Formulating An IB TOK (Theory of Knowledge) Essay
Yup. You read that right. This article is going to give you some guidelines on how to structure your IB TOK essay. Remember though, they’re just suggestions and tips. Most of the dirty work will be done by you after all. I can only give tips.
“How do you know that you’re not a brain in a jar in a simulated world? How can you prove you’re not a brain in a jar?”
– my former TOK Teacher
IB TOK is a very watered down, sort of introductory philosophy class. Its main goal is to get your noggins churning. To think critically about a wide variety of issues. While that may sound fun, the essay writing and presenting isn’t.
This article will focus on filling the gaps. You can even apply the tips in this article to your presentation.
The General IB TOK Essay Outline
An outline is what we’ll be describing here. After all, you don’t see construction companies building skyscrapers without a blueprint. This is basically what I’m about to highlight.
So in your IB TOK essay you’ll have to choose one main knowledge question out of a set of 8 if my memory serves me correctly. After you’ve selected a knowledge question, you’ll move on to the planning stage
Before I go on, this is only ONE way you can go about doing your TOK essay. I am not guaranteeing that this is the only way to do it but it IS one way to do it.
You’ve got a knowledge question (KQ). Now what? Well there are a few things you need to remember before we get to the next part. I’ll list them for you here:
- You need to remember to define all relevant terminology in your essay (ways or knowing, areas of knowledge etc.)
- Provide arguments and counter arguments
- Use relevant sources or at least be able to relate them to your argument
So. That’s a small laundry list to remember. Remember that you need to remember. What do I mean by this?
I mean you should remember that list above that I described.
Trust me. When you’re writing an essay like the TOK essay, it’s easy to get lost in your own passionate, arguments.
Using Areas of Knowledge and Ways of Knowing As A Basis For Your Argument(?!)
Areas of Knowledge and Ways of Knowing are what bricks are to a construction company; they help you construct your ‘building’ (which in this case is your argument).
Let’s have a quick refresher on what the AOK’s and WOK’s are shall we?
Areas of Knowledge
- The Arts
- The Natural Sciences
- Indigenous Knowledge Systems
- Religious Knowledge Systems
- The Human Sciences
Ways of Knowing
- Sense Perception
How many of these should you use? Good question. The maximum word count for a TOK essay is 1600 words (at least it was when I did IB. I’m basically an old man now so it might have changed).
It’s up to you how many you think are relevant to the development of your essay. What I personally did in my TOK essay was that I included two WOK’s for every one AOK I included.
I’ll explain why in the next point but I ended up with an A in TOK so it worked for me. I’m not saying you’ll get an A by following this format though!
All I’m implying is that this format is perfectly alright. In this next point, I’ll talk about the number of arguments you can use and how to add AOK’s and WOK’s to them.
Arguments/Counter-Arguments and Knowledge Issues
This point should quaintly sum up what I’ve discussed so far.
We know we need AOK’s and WOK’s in our argument and we know we need to define as well as cite relevant sources (at least you should know this if you’ve been following so far).
The arguments/counter-arguments are what separate a ‘meh’ TOK essay from a fantastic one. This is where you let your brain power shine.
For every argument, you need a counter argument. For the format I’m talking about, an basic TOK argument might contain the following:
- An AOK and two WOK’s
- A Knowledge Issue (KI)
- An argument for your KI (using one WOK)
- A counter argument for your KI (using the other WOK)
What’s a KI? I’ll demonstrate by example. Let’s imagine your main, overall KQ is the following:
“Without application in the world, the value of knowledge is greatly diminished.” Consider this claim with respect to two areas of knowledge.”
That was actually the KQ I responded to in my TOK essay. Let’s say you decide to choose ‘The Arts’ as your AOK (which is what I did and will cite from). You might choose a KI like so:
“To what extent can we know whether reason or emotion is more suitable in justifying knowledge in the Arts?”
That’s a KI I came up with. In this case, I’ve made it clear what my AOK and WOK’s are. Now I can make an argument with either ‘reason’ or ’emotion’ and then counter argue with the other WOK.
For example, if you chose to argue with ‘reason’ then you would counter argue with ’emotion’.
Bam. You’ve just written two chunky paragraphs.
Now in my essay, I chose two AOK’s to compare. I chose a classic “The Arts” vs “The Natural Sciences” comparison. I first developed a argument/counter-argument with ‘The Arts’ and then moved on to ‘The Natural Sciences’.
This is a basic format you can follow for TOK.
If you’ve got an idea for a format yourself, then that’s fine. This outline is to help those that need some inspiration.
Back to IB Starter Pack Guide