Writing your TOK essay
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.
Tips for writing your essay
The most important part of writing your essay is getting started. You can procrastinate for ages, thinking about whether you’ve chosen the right title, which areas of knowledge to explore the question in, key thinker and ides to draw on, and so on. Obviously you need to choose the right title, and have an effective plan, but this means nothing until you have put your thoughts down on paper. You will find that many of your uncertainties start to resolve themselves when you start writing.
The introduction is all important
Your introduction should begin with a ‘hook’ to engage the reader, offer your interpretation of the key words or ideas from the title (don’t just copy a definition out of a dictionary – give your take on what the title means), outline the scope of the essay. Get your introduction right, and you will have set up the foundations for a great essay. If you rush it, or not view it with the importance it really requires, you’ll struggle to develop clear ideas in the main body of the essay.
Follow a clear essay plan
By two, you should have formulated a clear essay plan. This means knowing which AOKs you are using as the context of the essay, the arguments and counterarguments you’ll be presenting, the real-life examples you’ll be drawing on to justify discussion points, how you’ll indicate the implications of your arguments, and the way in which you’ll challenge assumptions in the question. Agree with your teacher on this plan, and let them know if you are deviating significantly from it.
Justify each point you make
Each of the discussion points you make should be supported by a real-life example. These can come from your own experiences as a knower (inside, and outside of the school), or from events, issues, and topics you’ve read about or encountered from the news and other media sources.
Don’t jump straight into your examples
A common mistake made by students is to move straight onto real-life examples without offering a proper discussion about knowledge questions related to the title. Discuss your own take on the question, perhaps referring to a key thinker or theory, before relating this all to a real-life situation.
You need to offer a consideration of different points of view, and the way to do this is via counterarguments. For each of your claims or arguments, you should offer a counterclaim or counterargument, weighing up how the issue could be considered from another point of view. Make sure you evaluate these counterarguments, and don’t just mention them.
Find your own voice
Make sure that you offer your own opinions, give your own interpretation of the title, and offer your own experiences to support your arguments. This will demonstrate your skills as a critical thinker, and distinguish your essay from those that rely on generic and cliched discussions.
Make full use of the interactions
In order to develop your ideas, and ensure that you’re on the right track with your essay, make sure you make full use of the with your teacher. It’s during these one-to-one sessions that you can discuss your arguments, evaluate your examples, and consider which key thinkers and concepts work in your essay.
Don’t neglect the non-assessed elements
Make sure that you format your essay in the right way, offer a decent bibliography, hit the word limit (without going over it), and follow all the other protocols for submitting your TOK essay. This will present a great impression to examiners, and show that you are ready and willing to follow the IB requirements for the assessment task.
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
Can I meet my teacher outside the three interactions?
You shouldn’t expect to meet you teacher for long discussions, but you can ask specific questions about aspects of your essay. You can check the suitability of examples, the validity of points you’re trying to make, and the key thinkers and ideas you’re using to explore ideas.
Where do I record what we discussed in the three interactions?
Write a short account of what you have discussed in the interactions straight away. If your school uses ManageBac, this will make your life slightly easier; otherwise, you should fill in the fields of the PPF, which we discuss on.
Can I change my essay title?
Yes, you can change your chosen prescribed title at any point during the essay-writing process, but obviously the longer you leave this, the less time you’ll have to complete it. This is one of the points of the interactions – to identify any problems early on, and, if they can’t be resolved, think about which alternative to move onto.
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.
Get real with TOK by subscribing to the newsletter
Step into the real and unpackaged world by subscribing to our unique monthly TOK newsletter. You’ll receive links to great media sources from all over the world that place the TOK themes and areas of knowledge into an authentic context.
You’ll meet great thinkers and ideas, hone your understanding of key TOK concepts, and build up a library of examples for the essay and exhibition. Subscribe HERE!