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>
What is a Tok Essay
TOK stands for Theory of Knowledge. The TOK essay was conceptualized by the International Baccalaureate. The essay is to be between 1200 and 1600 total words, and is written on one of the topics that the IB has established. These are also known as titles. If you are in an International Baccalaureate program at your school, achieving a good grade on the TOK essay is imperative if you wish to graduate with this endorsement on your diploma.
The paragraphs that follow will help you to select the best title, master the TOK essay format, do your research, take notes and create an working outline, and even guide you to some useful writing samples. We hope these guidelines will help to answer any questions you have, and that you will be able to formulate a plan for success.
You know that IB students have advantages that include being highly sought after by colleges and universities and having a greater chance at becoming successful during and after the college years. By mastering the TOK essay format, you will truly be helping yourself.
TOK Essay Title Selection
Unlike other essays, you cannot simply choose from an unlimited number of topics. Your essay must be selected from one of the prescribed titles created by the International Baccalaureate Organization for 2017. Then, your essay must meet additional criteria. Specifically, it must be related to one of the eight areas of knowledge that have been defined by the IB.
Selecting TOK Essay Titles: Areas of Knowledge
Here are the eight areas of knowledge that a student in an IB program must master:
- The Arts
- Religious Knowledge Systems
- Human Science
- Indigenous Knowledge Systems
- Natural Science
Choosing TOK Essay Titles 2017: Understanding The Questions
Each year, a new set of questions are created for students to cover in their essays. These can be easily found online as the IB makes these public. What’s more important is to understand exactly what you need to do when writing about these topics. These aren’t the same as your standard custom writings.
Understanding The Purpose of TOK Essay Topics
Let’s Take a Look at Some TOK Essay Topics From Previous Years
Here are some sample essay topics that are loosely based on some of the titles established for 2017. We’ll discuss exactly what information is being sought in each of these examples. Remember that each essay should in some way establish your understanding of knowledge and the learning process itself. This gives your instructor the opportunity to conduct a thorough assessment of your critical thinking skills.
1.Explore The Human Nature of Pattern Seeking
a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: There’s a lot that could be explored here with regard to perception and expectations. Science and religious knowledge systems could be two potentially interesting areas to dig into further.
b.What to Cover: The dangers of relying on perception instead of examination. The ways in which pattern seeking impacts our ability to obtain new knowledge and to vet information we receive.
2.Explore Knowledge Traditions And Various Methods of Correcting Knowledge
a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: Ethics and natural science are definitely two areas where tradition and developing means of correcting the knowledge that informs or is informed by traditions.
b.What to Cover: Traditions are difficult for people to let go of, especially when they are associated with religion or culture. How do you encourage corrective action without insulting traditions.
3.Write About Facts And Theories And How They Relate
a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: Human or natural science combined with indigenous or religious knowledge systems really seem to fit here. However, History would be an excellent addition to this.
b.What to Cover: Theories are ideally based in fact, however many people using correlation rather than causation to draw conclusions. The result is faulty theories. Then there is the problem with poorly vetted facts. Explain how outdated or incorrect information impacts the development of theories.
4.What Happens When Subject Matter Experts Don’t Agree With Each Other?
a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: With this topic, any of the areas of knowledge could be excellent for potential exploration.
b.What to Cover: When building their own knowledge, people turn to experts. How do they discern what to believe when the experts themselves disagree on important matters? Can external influences change the way that experts view or spin the truth? Climate change would be a great topic to use as an example for this question.
5.Looking at Historic Events With The Benefit of Hindsight
a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: History, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Religious Knowledge Systems, and Ethics are all very good topics for an essay on this subject.
b.What to Cover: It’s easy to judge the actions and behaviors of citizens, religious leaders, and political leaders when we have the benefit of historical perspective. However, by doing so we can prevent ourselves from gaining full insight into the way that situations impact human behavior. Maybe explore how to write historical text in a more sympathetic way.
6.Write About The Knowledge And The Difficulty of Producing Knowledge
a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: Because this is such a broad question, once again all areas of knowledge could be subject to exploration here.
b.What to Cover: The idea here is that the harder you have to work to obtain knowledge the more you will value it. Do you agree or disagree? You might address the topic of privilege here.
How to Know Which TOK Essay Topics Are Best For You
So, how do you pick the right topic? Look at each extended example above. As an IB student, you are familiar with all of the areas of knowledge. You might also consider looking at an exemplar online for each question that you are considering. Just google tipstok essay example, and you will likely find something.
Mostly, you should pick a question that speaks to you, and apply the areas of knowledge that you can best show your academic and personal development.
Planning Your Essay
First and foremost, study the rubric that your teacher provides for you. This will be an amazing guide. Unfortunately, it is not complete. You may have to follow up and get more information on the standards for marking your essay. Here are the criteria by which your essay will be assessed.
- You must show that you have developed the ability to think critically. Focus on demonstrating self-awareness, and consider multiple perspectives on the issues you are addressing. Use concrete examples.
- The structure that you use is very important. It must have a logical flow. References must be cited. Factual accuracy is of utmost importance. Don’t make a declaration on any page without backing it up.
- Show the mastery that you have developed with regard to the knowledge issues.
- Your format is important. However, it is even more important that you demonstrate an adequate depth of knowledge and insight.
Starting Your Essay
As you begin writing your introduction, keep in mind that you have a limit of 1200 to 1600 words. Your thesis and introductory paragraph will really drive the length of your essay. If your focus is too narrow, you will struggle to meet the word count that you need. If your focus is too broad, you will go over the limit.
You should probably spend at least 50 percent of your essay writing on creating your thesis statement. It is truly the foundation of what you are going to present to your instructor. Be sure that it is very well thought out, and that you can back up your thesis with plenty of evidence as well.
Tips For Success
Here are some tips that can help you to succeed:
- While you need to backup your statements of fact with sources, remember that this is a reflective essay. Here, you can share your thoughts and opinions.
- Don’t be afraid to use examples that are meaningful to you.
- Remember that MLA is the preferred citation format.
- Remember that The Phrase ‘How do You Know’ Should be Your Guide
- Run your essay through a text to speech translator. That will show you how it reads.
- Essay and punctuation are still important.
Self Care During The Essay Writing Process
You have worked very hard, and accomplished a lot to get to this point. The theory of knowledge essay is very important. You will need to put in many hours of hard work. This will be intense, so remember to take good care of yourself.
- Don’t make the essay the center of your life. Enjoy your friends and keep other academic priorities in mind.
- Find a physical activity. Walking is amazing.
- Eat healthy foods and get enough rest.
- Ask for TOK Essay help when you need it.
- Connect with students who have already written their TOK essay.
You can do this! All you have to do is consider which question is best for you, follow the instructions, and know the standards that will be used to evaluate your writing. Take good care of yourself, and you are certain to do well.
Author: Amanda Sparks