Choosing a prescribed title
Check out our short video explainer for the TOK essay; you can find more explainers about other aspects of the course in our TOK explainer playlist.
Choosing a TOK essay prescribed title
You should choose your PT with care: although, of course, you can swap titles if you run into too many problems, your time is limited in DP2, and you can’t afford to waste too much of it. Here are a few consideration points that you can bear in mind when you read through the six prescribed titles, and decide on which one to write.
1. Don’t rush your choice
Be open-minded about the titles, and listen carefully to the opinions of others during your 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. Link the titles to the BQs
Our way of structuring the course is via the ‘Big Questions’ (here are our BQs for the 2015 syllabus, and here are the ones for 2022 syllabus). 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? This can help you decide on a PT.
3. Link the question to the AOKs
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. If you have trouble doing this, then perhaps this is not the essay title for you.
4. Find ways to challenge the question
One characteristic of a top-level essay is that it challenges the question. 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 to? This is a great way of showing that you have a critical approach to knowledge, and don’t just toe the line.
5. Relate the question to your own experiences
Another consideration point is whether the title would allow you to draw on your own experiences – either inside school, or outside it – as a knower. Could 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.
6. Place the question 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.
TOK essay pages
The TOK essay rubric
Learn about how the essay is marked, and the skills you are expected to demonstrate in order to succeed. Read more here.
Choosing your TOK essay title
Find out how to evaluate the six prescribed essay titles, and decide on which one will work best for you. Read more here.
The three TOK essay interactions
Learn about the three interactions with your TOK teacher, and what you should be discussing in each one. Read more here.
Writing your TOK essay
Gain a few tips on how to structure your TOK essay, how to articulate your ideas, and ways to justify your claims. Read more here.
The TOK essay rubric
Find out about how to fill in the essay PPF, and why this is an important indication of your engagement with TOK. Read more here.
More support for the TOK essay
Make sure that your TOK teacher has given you access to all the documents and online material that support the essay. These include the TOK Subject Guide, the TOK essay rubric, and exemplar TOK essays (found in ‘MyIB’, which is accessible to teachers).
Make sure you go through our other pages on writing the TOK essay. You’ll find help on understanding what the is looking for, that works for you, what each of the should focus on, how to an effective TOK essay, and how to fill in your .
If your school is a member of theoryofknowledge.net, we have designed a series of lessons on the essay, with two formative assessment tasks. These will familiarize you with the essay rubric, knowledge questions, real-life situations, how to deal with perspectives and implications, and structuring an essay. If you are signed into the site, you can access these lessons here.
You can also find out our thoughts on the TOK essay (and the TOK exhibition) in several webinars that we have delivered. The main one is the TOK Assessment 2022 webinar, but we also consider this form of assessment in our free webinars on the 2022 course. You can see these webinars on this page of the site.
FAQs about the TOK essay
How is the TOK essay marked?
Your essay is submitted to the IB, and is externally marked by examiners. We discuss the marking rubric (or ‘assessment instrument’) on.
What role do ‘knowledge questions’ play in the TOK essay?
Knowledge questions (KQs) are at the heart of TOK, and you’ll explore them throughout the course. In terms of the essay, the questions you consider about knowledge should all come from the title, and you are not expected to identify any separate KQs.
Where can I view the complete TOK essay rubric?
You can read the whole rubric in the TOK subject guide, on page 48. Your TOK teacher will give you a copy of this.
What makes a TOK essay ‘very good’?
The rubric identifies four key characteristics of a very good (ie 9/10 out of 10) essay. These are: accomplished, lucid, insightful, and convincing. The formative assessment tasks you do for the essay will help you understand what these means.
How to write a TOK essay: webinar
This 80-minute webinar video and presentation gives you a clear, engaging, step-by-step guide to the task, helping you to understand the assessment rubric, choose the right PT, and produce an essay that hits all the assessment targets.
The video is supported by a presentation, and a Q&A debrief answering some of the most common questions asked about writing a TOK essay. Purchase your ticket here.
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