There have been some important changes to the TOK with the new curriculum (first assessment 2022). Overall, the “heart” of the essay remains the same but there are some key differences. When searching for resources online about the TOK essay, pay careful attention to whether or not they are geared towards the new essay. While many older resources are still somewhat relevant you need to be aware that some of has been written about the older curriculum may not apply anymore.

Additionally, there are a large number of sample essays available online but the vast majority of them are written for an older TOK curriculum. Older TOK curricula have some different requirements and different assessment criteria. Looking at older TOK essays can be beneficial as the basic core of the new essay has not changed dramatically. Be careful though.

The first place to look when trying understand the TOK essay is the assessment instrument. Page 48 of the TOK subject guide states a basic question that underlines the marking of all TOK essays:

Does the student provide a clear, coherent and critical exploration of the essay title?”

Each of the three “c” key terms needs further investigation:

Clear

  • Is the essay as a whole clearly linked to the essay title?
  • Are all of the key terms in the essay title clearly addressed in the essay?
  • Are the arguments clearly linked to the essay title?
  • Do the specific examples have a clear connection to the prescribed title?
  • Is the writing clear? Writing clarity is itself not assessed by TOK markers but markers can only give you credit for your arguments if they are written clearly enough to be fully understood.

Coherent

  • Does the essay overall have sufficient coherence?
  • Do the arguments flow logically from one to another?
  • Do the AOKs flow logically from one to another? You do not have to separate your essay into two distinct AOK sections but there needs to be a logical reason for the order of your body paragraphs.
  • Are the specific examples organized in a logical way?
  • Are the different points of view discussed in an effective and logical sequence?
  • Does the essay use transitions words and phrases effectively to improve the coherence of the essay?

Note: To be able to create a coherent TOK essay you first need to be able to create a coherent essay. You need to develop your general essay writing skills before your start working on your TOK essay.

Critical

  • Do the arguments in the essay have sufficient depth of critical analysis in its approach to the prescribed title? Does the essay overall have sufficient depth of critical analysis?
  • How are the specific examples used to support the arguments? Are the specific examples examined in sufficient depth?
  • Do the different points of view in the essay have sufficient depth? If a different point of view in the essay is fairly superficial it make it more difficult for the essay to be successful.
  • Does the evaluation of the different points of view in the essay have sufficient depth? Is this evaluation linked directly to the arguments and the prescribed title?
  • Are the implications in the essay critically considered ? Just mentioning a couple of implication may not quite be enough.

Most of the points above are drawn directly from the TOK essay assessment instrument. It is extremely important that very early on you take some time to closely examine the TOK essay assessment instrument. All parts of your essay must directly connect to both the essay title and to the TOK essay assessment instrument.

  • During the TOK essay writing process make sure you examine and re-examine whether or not your essay fully addresses the prescribed title.
  • If there is some part of the essay title that you are not covering sufficiently in your essay, make sure you make the necessary changes as soon as possible
  • If there are parts of your essay that have weak links to the prescribed title strongly considering cutting them out. Save space in your essay for in-depth critical analysis that is directly linked to the prescribed title.
  • During the TOK essay writing process make sure you examine and re-examine whether or not your essay fully addresses the TOK assessment instrument.
  • If there is some part of the TOK assessment instrument that you are not covering sufficiently in your essay, make sure you make changes before you hand in your final draft.
  • If there are parts of your essay that have indirect / weak links to the TOK assessment instrument strongly considering cutting them out. Use the space in your essay for in-depth critical analysis that is directly linked to the prescribed title and the TOK assessment instrument.

Essay requirements

Beyond the basics (making sure you address the essay title as well as the TOK assessment instrument), there are additional requirements for the TOK essay. Check the TOK subject guide for details.

  • Academic honesty / authenticity: Page 44 of the Tok subject guide is quite clear: “The TOK essay must be the student’s own work.”
  • You must submit both your essay and the TOK essay Planning and Progress Form (TK/PPF) for marking. The form is not taken into consideration in the marking of your essay but it may be important if questions are raised about the authenticity of your work.
  • Maximum 1600 words (make sure you are clear about what is and is not included in the word count).
  • 12 point, double spaced, Arial font. This is now the standard for most if not all IB EAs and IAs. If you do not follow these simple basic requirements you are indicating to the marker right from the start that you are not careful and do not follow basic instructions. That is not the frame of mind you want the marker to be in when they start reading your essay.