US IB Theory of Knowledge: HOME

The New TOK

ib theory of knowledge essay questions practice

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 practice

(New for 2022)

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

ib theory of knowledge essay questions practice

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 practice

TOK Knowledge (as of Class of 2022)

ib theory of knowledge essay questions practice

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." 

DELONIX REGIA International Baccalaureate IB Diploma Programme Extended Essay Theory Of Knowledge PNG

DELONIX REGIA International Baccalaureate IB Diploma Programme Extended Essay Theory Of Knowledge

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IB Chemistry Web

ib theory of knowledge essay questions practice

Extended essay in chemistry

The following is an overview of the extended essay guidelines for chemistry (IBO documents)

An extended essay in chemistry provides students with an opportunity to investigate a particular aspect of the materials of our environment. Such extended essays must be characterized by a particular chemical emphasis within a more general set of research criteria.

The outcome of the research should be a coherent and structured piece of writing that effectively addresses a particular issue or research question and arrives at a particular, and preferably personal, conclusion.

Choice of topic

It is important that the extended essay has a clear chemical emphasis and is not more closely related to another subject. Chemistry is the science that deals with the composition, characterization and transformation of substances. A chemistry extended essay should, therefore, incorporate chemical principles and theory, and emphasize the essential nature of chemistry, relating to the study of matter and of the changes it undergoes.

Although the same assessment criteria apply to all extended essays, for an extended essay submitted in chemistry the topic chosen must allow an approach that distinctly involves chemistry. Where a topic might be approached from different viewpoints, the treatment of the material must be approached from a chemistry perspective. For example, an extended essay in an interdisciplinary area such as biochemistry will, if registered as a chemistry extended essay, be judged on its chemical content, not its biological content.

The scope of the topic and the research associated with it should enable all the criteria to be addressed. A good topic is one where the single research question is sharply focused and can be treated effectively within the word limit. Perhaps the most important factor is the depth of treatment that can be given to the topic by the student. Broad or complex survey topics (for example, investigations into health problems caused by water pollution, chemotherapy for cancer treatment or the use of spectroscopy in chemical analysis) will not permit the student to discuss conflicting ideas and theories, nor to produce an in-depth personal analysis within the word limit.

Some topics may be unsuitable for investigation because of safety issues. For example, experiments involving toxic or dangerous chemicals, carcinogenic substances or radioactive materials should be avoided unless adequate safety apparatus and qualified supervision are available.

Other topics may be unsuitable because the outcome is already well known and documented in standard textbooks, and the student may not be able to show any personal input. An example might be a study of the reactions of the alkali metals with water as this is already covered by the syllabus. However, some care does need to be exercised in deciding whether a topic is suitable or not; for example, previously, the study of the allotropes of carbon might have been thought to be trivial but this would not be the case today.

Example essay titles

The following examples of titles for chemistry extended essays are intended as guidance only. The pairings illustrate that focused topics (indicated by the first title) should be encouraged rather than broad topics (indicated by the second title).

“The ratio of the gases evolved at the positive electrode during the electrolysis of common salt solution” is better than “Electrolysis of solutions”.

“Spectrophotometric determination of trace amounts of lead in drinking water” is better than “Water analysis”.

“The effects of sugar-free chewing gum on the pH of saliva in the mouth after a meal” is better than “Acid–base chemistry”.

“How can the natural oxidant rutin be extracted and purified from the seed of the Chinese Scholartree?” is better than “Extraction of natural products from plants”.

Moreover, it may help if the student further defines and refines the topic chosen for study in the form of a research question or statement.

The ratio of the gases evolved at the positive electrode during the electrolysis of common salt solution

Research question

Is there a relationship between the concentration of aqueous sodium chloride solution and the ratio of the amounts of oxygen and chlorine gas that are evolved at the positive electrode during electrolysis.

The caffeine content of a cup of tea

Does the time it takes to brew a cup of tea using a specific commercial brand of tea leaves significantly alter the amount of caffeine that is dissolved in the drink?

Analysis of strawberry jellies by paper chromatography

The use of paper chromatography to determine whether strawberry jellies obtained from 24 different countries in 5 different continents all contain the same red dyes.

Treatment of the topic

An extended essay in chemistry may be based on literature, theoretical models or experimental data. Whichever category or combination of categories is chosen, the student should ensure that sufficient data is available for evaluation and that the topic can be researched accurately using locally available resources.

Students who choose to write an extended essay based on literature and/or surveys should ensure that their extended essay clearly shows its chemical basis. Essays written at the level of a newspaper or news magazine article are unlikely to achieve a high mark.

Since chemistry is an experimental science, students are strongly encouraged to undertake experimental work as part of their research, although this is not compulsory. In order to place their research into the appropriate context, students should research the area of the investigation before commencing any experimental work. Where possible, they should consult original research using scientific journals, personal communications and the internet. Textbooks should never be the only source of information.

All essays involving experimental work undertaken by the student should include a clear and concise description of the experimental work. Students should indicate clearly whether they have personally designed the experiment, or give the source of an existing experiment method that they have used and state how they have adapted and improved upon it. All essays must be supervised by a school supervisor.

Many of the best essays are written by students investigating relatively simple phenomena using apparatus and materials that can be found in most school laboratories, and this approach is to be encouraged. If the practical work is carried out in an industrial or university laboratory, the essay should be accompanied by a letter from the external supervisor outlining the nature of the supervision and the level of guidance provided. The school supervisor must be satisfied that the work described in the essay is genuine and essentially that of the student.

Data collected from an experiment designed by the student is of little value unless it is analysed using appropriate scientific techniques, evaluated and perhaps compared with appropriate models.

It is possible to produce an extended essay in chemistry in which the student has used data collected elsewhere as the primary source. In such cases, the element of personal analysis and evaluation is extremely important.

In any chemistry extended essay, students should be able to demonstrate that they understand the theory underlying any experimental work and state any assumptions made. They should show an understanding of the results obtained and be able to interpret them with reference to the research question posed. They should be critical of inadequate experimental design, the limitations of the experimental method and any systematic errors.

Students should be encouraged to consider unresolved questions in their research, and to suggest new questions and areas for further investigation in their conclusion. Throughout the whole of the essay, students should emphasize clearly their own personal contribution.

Interpreting the assessment criteria

Criterion A: research question

Many research questions can be formulated as an actual question or questions. A typical example is: “What gas is evolved when zinc is added to copper (II) sulfate solution and what factors affect its formation?”. However, in chemistry extended essays it is perfectly reasonable to formulate the research question as a statement or as a hypothesis rather than an actual question. “An analysis of the amount of aluminium in three different brands of underarm deodorant by visible spectroscopy” and “The kinetics of oxidation of iodide ions with hydrogen peroxide in acidic solutions” are two such examples where a statement rather than a question is appropriate. Whichever way it is formulated, it should be identified clearly as the research question and set out prominently in the introduction.

Criterion B: introduction

The purpose of the introduction is to set the research question into context, that is, to relate the research question to existing knowledge in chemistry. It is usually appropriate to include also the underlying chemical theory required to understand how the research question has arisen. Some research questions require some background knowledge that is not related to chemistry—for example, “Do the fossils found in different strata of rocks at a particular location contain different amounts of sulfur?” . For the essay to make sense, it would be important to state the ages of the rocks and give some geological background. In such cases, only the essential non-chemistry information should be provided in the introduction, as the essay will be marked on its chemical content. If it is necessary to include more non-chemistry (for example, geological) information, then the appropriate place for it is the appendix.

Criterion C: investigation

The way in which the investigation is undertaken will depend very much on whether or not the essay contains experimental work performed by the student. For non-experimental essays, students should endeavour to show clearly how the data has been selected. They should distinguish between primary sources (original scientific publications, personal communications, interviews) and secondary sources (textbooks, newspaper articles, reviews), and show awareness of how reliable these sources are. For experimental work, sufficient information should be provided so that the work could be repeated if necessary by an independent worker. Students should make it clear which experiments they have designed themselves and which they have altered, adapted or improved from existing methods.

Criterion D: knowledge and understanding of the topic studied

Students should show that they understand fully the underlying chemistry behind the context of their research question and their subsequent investigation. They are not expected to explain basic chemistry forming part of the Diploma Programme chemistry course, but they are expected to show that they fully understand the relevant principles and ideas and can apply them correctly. They should also demonstrate that they understand the theory behind any techniques or apparatus used.

Criterion E: reasoned argument

Students should be aware of the need to give their essays the backbone of a developing argument. A good argument in chemistry will almost certainly include consideration and comparison of different approaches and methods directly relevant to the research question. Straightforward descriptive or narrative accounts that lack analysis do not usually advance an argument and should be avoided.

Criterion F: application of analytical and evaluative skills appropriate to the subject

A thorough understanding of the reliability of all data used to support the argument should be shown. Inadequate experimental design or any systematic errors should be exposed. The magnitude of uncertainties in physical data should be evaluated and discussed. Approximations in models should be accounted for and all assumptions examined thoroughly. Where possible, the quality of sources accessed or data generated should be verified by secondary sources or by direct calculations.

Criterion G: use of language appropriate to the subject

Correct chemical terminology and nomenclature should be used consistently and effectively throughout the extended essay. Relevant chemical formulas (including structural formulas), balanced equations (including state symbols) and mechanisms should be included. The correct units for physical quantities must always be given and the proper use of significant figures is expected.

Criterion H: conclusion

The conclusion must be consistent with the argument presented and should not merely repeat material in the introduction or introduce new or extraneous points to the argument. In chemistry, it is almost always pertinent to consider unresolved questions and to suggest areas for further investigation.

Criterion I: formal presentation

This criterion relates to the extent to which the essay conforms to academic standards about the way in which research papers should be presented. The presentation of essays that omit a bibliography or that do not give references is deemed unacceptable (level 0). Essays that omit one of the required elements—title page, table of contents, page numbers—are deemed no better than satisfactory (maximum level 2), while essays that omit two of them are deemed poor at best (maximum level 1).

The essay must not exceed 4,000 words of narrative. Graphs, figures, calculations, diagrams, formulas and equations are not included in the word count. For experiments where numerical results are calculated from data obtained by changing one of the variables, it is generally good practice to show one example of the calculation. The remainder can be displayed in tabular or graphical form.

Criterion J: abstract

The abstract is judged on the clarity with which it presents an overview of the research and the essay, not on the quality of the research question itself, nor on the quality of the argument or the conclusions.

Criterion K: holistic judgment

Qualities that are rewarded under this criterion include the following.

Intellectual initiative: Ways of demonstrating this in chemistry essays include the choice of topic and research question, and the use of novel or innovative approaches to address the research question.

Insight and depth of understanding: These are most likely to be demonstrated as a consequence of detailed research and thorough reflection, and by a well-informed and reasoned argument that consistently and effectively addresses the research question.

Originality and creativity: These will be apparent by clear evidence of a personal approach backed up by solid research and reasoning.

The assessment criteria

Past essay titles


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