 2016where: Manage Bac turnitin.comfinal draft: 29 February, 2016 where: IBIS

Assessment Criteria

1. Understanding knowledge questions

This aspect is concerned with the extent to which the essay focuses on knowledge questions relevant to the prescribed title, and with the depth and breadth of the understanding demonstrated in the essay.
Knowledge questions addressed in the essay should be shown to have a direct connection to the chosen prescribed title, or to be important in relation to it.
Depth of understanding is often indicated by drawing distinctions within WOKs and AOKs, or by connecting several facets of knowledge questions to these.
Breadth of understanding is often indicated by making comparisons between WOKs and AOKs. Since not all prescribed titles lend themselves to an extensive treatment of an equal range of AOKs or WOKs, this element in the descriptors should be applied with concern for the particularity of the title.
Relevant questions to be considered include the following.
  • Does the essay demonstrate understanding of knowledge questions that are relevant to the prescribed title?
  • Does the essay demonstrate an awareness of the connections between knowledge questions, AOKs and WOKs?
  • Does the student show an awareness of his or her own perspective as a knower in relation to other perspectives, such as those that may arise, for example, from academic and philosophical traditions, culture or position in society (gender, age, and so on)?

2. Quality of analysis of knowledge questions

  • What is the quality of the inquiry into knowledge questions?
  • Are the main points in the essay justified?
  • Are the arguments coherent and compelling?
  • Have counterclaims been considered?
  • Are the implications and underlying assumptions of the essay’s argument identified?
  • Are the arguments effectively evaluated?

What is a Knowledge Issue?

Knowledge issues are issues about knowledge.

They are:
•open-ended questions that admit more than one possible answer
•explicitly about knowledge in itself and not subject-specific claims
•couched in terms of TOK vocabulary and concepts: the areas of knowledge, the ways of knowing and the concepts in the linking questions—belief, certainty, culture, evidence, experience, explanation, interpretation, intuition, justification, truth, values
•precise in terms of the relationships between these concepts

This table from the IBO may help you grasp the progression from a real life situation to the development of a good knowledge issue.
help from the IBO:


In small groups, review the student samples provided and consider what, if any, knowledge issues are addressed.

Try to determine the clarity of the knowledge issue and the success of the analysis.

How to start:

  1. choose your title

  2. highlight the relevant terms

  3. define the terms (in your own words, not dictionary!)

  4. ID knowledge issue (s)

  5. state thesis: what are you going to show in the essay?

  6. ID AOKs , WOKs relevant (examples)

The structure:

This is a basic structure or format for your essay. It is very important to stick to a clear structure so that the paper is easy to follow, and the examiner does not have to hunt for your knowledge issues, arguments, counterclaims, etc. You won't be able to trick the examiner into thinking you are really smart with an ambiguous and confusing essay (In fact, this is likely to get you a lower score). Know what you are going to write about BEFORE you start. Brainstorm and outline first.

  • identify the knowledge issue that the question is ‘getting at’ and make it clear that this is what the essay is about
  • briefly outline your answer to the question including the 4-6 Main Points that argue for your response
  • possibly offer definitions of key terms. When you do offer a definition make it a personal one, not a dictionary one!

Main Body:this will consist of a series of 4-6 Main Points that ‘prove’ that your response to the question is the correct one; each Main Point should be in a separate paragraph; each paragraph should begin and / or end with a sentence that clearly links back to the question.

the best Main Points:
  • start by clearly explaining one reason for your position,
  • then support this with at least one piece of convincing evidence,
  • then consider an argument against this point (a counter claim),
  • support the counter claim with evidence,
  • then evaluate the counterclaim try to respond to it by either pointing out that it is not a valid objection and explaining why or (and this is more complex!) admitting that the counterclaim has a point and then modifying your initial point to find a compromise between the two;

TIPS: make sure that you have got good, interesting, unusual, innovative evidence to support your points.

  • sum up your points and offering a clear overall response to the question.
  • why is it important?
  • identify any assumptions underpinning your argument; and the possible implications of your argument.



In small groups, review the student samples provided and consider the strengths and weaknesses of the introductions.