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.
How to Structure a Theory of Knowledge Essay
The following structure is a very good, step-by-step method you can use on any ToK essay to get very high marks.
Here are the main things to keep in mind when you're using this method:
- Your #1 priority is answering the prescribed title. If you somehow follow this method, but don't answer the question you won't score well. So make sure you keep linking back to the question as you go.
- Try to use original, interesting evidence.
(I have a full a lot of helpful advice, tutorials, evidence videos in my online ToK course, which you're welcome to join if you like. Or, if you just need some TOK Notes you can get those here.)
And I've also made a help page (similar to this) for the TOK presentation, here.
Okay here we go...
The structure on this page will give you a strong foundation for your essay and then we're going to make your essay as insightful as possible.
First, choose your PT and KQ
Before you can begin your real/final essay, you’ll want to look at the Prescribed Title (something like: “What is it about mathematics and science that makes them so convincing?” and think about it.
Get some of your initial ideas down on paper.
Second, choose 1 WOK and 2 AOKs
Now, take your prescribed title and choose two AOKs to explore it with (here are my notes: Mathematics, Human sciences, Natural Sciences, the Arts, Ethics, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Religious Knowledge Systems, or History). Or you can use WOKs: (again here are my notes: Emotion, Faith, Sense perception, Reason, Imagination, Intuition, Language, Memory). Then you can explore these aspects in your essay.
I normally recommend exploring just 2 AoK's in the main body of your essay and then include a few insights into WOKs around the edges (more on this in a bit).
The essay contains two body sections (or "developments"). Each body section will look at a certain area of knowledge or way of knowing.
To explore the question we chose above, it's pretty easy to choose our AOKs because they are actually listed in the question. We'll be using Mathematics and Natural Science.
The courtroom analogy
The TOK essay is about knowledge (how we come to know things). It helps to think of the essay as though you're showing the most interesting bits of a conversation between two smart people, about how we know things.
Or you could think about it like presenting two sides of an argument, in front of a judge. Each side needs to present evidence.
One lawyer is saying YES (i.e. reason is reliable, with examples) and the other is pointing out the weaknesses in what lawyer 1 is saying (i.e. reason is often not reliable, also with examples).
Your lawyer will make the case that you can’t be guilty of robbing the bank (her thesis), by using several arguments (claims); she’ll show that
- You weren’t there
- You’re are a moral person and
- You don’t have the technical knowledge to pull off a job like that.
However, if your lawyer was a ToK student they would also be explaining reasons why you might be guilty (the counterclaims).
- Someone said they saw you there,
- You admitted to lying to your mom about candy one time and
- You are pretty good at computers.
The lawyers would use evidence to support each of these claims and counterclaims.
Making sure your evidence actually supports your claim is one of the toughest aspects of the essay.
The step-by-step method
The method has 4 sections and 7 paragraphs overall and specific aspects need to go in each.
First, write your introduction, using 150-200 words
-Say 2 interesting things about the prescribed title. "Many people find Mathematics and Natural Science very convincing. However, many of these same people would say that they don't have a strong understanding of either of these two fields. Both of these fields rely on rigorous methodologies."
-Define one or two of the key terms in the title. Here I might define Mathematics and Natural Science. (I would also look up the term "convincing". I might not include that definition in my essay, but I would like to know whether there are any conflicting definitions. That might help me say interesting things later on in the essay--for example in the conclusion.)
-Narrow in on one aspect which is particularly interesting. "This essay with focus on the link between replicability of results, as a source of reliability."
-State your thesis. What is your short answer to the prescribed title, your thesis. (You might decide, by the end of your essay, that your initial thinking was wrong, but you should know the point your claims are going to be supporting).
-Give us a roadmap, a sentence that gives us a preview. This shows us what you’re going to do in your body paragraphs (your "developments"). Tell us AOKs you're going to use and which WOK you will be focused on most. This will make it easy for the marker to know what to look for. An example: “Mathematics can be seen as more reliable because it uses reason. Natural science can be less reliable because it relies on observation. ”
Next write your first development. 2 paragraphs totalling 600 words
-Claim. A claim a topic sentence that outlines your argument about the prescribed title. For example you could claim that, “Mathematics can be relied on because it is a purely logical system.”
-Explain. Elaborate and clarify your claim. “Mathematics is axiomatic and independent of subjective experience.“
-Example. A real life example, to clarify and support the claim from your own experience. Examples should be personal, specific, precise and real. Did something happen in your Science class? Did you have a conversation with your or hear a story from your grandfather? These are evidence from your own life rather than examples from Darwin or Lincoln. So you could talk about how, “In mathematics we learned that the inside angles of a triangle, in Euclidian space, sum up to 180 degrees.”
-Counter-claim. Argue against your claim above. “However, it is possible to come to different conclusions using different systems of mathematics.”
-Example. An example that supports your counter claim. “There are different It is not possible to demonstrate that the interior angles of a triangle equal 180 degrees in Euclidian space, this cannot be proven within other systems, such as spherical geometry or hyperbolic geometry.”
-Link to prescribed title. Quickly sum up the (complicated) insights of this section. “It is therefore clear that mathematics is reliable to an extent, but often it can only show something to be true within one fixed system or approach.”
Now, write another two body paragraphs, looking at your second AOK. Use the same approach you saw in paragraphs 2 and 3. 600 words
-Link to prescribed title.
Finally, write your 'conclusion'. Two paragraphs, totalling 200-250 words
-Your conclusion. Explain what big, general insights have come out of this--your conclusion.
Implications and significance. Also tell us why it's important that we know this. When and how does it matter that we understand this lesson?
-Perspectives and extensions. If you can, try to pull in a very different perspective, on your conclusion. Perhaps you can recognize a very different way of approaching the question, which could have resulted in quite different insights than those you included in your essay. Or you could also mention one or two unresolved questions that this essay has revealed. You could also think of this as explaining some "limitations" or a weaknesses of your essay, but it's also about showing that the conversation isn't over yet. There is more to the question than you've had the room to explore.
Obviously there is a lot more depth that we can go into about what makes a really great TOK essay, but this structure will get you started.
Here are some more ToK Essay tips you might want to consider or you can join my online program if you like www.tokmastery.com
Cite this page as:
Woods, Tim. “How to Structure a Theory of Knowledge Essay” IBMastery. IBMastery, 1 Jan 2016. Web. TODAY’S DATE <https://www.ibmastery.com/blog/how-to-structure-a-theory-of-knowledge-essay>