Developing a successful TOK essay is important and very challenging. The TOK essay makes up a significant part of the overall mark for TOK. Additionally, the bonus points available can make a important difference in your overall IB results. Every point counts.

Apart from marks, the TOK essay process is an excellent way to develop creative analytical skills. The Extended Essay is similar in some respects but the EE is more narrowly focused and doesn’t have the broad, open-ended nature of the TOK essay.

Keep in mind the following outline of the TOK essay process is not exhaustive nor is it the only way to go through the essay process.

Note: This process is oriented for students in the last cohort of the soon to be phased out older TOK curriculum (last assessment November 2021). A revised TOK process will be posted under the “NEW TOK CURRICULUM (FIRST ASSESSMENT 2022) part of the website. The vast majority of what is written still applies to the new version of the essay but there have been some changes.

  1. Work extremely hard on any school assignments you are given in your first year TOK class. You may not immediately realize it, but these assessments are designed to build the skills and knowledge you will need on the TOK essay.
  2. Carefully read the TOK essay guidelines and assessment instrument.
  3. Read, analyze, and annotate past Prescribed Titles and past TOK essays. You must have a good grasp of both before you start working on your essay. Try to find multiple sample essays on the same Prescribed Title; this will help you grasp the very different ways you can approach a Prescribed Title.
  4. The IB releases your Prescribed Titles and your TOK coordinator / teacher will pass them on to you. Prescribed Titles change for every cohort.
  5. FIRST INTERACTION (TK/PPF PDF FORM). Around this point in the process you will have your FIRST INTERACTION. Fill in the relevant details on the TK/PPF PDF FORM.
  6. Look at each of the Prescribed Titles for your cohort and identify the key words. Consider the different meanings / interpretations that the key words can have. Also think about the significance of each word in a particular AOK. For example, the word “theory” has a specific meaning in science but it doesn’t mean the same thing in the arts.
  7. Search for underlying Knowledge Questions that are connected to the Prescribed Titles. Knowledge Questions aren’t really “created” by students or teachers. Knowledge Questions are found in the Prescribed Titles by analyzing them closely.
  8. After you have done some analysis and brainstorming for all of the Prescribed Titles pick the one Prescribed Title you will base your essay on.
  9. Check the TOK essay assessment instrument carefully and repeatedly. Ensure that as you work your way through the essay development process your ideas and your writing addresses the terms in the assessment instrument.
  10. Over time you will develop the Knowledge Questions and Knowledge Claims that are the key to your essay. As you make changes to them check the Prescribed Title. Your Knowledge Questions and Claims need to be linked directly to the Prescribed Title.
  11. Make sure you have strong arguments and strong evidence.
  12. Look for Real life examples that you can use in your essay. A good RLE is one that has issues in it that you can connect directly to key term in the Prescribed Title.
  13. Once you decide on RLEs have another look at the key terms in the Prescribed Title and how they fit with your RLEs.
  14. There are a number of RLEs that are used over and over again by students every cohort – Galileo, Einstein, Darwin, etc. You may want to avoid these RLEs. Your TOK marker would prefer to read something unique and interesting and not yet another TOK essay on Darwin / science vs. Religion.
  15. TOK markers complain often about the fact that TOK students do not make enough use of personal RLEs in their essay. Search for RLEs that you have a personal connection to and have solid connections to your Prescribed Title.
  16. Examine the Real life examples you are considering using for your essay and make note of which AOKs there are in which RLE. Look back at the Knowledge Framework for these AOKs. You should find parts of the Knowledge Framework that are tied to your RLEs and key terms in your Prescribed Title. Your Prescribed Title may dictate how many AOKs you can have in your essay.
  17. Consider the role the WOKs play in your AOKs and RLEs and look at how the WOKs connect to key terms in the Prescribed Title.
  18. Examine the Different Perspectives in your RLEs. You need a solid investigation of Different Perspectives in your essay to be successful. It’s not good enough to mention Different Perspectives. You have to look at the DPs in detail and think about precisely what the person or group’s DP is, where the DP comes from, how their DP compares / contrast with others, etc. Of course the most important thing is that your investigation of Different Perspectives is linked directly to your Knowledge Questions and the Prescribed Title.
  19. Develop solid Counterclaims. Make sure you have strong arguments and strong evidence. Your counterclaim must have a clear and direct link back to the Prescribed Title.
  20. Take another careful look at past sample TOK essays and the TOK essay assessment instrument.
  21. Put together a rough outline of your essay.
  22. SECOND INTERACTION: Around this point in the process you will have your SECOND INTERACTION. Fill in the relevant details on the (TK/PPF PDF FORM).
  23. Remember what you have learned in your other classes about how to write effective essays. Apply your knowledge of essay writing to your TOK essay. A good TOK essay must also be a good essay.
  24. One area where a TOK essay may not follow typical essay guidelines is the use of the first person. You can use “I” in a TOK essay if you are discussing a personal Real Life Example or your own Different Perspective. This is the exception though, not the rule.
  25. Ideally you should have more ideas than you will need in your essay. It’s much better to have to cut a few weaker parts than to be forced to keep everything because you don’t have enough.
  26. Make sure your RLEs are clear to a TOK marker. This is especially true if you are discussing a RLE that isn’t common knowledge. A brief explanation is usually enough. Don’t spend to much space explaining – save your word count for deeper discussion and analysis.
  27. Take another careful look at past sample TOK essays and the TOK essay assessment instrument.
  28. Check that you have implications in your essay. According to the TOK essay assessment instrument the implications only need to be “drawn” – they do not need to be discussed in great depth. Implications are usually place near the end of the essay.
  29. If possible, write an early first draft before your school’s deadline for the first draft. This will give you the chance to edit it, make changes, and have the best possible first draft submitted for feedback. Make sure the first draft you submit to your teacher follows the assessment guidelines and make sure you cite your sources.
  30. THIRD INTERACTION: At this point in the process you will have your THIRD INTERACTION. Fill in the relevant details on the (TK/PPF PDF FORM).
  31. Your TOK teacher will only be able to give you somewhat limited feedback on your first draft because of IB guidelines. After the first draft the IB guidelines are even stricter (TOK Subject Guide page 53).
  32. You want to make the most of the feedback you get on your first draft. Examine the comments carefully and start making changes as soon as you can.
  33. Take another careful look at past sample TOK essays and the TOK essay assessment instrument.
  34. The deadline between the first draft and the final essay may be quite long and you will be working independently a fair bit of the time. Give yourself firm deadlines and stick to them.
  35. When you get close to the final deadline for the TOK essay carefully check that you have followed IB and school guidelines. In particular, go through your essay EXTREMELY CAREFULLY and make sure you have properly cited all of your sources.
  36. Ensure that you have filled in all of the relevant sections of the TK/PPF PDF.
  37. Submit your final TOK essay and TK/PPF PDF according to the instructions given to you by your TOK teacher / TOK coordinator.
  38. Your TOK teacher / TOK coordinator / DP coordinator will process your submission and it is submitted to the IB for marking.
  39. You’re done!