TOK: Theory of Knowledge

TOK Essay

Hello would-be TOK Essay writer! Here’s what I did to tackle this seemingly impossible essay; hopefully you’ll find some of this insight helpful!

Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Choosing a question

  • Refrain from immediately gravitating towards the easiest-sounding question. Instead, devote at least a small amount of time to engaging with each question. This is best done through class discussions (these are necessary! It’s unbelievably useful to bounce ideas off each other because of how differently we all think), so even if your teacher is not very helpful in this regard, form a group and brainstorm. Trust me, this is very helpful!
  • While brainstorming, write down every question that comes to your mind, regardless of whether you think it might be relevant. You never know whether it will lead to a revelation later on or even contribute to your Knowledge Question (KQ).
  • Understand the need to draw up at least two opposing viewpoints. Consider possible claims and counterclaims as you deliberate each question.
  • If by the end of your brainstorming you still think the most straightforward question is the best for you, then by all means, go ahead. But remember: concise is good, boring is not. So do try to make your essay interesting in other ways.

Step 2: Choosing your Areas of Knowledge (AOK)

**This step can take place as part of your deliberation on which question to choose or after you choose your question.

  • Think about how your claims and counterclaims can be argued within specific AOKs. Think about the significance of asking your question as you look at different AOKs.
  • Establish a relatively concrete definition of what knowledge is within each AOK.
  • Consider AOKs that offer fresh perspectives on the question and that are not too similar to each other e.g. Natural Science and Human Science can have overtly similar characteristics in terms of knowledge construction.
  • Also understand that certain AOKs like ethics and religion can be quite tricky to use in certain questions so deliberate carefully about it before using such AOKs.

Step 3: Formulate your Knowledge Question (KQ)

  • This should be a question about the wider realm of knowledge construction. It should not be specific to a particular example or case and should allow for a few possible answers based on different perspectives.
  • Do NOT just rephrase your prescribed question in the form of a statement.
  • It is good to have a few mini KQs that can answer and contribute to a larger overarching KQ. It is important to demonstrate these mini KQs throughout your essay.

Step 4: Structuring and organising your essay

**See ‘Suggested Structures’ below.

  • In your introduction, make sure to:
    • Define key terms and concepts from the prescribed question.
    • State your position i.e. your Knowledge Claim (KC).
    • State your AOKs and WOKs and how they are linked to your position.
      • What is the role of a WOK in constructing your KC?
    • Consider any assumptions.
      • Explain why certain assumptions will be adopted throughout the essay. The point of this is to show that you are aware of them, but are consciously disregarding them for the sake of answering your specific question.
  • For the body of your essay, decide how you want to structure your argument before you start writing. It is a good idea to read and annotate a few sample essays to see how others have done so.
  • In your conclusion, make sure to:
    • Restate your KC.
    • Elaborate on any realisations made during the process of weighing your claim and counterclaim.
    • Bring in implications of the question and your argument on knowledge as a whole.

Step 5: Write out your first draft in one sitting or craft it in paragraph-by-paragraph stages

  • This is especially preferential. You can either do it in one go, or break it down and consult your supervisor as your ideas develop. Do what feels right to, and optimal for, you!

Step 6: Edit that draft

Step 7: Send that draft in for feedback

  • Attempt to have an engaged discussion with your TOK teacher on how to improve your essay.
  • If you feel that your teacher’s feedback is inadequate, wait a few days, then look at the rubrics, re-read your essay with the criteria in mind and then try to improve your essay to fulfil each criterion better.
  • Even if you feel that your teacher’s feedback is adequate, it is still good to perform the above steps.

Step 8: Repeat steps 6-7 as many times as necessary

  • I recommend you do this at least twice or thrice, allowing for sufficient time to pass between drafts so you can re-read and edit accordingly with a fresh mind every time.

Suggested Structures

  • By claims
    1. Claim in [AOK #1] and [AOK #2]
    2. Counterclaim in [AOK #1] and [AOK #2]
    3. Weighing in [AOK #1] and [AOK #2]
  • By AOK
    1. Claim, counterclaim and weighing in [AOK #1]
    2. Claim, counterclaim and weighing in [AOK #2]
    3. If the mini conclusions within each AOK are different, mention the differences of the KQ in these AOKs in the conclusion
  • I would personally advise following the By AOK structure, as it allows you to form a cohesive argument within each AOK instead of jumping back and forth to previous parts of the essay as you continue with your AOK later.
  • For every point you make, make sure to include at least one substantial example (in the Point, Evidence, Explain format). Make sure to have both personal examples, as well as ‘cheem’ examples, such as established theories/experiments and whatnot.

Additional Tips

  • Whenever necessary, evaluate the significance of personal VS shared knowledge with respect to the question.
  • When possible, acknowledge the limitations of your claim & counterclaim.
  • It is good to differentiate between different spheres of understanding within an AOK e.g. in art, there are the artists, the art community and the appreciators. In science, there are scientists, the scientific community and student.
  • At some point, the question of the purpose of knowledge might come up. Note the need for knowledge to be constantly changing and never stagnant.
  • Always be aware of and address the limitations of your WOKs. Be careful not to subconsciously assume one WOK is more reliable than another e.g. reason > emotion.
  • Remember to name your WOKs throughout your essay.
  • Always consider the interconnectedness of your claims and counterclaims.
  • Always remember that there is no certainty and 100% surety in anything.

Don’t panic. Think deeply. Good luck!

This article is written by Victoria Teng, the TOK Subject Prize Winner from the Class of ’16.

[Last updated: 5 August 2017]

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