Choosing a TOK essay title

Once you’ve understood the basics of the essay, and have grasped the essay rubric, you can think about which title to choose. These are published in March and September every year, according to whether you are a Southern or Northern hemisphere school.

Here are a few consideration points that you can bear in mind when you read through the six prescribed titles (PTs), and decide which one to take on.

STEP 2: Choose a TOK essay title

1. Have you properly considered your choice?

Be open-minded about the titles, and listen carefully to the opinions of others during the initial class discussion about the PTs. You may feel a strong reaction for or against certain titles, but don’t act on this yet. Wait until you have fully processed and understood what each essay is looking for, then make your choice.

2. How does your title relate to the TOK course structure?

Our way of structuring the course is via the Big Questions. These are designed to align with the TOK essay, so if you have followed this way of studying the TOK course, it’s your first way of linking the PTs to the course. Which BQ unit did you most enjoy? Which thinkers and ideas appeared in that unit? A measure of a title’s suitability is the ease with which you can link it to the course structure you have followed.

As you consider the titles, you should be thinking about how they link to the areas of knowledge, and which AOKs might work as the context of your essay. Inevitably, you will have enjoyed, and had more success, with some AOKs than others, so your title should link naturally to these – if it doesn’t, then perhaps you need to rethink your choice.

4. How does your title relate to the key concepts?

The key concepts are 12 ideas of particular significance to the TOK course, and you should use them as much as you can in your TOK essay. Does the title you have chosen include a reference (either explicitly, or implicitly) to a key concept? Does it allow you to discuss a key concept that has resonated with you, or which enables you to draw on personal experiences? Try as much as possible to choose a title that allows you to mention and discuss one or more key concepts.

5. Can you find ways to challenge your title?

One characteristic of a top-level essay is that it offers a challenge to the statement or question within the title. Is the title you are considering based on an assumption that you could dispute? Is it based on a concept or idea that you could take issue with? This is a great way of showing that you have a critical approach to knowledge, and don’t just toe the line.

6. Can you relate the title to your own experiences?

Another consideration point is whether the title allows you to draw on your own experiences – either inside school, or outside it – as a knower. Can you draw on the process of writing your EE? CAS projects? Your other DP subjects? From books you’ve read, art galleries you’ve visited, thinkers you’ve encountered? All this works very well in a TOK essay.

7. Can you easily explore the title in a real-world context?

As well as your own experiences, what about events and issues on a local, national, or global level? Think about interesting real-life situations that you have read about or watched, via articles, documentaries, and podcasts. These will help when you start writing and justifying your ideas.

8. Can you think of key thinkers whose ideas might help you explore your title?

Adding the ideas of a key thinker adds authority and clarity to your essay, and enables you to consider the question via a different perspective. It also encourages you to offer an evaluative discussion. If you can link your title to the work of one or more key thinkers, this is a great indication that you’ve chosen wisely.

If you can answer ‘yes’ to all of the above questions, then you are definitely on the right pathway – and it’s time to move onto Step 3!

A four-step guide to the TOK essay

Click on the buttons below to take you to the four steps of creating a great TOK essay. Don’t forget that we have plenty of videos on this and other aspects of the course, and members of the site have access to a huge amount of other resources to help you master the course and assessment tasks.

Check out our three-minute explainer video on the TOK essay here. The video goes over the basics of the TOK essay, such as how it’s assessed, the word count and other practical details, terms such as ‘perspectives’ and ‘implications’, and the role of real-world examples in justifying claims and arguments.

You’ll find more videos on this and other aspects of TOK here, and you can dive into much more depth via our free and premium webinars, here.

Watch our essay & exhibition webinars

Click on the images below to access these premium webinars on how to create the essay and exhibition. Access more webinars here, and watch our videos on the assessment tasks on this page.

FAQs about the TOK essay

How do I choose my TOK essay title?

You choose your essay from six prescribed essay titles, that are released at the beginning of your second DP year. We give a few tips on how to choose a PT that will work for you here. But briefly, choose one that links to your pre-existing knowledge, and that you find personally engaging.

What will I be writing about in my TOK essay?

You’ll be answering your prescribed title, within the context of two areas of knowledge, considering how different perspectives might affect our response to the question, and what the implications of your arguments are.

Can I use ChatGPT to write my essay?

You can use ChatGPT to help you gather materials for your essay, but you should definitely not be using it to write the essay. Be very careful with ChatGPT. It bases its answers on online material, and much of this is inaccurate or out-of-date. For example, depending on what you ask it, it may tell you that you have to explore multiple areas of knowledge (rather than the two stipulated by the titles), and that you have to identify a separate knowledge question to the title (which is absolutely not the case).

How much help should I expect from my teacher?

Your teacher should run through the PTs when they are first released, and then meet you for three interactions, during which you’ll discuss your progress. They are allowed to give you one set of written feedback. But you can consult them at other times with specific questions.

Do I need to use real-world examples in my TOK essay?

Yes, real-life examples help illustrate your points and make your arguments more tangible. They can be drawn from personal experiences, historical events, scientific discoveries, etc.

Should I include my personal opinion in the TOK essay?

While the TOK essay is not about your personal opinion per se, it’s important to reflect on your perspective and how it shapes the way you understand the title. However, you should avoid using the essay as a platform for rants or unsubstantiated claims.

Is it necessary to include counter-arguments in my TOK essay?

Yes, including counter-arguments shows a deeper understanding of the complexity of the topic and demonstrates your critical thinking skills. It also enables you to consider different perspectives, and evaluate the implications of arguments.

Should I include the 12 key concepts in my essay?

Yes, as much as you can, draw on the key concepts such as justification, evidence, perspective, bias, certainty, and objectivity within your arguments linking them to the title, and to the real-world examples you draw on.

How do I ensure that my TOK essay reflects my own original thinking, and avoids plagiarism?

Clearly attribute ideas and sources that are not your own, and strive to present original insights and interpretations supported by evidence and reasoning. See our point above on using ChatGPT – never view this as more than a tool to help you gather material for your essay, rather than a tool to write it for you.

What are some common pitfalls to avoid when writing a TOK essay?

Avoid oversimplifying complex issues, relying solely on personal opinion without justification, neglecting counter-arguments, veering off the question, and failing to include a consideration of different perspectives.

How long do I have to write my essay?

You’ll have 6 months from the time the prescribed titles are released, to the deadline date for uploading your essay to the IB. However, most schools will set their own deadline for completing the essay, so that everyone has plenty of time to complete your PPF, and upload it on time. Follow what your school tells you about this.

How important is the TOK essay PPF?

The PPF (‘Planning and Progress Form’) is the document that you fill in to outline your discussions during the three essay. Although this is not directly assessed, it is an important part of demonstrating that you have approached the TOK essay in an ethical way, which is now particularly important in the era of ChatGPT.

What are some effective strategies for revising and editing my TOK essay to improve clarity and coherence?

Take breaks between revisions, seek feedback from peers or teachers, and carefully proofread for grammar, punctuation, and coherence.

Should I include references or a bibliography in my TOK essay?

While not required, referencing sources appropriately adds credibility to your essay; use footnotes or endnotes for citations.

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