Planning and structuring the TOK essay

Once you’ve grasped the essay rubric, and chosen your title, you can start planning and structuring your TOK essay. You base this around the 3 interactions with your teacher, which are one-on-one meetings discussing your progress, and receiving feedback.

As well as the interactions, you can also ask your teacher specific questions about your essay, for example, the suitability of arguments and examples.

STEP 3: Plan and structure your TOK essay

Interaction 1

In your first interaction, you’ll discuss the title that you have chosen and why, your interpretation of its general meaning, and the key words from the title that you’ve identified and will be focusing on.

You should also have a good idea about the areas of knowledge you’ll be using as the context of your essay (these may be specified in the title), the key concepts that could be included, and have a rough idea about the arguments and counterarguments that could be offered.

By the end of the first interaction, you should be clear about your choice (ideally, the meeting will have confirmed you made the right decision, rather than making you rethink it, but that’s still not a problem at this early stage of the essay-writing process), know the context you’ll be using, and be ready to write your introduction.

Interaction 2

During your second interaction, you’ll explain how you have moved your ideas forward, and the arguments and counterarguments that you’re developing. Ideally, you should be able to show your teacher your introduction, and a rough plan of the rest of your essay.

Be ready to discuss personal experiences and real-world examples that you will use to support points, key thinkers, and different points of view. It’s also useful to discuss any challenges and problems that you’ve encountered. Your teacher should then give you plenty of advice on how to turn all of this into a draft essay, which takes you to the final interaction.

Interaction 3

The third interaction is arguably the most important one, as it is when you will discuss your draft essay, and receive written feedback on how to turn this into your final version.

The first thing to ensure is that your draft is as complete as it possibly can be. The reason for this is that your teacher can only give you one set of written feedback, so if you’ve given them something that doesn’t have much detail, they won’t be able to give you any meaningful advice.

Make sure your teacher has had enough time to go over your essay, and has provided you with clear and detailed feedback on the strength and clarity of your arguments, the suitability of your examples, how successfully you’ve considered perspectives and implications, and how effectively your essay answers the questions. You should now feel ready to write the final version of the essay.

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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