US IB Theory of Knowledge: HOME

The New TOK

ib theory of knowledge essay questions

TOK at a Glance (from the IB Teacher Support Material Guide)

The theory of knowledge (TOK) course provides students with an opportunity to explore and reflect on the nature of knowledge and the process of knowing . It is a core element of the Diploma Programme (DP) to which schools are required to devote at least 100 hours of class time.

In TOK, students reflect on the knowledge, beliefs and opinions that they have built up from their years of academic studies and their lives outside the classroom. The course is intended to be challenging and thought provoking—as well as empowering—for students.

The course centres on the exploration of knowledge questions , which are a key tool for both teachers and students. These are contestable questions about knowledge itself, such as: “what counts as good evidence for a claim?”, “are some types of knowledge less open to interpretation than others?”, or “what constraints should there be on the pursuit of knowledge?”. While these questions may initially seem slightly intimidating, they become much more accessible when considered with reference to specific examples within the TOK course.

The TOK curriculum is made up of three deeply interconnected parts.

• The core theme—knowledge and the knower : This theme encourages students to reflect on themselves as knowers and thinkers, and to consider the different communities of knowers to which we belong.

• Optional themes : This element provides an opportunity to take a more in-depth look at two themes of particular interest to teachers and students. The given themes all have a significant impact on the world today and play a key role in shaping people’s perspectives and identities. Teachers select two optional themes from a choice of five: knowledge and technology, knowledge and language, knowledge and politics, knowledge and religion, and knowledge and indigenous societies.

• Areas of knowledge : The areas of knowledge (AOK) are specific branches of knowledge, each of which can be seen to have a distinct nature and sometimes use different methods of gaining knowledge. In TOK, students explore five compulsory areas of knowledge: history, the human sciences, the natural sciences, mathematics and the arts.

To help teachers and students explore these three parts of the TOK curriculum, guidance and suggested knowledge questions are provided. These suggested knowledge questions are organized into a framework of four elements: scope, perspectives, methods and tools, and ethics . This framework encourages a deep exploration of each theme and AOK. Having these common elements run throughout the different parts of the curriculum also helps to unify the course and helps students to make effective connections and comparisons across the different themes and areas of knowledge.

There are two assessment tasks in the TOK course.

• The TOK exhibition assesses the ability of the student to show how TOK manifests in the world around us. The exhibition is an internal assessment component; it is marked by the teacher and is externally moderated by the IB.

• The TOK essay engages students in a more formal and sustained piece of writing in response to a title focused on the areas of knowledge. The essay is an external assessment component; it is marked by IB examiners. The essay must be a maximum of 1,600 words and must be on one of the six prescribed titles issued by the IB for each examination session.

The TOK course can be structured in a variety of ways and can start from a variety of different entry points. Teachers are encouraged to exercise flexibility, creativity and innovation in the design and delivery of their TOK course, and to provide a diverse range of examples that meet the specific needs and interests of their own students. Further guidance and examples relating to the teaching, learning and assessment of TOK can be found in the Theory of knowledge teacher support material .

Knowledge in TOK

Knowledge is the raw material of the TOK course. It is important that students and teachers have a clear idea of what might be meant by the term “knowledge”, however, this is not such a simple matter. Thinkers have wrestled with the problem of a simple definition of knowledge since before the time of Plato, without substantial consensus. How can we expect students to be able to tackle this question satisfactorily?

TOK is not intended to be a course in philosophy. While there might be a certain degree of overlap in the terms that are used, the questions that are asked, or the tools that are applied to answer these questions, the approach is really quite different. It is not a course of abstract analysis of concepts. TOK is designed to apply a set of conceptual tools to concrete situations encountered in the student’s Diploma Programme subjects and in the wider world outside school. The course should therefore not be devoted to a technical philosophical investigation into the nature of knowledge.

It is useful for students to have a rough working idea of knowledge at the outset of the course. Towards the end of the course this picture will have become more rounded and refined. A useful metaphor for examining knowledge in TOK is a map. A map is a representation, or picture, of the world. It is necessarily simplified—indeed its power derives from this fact. Items not relevant to the particular purpose of the map are omitted. For example, one would not expect to see every tree and bush faithfully represented on a street map designed to aid navigation around a city—just the basic street plan will do. A city street map, however, is quite a different thing to a building plan of a house or the picture of a continent in an atlas. So knowledge intended to explain one aspect of the world, say, its physical nature, might look really quite different to knowledge that is designed to explain, for example, the way human beings interact.

Knowledge can be viewed as the production of one or more human beings. It can be the work of a single individual arrived at as a result of a number of factors including the ways of knowing. Such individual knowledge is called personal knowledge in this guide. But knowledge can also be the work of a group of people working together either in concert or, more likely, separated by time or geography. Areas of knowledge such as the arts and ethics are of this form. These are examples of shared knowledge. There are socially established methods for producing knowledge of this sort, norms for what counts as a fact or a good explanation, concepts and language appropriate to each area and standards of rationality. These aspects of areas of knowledge can be organized into a knowledge framework.

IB Theory of Knowledge Guide (New)

ib theory of knowledge essay questions

(New for 2022)

Points awarded for the Extended Essay in conjunction with the Theory of Knowledge Essay

ib theory of knowledge essay questions

Essential Concepts

While these link to a basic definition of each of the terms,  it is only to give you an idea of the concepts  involved in the term. You'll build and develop your own understandings of the terms in your classes.

ib theory of knowledge essay questions

TOK Knowledge (as of Class of 2022)

ib theory of knowledge essay questions

Constituent Elements of the New Course (Effective beginning with the Class of 2022)

Knowledge and the Knower The new course comprises three closely connected parts: one compulsory ‘core theme’; five optional themes, which schools select two of; and five areas of knowledge. Forming a key part of the update, a new core theme ‘Knowledge and the Knower’ has been developed where students will reflect on themselves as knowers and on what shapes their own views and perspectives. This has been designed to have strong links to the IB Learner Profile and to help make the course engaging and relevant for students.

Areas of Knowledge Once the new updates come into effect, there will also be five compulsory Areas of Knowledge, which will ensure that students engage with the arts, mathematics, history, human sciences and natural sciences, and have an opportunity to make connections and comparisons between these different areas. There are also five optional themes, of which two must be chosen. These include knowledge and technology; knowledge and language; knowledge and indigenous societies; knowledge and politics, and knowledge and religion.

Ethics An underlying theme of the new TOK course is a greater focus on ethics, which will now be embedded throughout all of the themes and the Areas of Knowledge. Students will be encouraged to focus on ethical concerns relating to how knowledge is produced, acquired, applied, shared and communicated. Jenny Gillett, Senior Curriculum Manager, IB, comments: "The IB has been providing high quality education to learners all over the globe for over 50 years, and where our pedagogy remains consistent, we are frequently looking for new ways to update our courses to keep pace with the ever-changing world in which we live. The new TOK has been designed to be more relevant to today’s learner than ever before. For example, the new ‘knowledge and technology’ optional theme will enable students to discuss important issues such as fake news, and the impact of social media, questioning the impact of technology on knowers and knowledge, and how it helps and hinders our pursuit of knowledge. These are valuable conversations that will not only influence the way our students learn in the classroom, but how they direct their lives beyond school too." 

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Sample TOK essays

Sample Theory of Knowledge essays, written and assessed to IB-specific criteria

History example EE

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Submitted July 31, 2022


Updated March 6, 2022


Submitted March 3, 2022


Tok_exhibition_b_comm_en.pdf, copy of copy of tok_exhibition_j_en.pdf, copy of copy of tok_exhibition_j_comm_en.pdf, tok practise exhibition: in what ways do our values affect the production of knowledge.

Submitted February 23, 2022

tok sample IA object 1

Submitted November 4, 2021

Submitted October 25, 2021

Sample TOK Exhibition written Commentary

Submitted September 14, 2021

Ethical considerations in the arts

Submitted June 9, 2021

External Assesment

Submitted February 1, 2021

TOK creativity essay

Submitted July 24, 2020

Sample ToK Essay

Submitted September 27, 2019

Are reason and emotion equally necessary in justifying moral decisions3.pdf

Submitted July 10, 2019

Does language play roles of equal importance in different areas of knowledge 1.pdf

Does language play roles of equal importance in different areas of knowledge 2.pdf, evaluate the role of intuition in different areas of knowledge.pdf, evaluate the role of intuition in different areas of knowledge-2.pdf, evaluate the role of intuition in different areas of knowledge-3.pdf, history is always on the move, slowly eroding today’s orthodoxy and making space for yesterday’s heresy 1.pdf, history is always on the move, slowly eroding today’s orthodoxy and making space for yesterday’s heresy 2.pdf, history is always on the move, slowly eroding today’s orthodoxy and making space for yesterday’s heresy 3.pdf, recently added files.

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Formulating A Theory of Knowledge Essay

ib theory of knowledge essay questions

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:

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

Ways of Knowing

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:

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.

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