How to get a top score in your IB TOK Essay
Does your Theory of Knowledge essay feel like an impossible mountain to climb?
Many IB students feel like this, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Here, we have all the practical tips and TOK advice from our team of IB Theory of Knowledge teachers and examiners, to help you get the best marks you can in your TOK essay.
If you need it, you can get in touch with them here to help you directly.
The TOK course is assessed through a 1,600 word essay and a viva voce, and students often say it is one of the hardest parts of the IB Diploma course.
It doesn’t have to feel so tough
We have put together advice from our team of IB experts so you can:
– Make it the TOK feel doable and manageable
– Get the best possible score
– Quickly find help if you need it
Break it down into chunks
This will be the secret to your success. You can break the essay into chunks of work which are manageable in size.
Give each one a deadline and stay on track.
1) Choose the question and run it by your teacher
2) Create an essay plan
3) Write your first draft
4) Check your draft against the marking criteria
5) Edit, edit, edit then write your second draft
6) Strengthen & improve your examples
7) Show the draft to your teacher for feedback
8) Review and complete your final edit
9) Check your English with a native speaker, academic writer or a TutorsPlus tutor
If that still feels tough, think of the essay as only x8 200 words and challenge yourself to write 200 every day. That is manageable for all students, and 200 words is also fewer than you have read in this article so far!
1,600 words sounds a lot, but it is actually quite a short essay to cover the breadth of these complicated Theory of Knowledge topics. The final essay should be pithy and concise, and the word count should hit 1,600 after a lot of editing and drafting.
Choosing the title
Don’t dive in too soon to finalise the title choice from the IB’s selection.
Break down each title on offer and see if you feel you have enough interest to be able to approach the question with the detail required. Decide on which two areas of knowledge you would focus on.
Look at it and ask yourself “is it too broad?” and “will I able to answer it?”
When you have made your initial selection, make sure that you check you title with your teacher before you invest too much time working on it.
Check that they think it is a good choice for you. They may see pitfalls in it that you do not.
In the introduction of the essay make sure you explain the question with the key TOK words from the title and the scope of the essay
In the body of the essay there should be clear arguments and counterarguments, which should be justified with real-life examples. Best examples are your own authentic examples as a knower (from your IB subject classes, CAS experiences, outside of schools events, etc).
In the body of the essay there should be clear arguments and counterarguments, which should be justified with real-life examples mentioned above. They should be offered after a proper discussion about the knowledge question in the title.
You need to offer different points of view and in order to do so, counterarguments should be included as well.
In order to make the essay with a personal voice, you should offer your own experiences as a knower and critical thinker. Avoid using cliches and TOK textbook examples.
Start early and get organised
It goes without saying that you don’t want to leave it to the last minute, but each year we get calls from desperate students who have done just that.
Be smart, get going early and if you are finding it hard don’t put your head in the sand. Please reach out for help it is only a click away.
A strong TOK essay can help you get ahead, building your confidence and giving you marks in the bag ahead of the final exams. So we hope that convinces you to get started on it in good time.
It also won’t get any easier the longer you put it off, so jump in and get it done!
Our specialist IB teachers are here to help if you need us.
- Create an essay plan and use it
- An essay should follow a structure, opening with the explanation of the topic and definitions of the key terms you are discussing.
- Make sure you look at every single word in the question and explain what they imply.
- Your essay should be tight and focused, there is no time to drift off onto side debates or discussions of ideas which are not directly relevant to your topic.
You can then open up the debate by presenting the arguments.
There should be a conclusion that draws the arguments to a close and looks back across your arguments.
- Avoid cliched general statements
- Your introduction and conclusion should not be more than 2-3 sentences and should not begin with cliched, general statements such as “Since the beginning of time…” Instead write an introduction that goes straight to the point.
- In your body paragraphs try to include 2 to 3 sets of claims and counterclaims to explore all sides of the research question.
- Use examples, but not base your paragraphs on them: Use the examples to support your claims making sure you cite all examples at the end.
- Challenge yourself to use the best quality examples
- You need relevant and concrete examples to avoid your essay being hypothetical.
Look at all the examples you are thinking of using and ask yourself if they are engaging enough from the examiners point of view. Are they too obvious? Will the examiners be reading many essays with these examples?
Make sure you answer the question, with a clear and coherent answer. While reading through your draft double check every sentence helps answer your question and construct a cohesive argument.
Use the marking criteria to your advantage
Address each criterion of the marking criteria. If your teacher hasn’t given it to you ask for it.
Also, ask your teacher for a model answer and apply the criteria. By doing this you will see what makes for a good answer and why it has achieved a high mark. Then apply this to your own essay.
Draft, edit and re-draft
If you find you have quickly hammered out 1,600 words and feel that you are done, that is a sign you need to improve your essay. The essay should be carefully edited and re-drafted.
Check each paragraph flows from the one before to help build a clear argument.
Choose the right time to show the draft to your teacher.
Good referencing is important
Even though it is not the Extended Essay and not your own research, the essay should be well referenced.
Is English your second language?
Often students, for whom English is a second or third language, find the written essay format challenging.
If this applies to you, ask for help, as you may need to allow more time for editing. One of our TOK tutors or a learning support teacher at school may be able to help you with your English written expression.
It is certainly worth asking for help from a native speaker to check the register of language is suitable for a piece of academic writing.
We suggest you get a native speaker you trust, who has some experience of academic writing to read your final draft.
Most schools have EAL teachers or learning support staff who can help you. We also have specialist IB teachers who help students with the English language aspect of their TOK essays.
General information about the TOK
This information comes from the IBO
Why is TOK important?
TOK aims to make students aware of the interpretative nature of knowledge, including personal ideological biases – whether these biases are retained, revised or rejected.
It offers students and their teachers the opportunity to:
• reflect critically on diverse ways of knowing and on areas of knowledge
• consider the role and nature of knowledge in their own culture, in the cultures of others and in the wider world.
In addition, TOK prompts students to:
• be aware of themselves as thinkers, encouraging them to become more acquainted with the complexity of knowledge
• recognize the need to act responsibly in an increasingly interconnected but uncertain world.
TOK also provides coherence for the student, by linking academic subject areas as well as transcending them.
It therefore demonstrates the ways in which the student can apply their knowledge with greater awareness and credibility.
TutorsPlus offer TOK support (alongside IB subject support) to help international students prepare for this demanding programme. View our tutors HERE.
Our tutors know the IB inside-out and truly work magic to draw out each student’s ability to self-direct their learning. You can reach TutorsPlus at 022 731 8148 or firstname.lastname@example.org
By Sara Lloyd
Sara has been an education consultant for TutorsPlus for 15 years and is an expert on international IB education. She is also a parent of two lively children.