In Theory of Knowledge there are two assessment tasks. The essay is worth two thirds of the total marks and the presentation is worth one third of the marks. International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme students taking their exams in May 2016 will be starting to plan and write their essay on a prescribed title from around now.
This post focuses on the essay and is aimed to encourage and support students writing TOK essays. What follows is general common sense advice based on my own teaching and examining experience, but it isn’t official IB advice – this can be found in the IB TOK Subject Guide and in the IB Online Curriculum Centre (OCC) exemplar material for teachers.
1. Choose your question wisely
IB students will submit an essay under 1,600 words on one of 6 prescribed titles which will be externally examined by the IB. The 6 titles for students taking the IB in May 2016 are available now from your TOK teacher via the IB Online Curriculum Centre website. Choose a title that plays to your strengths and draws on the concepts, ideas, Areas of Knowledge and Ways of Knowing that you have covered during the course.
2. Write an argument plan and a first draft
Your essay is an extended argument and it needs to demonstrate a clear and coherent line of thinking. It’s recommended that you have a thesis statement, supported by a sequence of ideas. Plan the structure of your answer. Planning and drafting is a crucial stage. When you’ve chosen your prescribed title, write a draft and submit this to your teacher. Your teacher is allowed to offer you holistic or global comments.
Perhaps start by thinking through what the Prescribed Title is asking. What are the command terms? What are the key concepts? What arguments could you develop? What would be the counterarguments and how strong are they?
3. Read exemplar essays and know the assessment criteria
It’s important that you know what makes an excellent TOK essay. You teacher will be able to show you exemplar essays with examiner comments. The IB publish 50 excellent TOK essays. It’s a good idea to look at these resources and to try marking one these essays against the criteria before looking at the examiner comments. When you read these you might focus on various themes: the argument structure, the use of examples, the introduction or the conclusion. Then judge your own essay against the criteria.
4. Make the essay knowledge specific
The aim of your essay is to answer the question set out in the prescribed title. One pitfall of essay writing is to write an overly descriptive answer with lots of examples. All the titles focus on concepts to do with knowledge and knowing and the focus of your essay needs to be on a critical analysis of the question. Make sure that you develop links and connections between Areas of Knowledge and Ways of Knowing where appropriate.
5. Offer analysis over description
One of the features of the assessment criteria is quality of analysis. You might sharpen your quality of analysis by doing some of the following: identify assumptions behind knowledge claims or arguments, identity and evaluate arguments and counter arguments, and give serious consideration to the implications of arguments. If appropriate, make use of the knowledge framework. This is a tool for analysis for comparing two or more areas of knowledge so you can make connections in terms of 1) scope and applications, 2) key concepts, 3) methodology, 4) key historical development, and 5) links with personal knowledge.
6. Dictionary definitions and examples
You might want to define your terms in your own words, but avoid dictionary definitions. Instead take a critical approach that reflects your own voice. ‘If by instinctive judgement we mean x, it follows that y…’ Use examples to support your analytical points and evaluate examples. It’s recommended to use a range of examples that reflect your own global perspective, IB learning experience, whether from CAS, one of your 6 IB subjects, an Internal Assessment, or your Extended Essay. It’s advisable to avoid typical or clichéd examples that offer no analysis such as flat earth or Newton’s apple.
7. Sources footnotes and bibliography
Academic honesty is a requirement in all IB subjects. If an idea is someone else’s, acknowledge that with a reference. This isn’t a research essay but you need to cite sources correctly. Use footnotes and a bibliography using the conventional method that you used for your Extended Essay. http://www.neilstoolbox.com/bibliography-creator/
8. Introductions and conclusions
You might look at exemplar essays to see examples of good introductions and conclusions. In your introduction you could include an engaging example, your thesis statement and you might offer some signposting to show the direction of your essay. In the conclusion offer a summary and an evaluation of your answer. Possibly end with a forward looking view.
9. Write the final draft
Write the final draft in the light of your teachers’ global feedback. Present the final version in a conventional 12 point font such as a Times New Roman and double spaced to allow examiners to annotate your essay. You can make your essay anonymous so it only has your candidate number and school number.
10. Complete the PPF form and upload
It’s also a requirement that you complete the paperwork – there is an essay form to fill in the TK/PPF form available to your teacher on the OCC.
You are required to write a 1200-1600 word essay on a title set by the IB. The essays for 2013 graduation are here:
May 2013 TOK titles
TOK essays May 2014
Mr Langston’s Essay 5 and 6 Keynote
You may not change the title in any way. You should aim for 1600 words, as shorter essays rarely meet all the criteria.
The full essay criteria are here: Assessment Criteria ESSAY
There is also a useful summary here: Essay criteria breakdown
You are going to use this essay_template to start thinking about your essay. You will need to turn this in next week.
This summary will help you structure your essay – TOK Essay Plan Template
Please download and use one or ALL of these planning sheets to help you get started.
Planning Sheet ToK Essay copy
One way of approaching your TOK essay
Essay Planning Form
Your cover page for final submission MUST look like this:
Here is a very good exemplar essay, together with the IB’s comments and marks.
Example 1 Marks
essay 10 marks
TOK essay: for the LAST time!
Have you read and understood all the different criteria for assessment? Really?
Does your essay number between 1200 and 1600 words? (it should be far nearer 1600 than 1200!)
Have you organized your essay into an introduction, 2-3 examples, and a conclusion?
Is your introduction concise, with a discussion of what the title means, and a brief plan of how your essay will tackle the question?
Are your knowledge issues organized CLEARLY (using linking sentences) into arguments and counterclaims?
Have you referred explicitly to the different AOKs and WOKs, and provided links between them?
Have you used personal examples, specifically from your experiences as an ‘IB learner’, and avoided hypothetical ones?
Have you used well-referenced examples that you have found out about from beyond the classroom (articles, documentaries, books, the ideas of thinkers, etc.)?
Have you considered other perspectives and points of view?
Have you identified implications of your arguments and some of the counterclaims?
Is your conclusion consistent with the rest of your essay?
Yes, to all of these? If so, you’ve done great job. If not, go back and do a great job!
Other essay resources
Six steps to writing a good TOK essay: A student guide by Colleen H. Parker at SPHS
Writing a TOK essay, by Richard van de Lagemaat
How to Write a Good TOK Essay, By Peg Robinson
This in link TheoryofKnowledgeStudent.com goes through a variety of examples of how to answer some of the questions from previous years.
Mr Hoyes’ Notes on The ToK Essay
How to Write a Good ToK Paper, from Collective Thinking
Writing a TOK Essay, from ‘Findings’ Part One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.
10 Tips on Writing a Good Theory of Knowledge Essay, from the American International School of Lusaka
Guide to writing the TOK Essay, from IBCram
Tips for writing a good ToK Essay by Ric Sims @ Nothing Nerdy