Nature of the subject and objectives

TOK - together with CAS and the extended essay - belongs to the core of the IB Diploma Programme and is considered to be very important within the diploma syllabus. Nevertheless, it might be the one subject you feel least familiar with. This is maybe due to the fact that TOK is not a subject like History or Chemistry but it is a course in which we reflect on what we consider to be knowledge in everyday life as well as in individual subject areas, namely The Arts, Mathematics, History, The Human Sciences and The Natural Sciences. It gives students the opportunity to reflect on themselves as knowers and thinkers. In addition to the core theme ‘knowledge and the knower’ your TOK teacher will choose two of the following optional themes: Knowledge and technology, Knowledge and language, Knowledge and politics, Knowledge and religion and Knowledge and indigenous societies.

Requirements and assessment

IB Diploma students are not required to take a final exam in TOK. Nevertheless, passing TOK is a requirement for receiving your IB Diploma. To pass you have to plan and present a convincing TOK exhibition and write a satisfactory TOK essay.
Both assessment tasks—the TOK exhibition and the TOK essay focus on the exploration of knowledge questions as both, the exhibition prompts and the prescribed essay titles take the form of knowledge questions. To illustrate, some examples of knowledge questions:

  • How can a model be useful even if it is obviously false?
  • What ethical constraints should there be on the pursuit of knowledge?
  • How can we decide between the judgments of experts if they disagree with each other?

The TOK essay

The TOK essay is a 1,600 word essay on one of six prescribed titles that are issued by the IB for each examination session. As an external assessment component, it is marked by IB examiners and contributes 2/3 of your TOK mark. This is how the IB describes an excellent TOK essay: ‘The discussion has a sustained focus on the title and is linked effectively to areas of knowledge. Arguments are clear, coherent and effectively supported by specific examples. The implications of arguments are considered. There is clear awareness and evaluation of different points of view.’

The TOK exhibition

For the TOK exhibition students are required to select one prompt from the list of 35 provided by the IB. They then curate an exhibition of three objects connected to their chosen prompt. These must be objects that exist in a particular time and place, including virtual spaces and must not be created specifically for the purpose of the exhibition. The exhibition will be internally assessed and externally moderated and contributes 1/3 of your TOK mark. Here is how the IB defines an excellent TOK exhibition ‘The exhibition clearly identifies three objects and their specific real-world contexts. Links between each of the three objects and the selected IA prompt are clearly made and well-explained. There is a strong justification of the particular contribution that each individual object makes to the exhibition. All, or nearly all, of the points are well-supported by appropriate evidence and explicit references to the selected IA prompt.’

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