Xela, Guatemala (photo by website author).

Take particular note of the following terms as they appear in the EA essay and IA presentation assessment instruments. Some of these terms are specific to the new curriculum and others are part of the older curriculum that will wrap up in November 2021.


Knowledge Questions are the heart of TOK.  A TOK Knowledge Question is a question that is focused on knowledge, has more than one possible answer, and is general (International Baccalaureate Organization 20, 21).  In a sense a Knowledge Question is a TOK-style research question.  The TOK EA essay and IA presentation are simply in-depth investigations of Knowledge Questions.

A TOK Knowledge Question can be answered in a number of different ways and in fact, different students can answer the same Knowledge Question in completely opposite ways.  A successful TOK essay must include claims andcounterclaims.  Therefore, a TOK essay should look opposing answers to the same Knowledge Question.

Knowledge Questions need to be distinguished from subject-specific questions(e.g. questions that would be discussed in history or science classes).

Consider the topic of the Meiji reformation in Japan: 

Subject-specific question (History):

“What are the key reasons that led to Japan’s Meiji reformation?”  

This is a historyquestion that would be discussed in a historyclass and it is a topic researched by historians.

Knowledge Question on the same topic(History):

“How does nationality affect what a student learns about the Meiji reformation?”

Additional pairs of subject-specificquestions and Knowledge Questions.

Subject-specific question (Art):

“What are the characteristics of dystopian literature? 

Knowledge Question on the same topic (Art):

 “How does the translation of literature affect what can be learned from it?”

Subject-specific question (The Natural Sciences – chemistry):

“What is the formula for the compound formed by calcium and nitrogen?”

Knowledge Question on the same topic (The Natural Sciences – gender): “To what extent does gender affect what is learned in a science class?”


A Knowledge Claim is the answer to a Knowledge Question.  A Knowledge Claim is a TOK topic sentence.  Most body paragraphs in a TOK essay will focus on arguing a Knowledge Claim.


(FYI this term is part of the older curriculum that will wrap up in November 2021).

This is a counterargument that argues the opposing side of a Knowledge Claim. A good TOK essay will need to argue both sides of an arguments and thus will need Knowledge Claims and corresponding (and opposing) Counterclaims.


(FYI this term is part of the new curriculum).

The new TOK curriculum has one core theme (Knowledge and the knower) as well as a set of five optional themes. Each TOK class will study the core theme and two of the optional themes.


An AOK is particular area of study along the lines of a school subject or university subject.  Each AOK can be narrowed down into more specific disciplines (e.g. the Natural Sciences includes geology, chemistry, physics, etc.).  

These are the AOKs in the older TOK curriculum:

  • mathematics
  • the natural sciences
  • the human sciences
  • history
  • the arts
  • ethics
  • religious knowledge systems
  • indigenous knowledge systems

The newer TOK curriculum has five AOKs:

  • mathematics
  • the natural sciences
  • the human sciences
  • history
  • the arts


(FYI this term is part of the older curriculum that will wrap up in November 2021).

The WOKs are the means in which knowledge in the AOKs is acquired. According to the TOK guide the WOKs “underlie the methodology of the areas of knowledge” and “provide a basis for personal knowledge.” (International Baccalaureate Organization8). The WOKs are:

  • language
  • sense perception
  • emotion
  • reason
  • imagination
  • faith
  • intuition
  • memory


The Knowledge Framework is a way to break down AOKs in order to help understand how knowledge is produced, tested, shared etc.  It helps students understand the characteristics of each AOK.  While Knowledge Frameworks are almost never explicitly discussed in TOK assessments, the more successful essays and presentations will implicitly address aspects of an AOK’s Knowledge Framework.

The TOK course lists five key Knowledge Framework characteristics for each AOK:

  • Scope / applications
  • Concepts / language
  • Methodology
  • Historical development
  • Links to personal knowledge.  

To give one example of the importance of Knowledge Frameworks, consider a difference between the Natural Sciences and History.  In both the Natural Sciences and history research is conducted and eventually conclusions are drawn.  In the Natural Sciences it is relatively easy to check if conclusions are justified. Experiments can be done again by different researchers under the same conditions.  If the same results are found then the original conclusions may be justified.  In the study of history, however, conclusions are not drawn from experiments that another researcher can replicate.  Instead, conclusions are drawn from historical documents and other sources that can be interpreted in different ways by different historians.  The conclusions a historian draws are more open-ended and may be influenced by bias and other factors in different ways than in the Natural Sciences. 


Like Knowledge Frameworks, Shared Knowledge and Personal Knowledge are not often explicitly discussed in either the essay and presentation.  They do, however, underpin much of the discussion in TOK.

Shared Knowledge:

  • Is created by multiple individuals
  • Is structured according to convention (the conventions will differ from AOK to AOK)
  • Will change as later contributors add to what has already.  Later contributors may also find that earlier research and conclusions are invalid.

Some examples of Shared Knowledge (i.e. mathematics) are available to almost everyone but other kinds of Shared Knowledge may be shared within a limited group (i.e. a particular culture, a particular group of experts). 

(International Baccalaureate Organization 18)

Personal Knowledge:

  • Varies greatly from person to person. Even experts with knowledge in the same area (i.e. playing the guitar) may have learned it in completely different ways.
  • Is linked to the culture, society, and language where it was learned.

(International Baccalaureate Organization 18)

Personal Knowledge does include the Shared Knowledge that an individual has acquired (e.g. someone that has taken a history class will have acquired personal knowledge.


(FYI The phrase “specific example” replaces the phrase “real-life example” in the new TOK curriculum.)

TOK discussions (in classes, essays, and presentations) should not be based on theoretical examples but on real-world examples.  These are RLEs.  Look at the following examples and non-examples of RLEs

An RLE: A discussion of how a particular government uses some principles of utilitarianism when deciding on a health car budget is effective use of an RLE.

Not an RLE:A discussion of the theory of utilitarianism.

Not an RLE:An in-depth discussion of the Japanese aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi

An RLE:A discussion of how the the Japanese aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi is used in the Zen garden Ryoanji.

Real Life Situation (RLS): The same as a Real Life Example (for some reason the IA presentation uses the phrase “Real Life Situation” instead of “Real Life Example.”


(FYI this term only applies to the new curriculum).

There are 35 IA prompts that are listed on pages 40 and 41 of the TOK subject guide. TOK students must choose one prompt and three objects that they will based their IA exhibition on. The guide calls the prompts “high-level knowledge questions” (40).


(FYI this term is part of the older curriculum that will wrap up in November 2021).

This is the IA presentation document that must be filled in and submitted to the IB.  The moderation of the IA mark is based on the TKPPD. This document is extremely important as IB markers will not watch or listen to your presentation. Your IA mark will be determined entirely on this document.


This is the EA essay document that must be filled in and submitted to the IB.  The purpose of the document helps ensure students have sufficient feedback from their TOK teacher.  It is also designed to reduce the chances of academic misconduct.


(FYI The phrase “different points of view” replaces the phrase “different perspectives” in the new TOK curriculum.)

In TOK discussions and assessments students need to explain how and why different people view and approach situations in different ways.  


(FYI this term is part of the older curriculum that will wrap up in November 2021).

Implications are the conclusions that can be drawn from a set of arguments.  (Implications are mentioned specifically in the top band of the EA essay assessment instrument).

Works cited

International Baccalaureate Organization. “Theory of Knowledge Guide.” 2017.