The Top Ten Theory of Knowledge Essay Tips

Here are my top tips for getting to top marks on your Theory of Knowledge essay.

1.  All ToK essays are cross-disciplinary; they are never just about one way of knowing (perception, language, reason, etc) or one area of knowledge (mathematics, natural sciences, human sciences, history, etc). In general you’ll want to include at least 3. But be careful about which WoK’s and AoK’s you include. Review all of your notes to refresh your understanding and make sure you’re seeing the relevant connections and make sure (after you’ve done your research) that you have interesting points to make (claims and counter claims).

2. Make an outline first. The outline is your road map and it’s where you make a lot of your major decisions. It will also help you to develop an argument, with each paragraph building on the one before.

3. Research in a lot of different ways: websites, your class notes, talking with people (parents, classmates, your teachers). Find arguments which support both sides of (for and against) your thesis and examples that support your claims and counterclaims. As you develop insights you can use, make sure to record them.

4. Make sure you have clarified the scope of your essay (what you’re aiming to do). Make it clear, in your introduction, which WOK’s and AOK’s ’s you’re using. And define your key terms carefully, in ways that are useful to your argument. Dictionary definitions rarely do this. At the minimum, be sure to not just use the first definition you find.

5. It’s easy to forget that ToK is about developing your ability to think for yourself. Give yourself some time away from your outline, to reflect before you begin your real essay. And then try to give yourself a few breaks from your essay as well, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes. It’s hard to see the weaknesses of your thinking while you’re busy trying to get it done (i.e. in a hurry). Come up with your own ideas.

6. Read at least 3 examples of excellent ToK Essays written by other people.

7. Keep editing. Each of your paragraphs should show opposing viewpoints concisely. Compare two opposing ideas about how natural science might relate to your knowledge question.

8. Use specific and qualified language. Rather than writing that “all science always provides useful insights,” instead say that, “chemistry often provides useful insights.” Words like often or sometimes (instead of always), might or could (instead of should) help to keep from over-generalising or saying more than you can actually support in your essay.

9. To prove your essay’s thesis you’ll need to rely on evidence. Various types of facts are fine (quotations, statistics, true stories from your reading or your own life). Avoid using clichés and common examples. If you can use examples that the marker hasn’t heard before this will show that you are thinking for yourself.

10. Read it out loud, after you have finished it. This will help you to find mistakes and areas that don’t flow as well as you thought.

Other Useful ToK Essay Resources

Six steps to writing a good TOK essay: A student guide by Colleen H. Parker at SPHS

Writing a TOK essay, by Richard van de Lagemaat

How to Write a Good TOK Essay, By Peg Robinson

This in link TheoryofKnowledgeStudent.com goes through a variety of examples of how to answer some of the questions from previous years.

Mr Hoyes’ Notes on The ToK Essay

How to Write a Good ToK Paper, from Collective Thinking

Writing a TOK Essay, from ‘Findings’ Part One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.

10 Tips on Writing a Good Theory of Knowledge Essay, from the American International School of Lusaka

Guide to writing the TOK Essay, from IBCram

Tips for writing a good ToK Essay by Ric Sims @ Nothing Nerdy

And consider some common problems, from ToK Talk

Tim WoodsThe Top Ten Theory of Knowledge Essay Tips
  • Laila Zaidi

    A good tip that I found from an experienced philosophy tutor for a good ToK essay is to leave the introduction until last; because its only when you’ve written the essay that you’ll be in a position to write a meaningful introduction. 

    Instead, devote your planning time to breaking the essay down into logical sections, and sketch what you will write about in each. 

    Heres the link to additional helpful tips:
    http://www.philjoyce.com/ibtokessaytutorexaminer/ibtokessaytutorexaminer.shtml

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  • IBstudent

    Hi Mr. Woods,
    I was just wondering what grade the TOK exemplar essay received.

    Another thing…I found your website very useful. I admire the effort you’ve put into helping out IB students, such as myself. I wish I was still an OFS student and you were my teacher (yes, as a matter of fact, I was studying in Overseas Family School, quite a few of years ago..isn’t that remarkable!). :)

    • http://www.timwoods.org/ Tim Woods

      Small world. :-) Thanks for the note. I really appreciate it. The exemplar I provided is such something I’ve thrown together, so it wasn’t submitted (so no mark). Honestly though students to follow that system do really well. Take care.

  • Kiara Albert

    Informative post! Essay writing is not an easy task.

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  • IBstudentcvd

    Can I have one of way of knowing and two areas of knowledge?

    • http://www.timwoods.org/ Tim Woods

      Yep, no problem.

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  • IBstudent2

    Hello, I believe there is a problem with point 1, because most of the TOK essay titles suggest (or even demand) using 2 areas of knowledge / ways of knowing. Could having more than 2 aok/wok cause a lower grade?
    Thank you for your answer in advance.

    • http://www.timwoods.org/ Tim Woods

      Quite right. That has happened this year. Definitely let the question lead you. This method is just there as a rough guideline. If the question forces you to take a slightly different approach then definitely do that. Some students find that, when they get very strong the in course, they abandon this method entirely, in favour of an approach that works better for them. And that’s great too. Good luck.

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  • http://www.timwoods.org/ Tim Woods

    Hi Zoe, Sorry for the delayed response. You might want to check out my video course (www.tokmastery.com), which I made exactly for situations like this –where there is so much I want to say, but can’t quite say in writing like this. The course goes through all of my advice step-by-step, so you’ll find it really clear and easy to follow. One bit of feedback I’d give you (in case you decide not to join the online group) is that you’ll want to make sure your question is about knowledge (i.e. how we know) directly. Again, lots more to say. Really consider joining my course. I can help you more in there.

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