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Tok Essay Checklist

What is a Tok Essay

TOK stands for Theory of Knowledge. The TOK essay was conceptualized by the International Baccalaureate. The essay is to be between 1200 and 1600 total words, and is written on one of the topics that the IB has established. These are also known as titles. If you are in an International Baccalaureate program at your school, achieving a good grade on the TOK essay is imperative if you wish to graduate with this endorsement on your diploma.

The paragraphs that follow will help you to select the best title, master the TOK essay format, do your research, take notes and create an working outline, and even guide you to some useful writing samples. We hope these guidelines will help to answer any questions you have, and that you will be able to formulate a plan for success.

You know that IB students have advantages that include being highly sought after by colleges and universities and having a greater chance at becoming successful during and after the college years. By mastering the TOK essay format, you will truly be helping yourself.

TOK Essay Title Selection

Unlike other essays, you cannot simply choose from an unlimited number of topics. Your essay must be selected from one of the prescribed titles created by the International Baccalaureate Organization for 2017. Then, your essay must meet additional criteria. Specifically, it must be related to one of the eight areas of knowledge that have been defined by the IB.

Selecting TOK Essay Titles: Areas of Knowledge

Here are the eight areas of knowledge that a student in an IB program must master:

  • History
  • Mathematics
  • The Arts
  • Ethics
  • Religious Knowledge Systems
  • Human Science
  • Indigenous Knowledge Systems
  • Natural Science

Choosing TOK Essay Titles 2017: Understanding The Questions

Each year, a new set of questions are created for students to cover in their essays. These can be easily found online as the IB makes these public. What’s more important is to understand exactly what you need to do when writing about these topics. These aren’t the same as your standard custom writings.

Understanding The Purpose of TOK Essay Topics

Let’s Take a Look at Some TOK Essay Topics From Previous Years

Here are some sample essay topics that are loosely based on some of the titles established for 2017. We’ll discuss exactly what information is being sought in each of these examples. Remember that each essay should in some way establish your understanding of knowledge and the learning process itself. This gives your instructor the opportunity to conduct a thorough assessment of your critical thinking skills.

1.Explore The Human Nature of Pattern Seeking

a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: There’s a lot that could be explored here with regard to perception and expectations. Science and religious knowledge systems could be two potentially interesting areas to dig into further.

b.What to Cover: The dangers of relying on perception instead of examination. The ways in which pattern seeking impacts our ability to obtain new knowledge and to vet information we receive.

2.Explore Knowledge Traditions And Various Methods of Correcting Knowledge

a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: Ethics and natural science are definitely two areas where tradition and developing means of correcting the knowledge that informs or is informed by traditions.

b.What to Cover: Traditions are difficult for people to let go of, especially when they are associated with religion or culture. How do you encourage corrective action without insulting traditions.

3.Write About Facts And Theories And How They Relate

a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: Human or natural science combined with indigenous or religious knowledge systems really seem to fit here. However, History would be an excellent addition to this.

b.What to Cover: Theories are ideally based in fact, however many people using correlation rather than causation to draw conclusions. The result is faulty theories. Then there is the problem with poorly vetted facts. Explain how outdated or incorrect information impacts the development of theories.

4.What Happens When Subject Matter Experts Don’t Agree With Each Other?

a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: With this topic, any of the areas of knowledge could be excellent for potential exploration.

b.What to Cover: When building their own knowledge, people turn to experts. How do they discern what to believe when the experts themselves disagree on important matters? Can external influences change the way that experts view or spin the truth? Climate change would be a great topic to use as an example for this question.

5.Looking at Historic Events With The Benefit of Hindsight

a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: History, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Religious Knowledge Systems, and Ethics are all very good topics for an essay on this subject.

b.What to Cover: It’s easy to judge the actions and behaviors of citizens, religious leaders, and political leaders when we have the benefit of historical perspective. However, by doing so we can prevent ourselves from gaining full insight into the way that situations impact  human behavior. Maybe explore how to write historical text in a more sympathetic way.

6.Write About The Knowledge And The Difficulty of Producing Knowledge

a.Suggested Areas of Knowledge: Because this is such a broad question, once again all areas of knowledge could be subject to exploration here.

b.What to Cover: The idea here is that the harder you have to work to obtain knowledge the more you will value it. Do you agree or disagree? You might address the topic of privilege here.

How to Know Which TOK Essay Topics Are Best For You

So, how do you pick the right topic? Look at each extended example above. As an IB student, you are familiar with all of the areas of knowledge. You might also consider looking at an exemplar online for each question that you are considering. Just google tipstok essay example, and you will likely find something.

Mostly, you should pick a question that speaks to you, and apply the areas of knowledge that you can best show your academic and personal development.

Planning Your Essay

First and foremost, study the rubric that your teacher provides for you. This will be an amazing guide. Unfortunately, it is not complete. You may have to follow up and get more information on the standards for marking your essay. Here are the criteria by which your essay will be assessed.

  • You must show that you have developed the ability to think critically. Focus on demonstrating self-awareness, and consider multiple perspectives on the issues you are addressing. Use concrete examples.
  • The structure that you use is very important. It must have a logical flow. References must be cited. Factual accuracy is of utmost importance. Don’t make a declaration on any page without backing it up.
  • Show the mastery that you have developed with regard to the knowledge issues.
  • Your format is important. However, it is even more important that you demonstrate an adequate depth of knowledge and insight.

Starting Your Essay

As you begin writing your introduction, keep in mind that you have a limit of 1200 to 1600 words. Your thesis and introductory paragraph will really drive the length of your essay. If your focus is too narrow, you will struggle to meet the word count that you need. If your focus is too broad, you will go over the limit.

You should probably spend at least 50 percent of your essay writing on creating your thesis statement. It is truly the foundation of what you are going to present to your instructor. Be sure that it is very well thought out, and that you can back up your thesis with plenty of evidence as well.

Tips For Success

Here are some tips that can help you to succeed:

  • While you need to backup your statements of fact with sources, remember that this is a reflective essay. Here, you can share your thoughts and opinions.
  • Don’t be afraid to use examples that are meaningful to you.
  • Remember that MLA is the preferred citation format.
  • Remember that The Phrase ‘How do You Know’ Should be Your Guide
  • Run your essay through a text to speech translator. That will show you how it reads.
  • Essay and punctuation are still important.

Self Care During The Essay Writing Process

You have worked very hard, and accomplished a lot to get to this point. The theory of knowledge essay is very important. You will need to put in many  hours of hard work. This will be intense, so remember to take good care of yourself.

  • Don’t make the essay the center of your life. Enjoy your friends and keep other academic priorities in mind.
  • Find a physical activity. Walking is amazing.
  • Eat healthy foods and get enough rest.
  • Ask for TOK Essay help when you need it.
  • Connect with students who have already written their TOK essay.


You can do this! All you have to do is consider which question is best for you, follow the instructions, and know the standards that will be used to evaluate your writing. Take good care of yourself, and you are certain to do well.

Author: Amanda Sparks


TOK Mastery

This includes:

  • The complete ToK Essay Mastery Program
  • The Premium (complete) version of the ToK notes for every WoK and AoK 
  • ToK Presentation Support
  • ToK videos for every AoK and WoK

Theory of Knowledge can be the hardest part of IB to actually master. This video and audio course will give you all the secrets you need to do it. I will take you through all of the tips and techniques I share with my own students.

You'll get all of the essay resources (templates, videos, tips, insights) right away when you register. And you'll get access to our members-only Facebook group, which has hundreds of dedicated students who are serious about understanding this subject.

You'll get access to all 5 modules (plus the notes and videos and presentation support) as soon as you join!

"Thank you Tim. Great stuff really. I love your course I am recommending it in my school"  - Facundo Rodriguez (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

"My teacher was stunned at the progress I made in just a week!” - Manal Salesha

"The course has been excellent and of so much help to me.” - Kanika V. (Uganda)

"I just have to say....thank you!!!! :)" - Beatriz P. (Sao Paulo, Brazil)

You can get the same advantages students at elite high schools get. You deserve those advantages as much as anyone! I'm passionate about empowering students. It's why I became  a teacher. That's why I blog every day, to share the best insights I find with students. 

This course is designed for busy students, so you can quickly get clarity on what you need to do and how.

Writing a great essay doesn't have to be hard --even though the ToK questions can seem really hard at first. They only seem hard when you don't know how to approach it. And (honestly) most people don't. This stuff confuses teachers and students sometimes.

If you're slightly confused by ToK this program will end that confusion. You'll be confident knowing you succeeded at ToK and you're ready for college essays.

I have combined all of the best tips I've developed (and gathered from others) into this one easy step-by-step process, so you can avoid wasting any time. You can relax knowing you're not falling into a trap of ToK-confusion. Honestly, you won't be at all confused after this. If you are, you can get your money back. No worries.

You'll get a lot more besides the essay program, but let's look at that one as an example:

The essay program overview:

Module One: Getting Started

-How to develop successful knowledge questions.

-How to apply the step-by-step ToK essay method to create convincing arguments, which work.

-Analysing the most recent prescribed titles. We've got great conversations going on in the forum already about how to approach the recent prescribed titles. I won't tell you exactly what to write, but instead I'll help you uncover your own best insights.

Module Two: Essay Planning

-How to use evidence effectively.

-The secret to using AoK's and WoK's successfully to elevate your writing.

-I'll give you a template and show you how to plan your essay easily and quickly.

Module Three: What makes a great ToK Essay?

-We look at some exemplary essays and see why they succeeded.

-I show you what is really valued in THE NEW ESSAY RUBRIC.

-I share with you exactly how I produce my own first drafts and how I improve on them.

-I help you approach your own writing in a much more productive way.

Module Four: Deep analysis

-I'll help you dig deeply into the true meanings of the prescribed titles.

-You'll get helpful strategies for overcoming the 8 deadly ToK essay mistakes

-You'll master the subtle techniques for making your writing much more convincing.

-I'll explain how to make your work more personal and authentic-sounding.

Module Five: Finishing touches

-I'll help you carefully examine your essay draft, aspect by aspect, to make sure it is absolutely effective and successful.

I'm really proud to be able to share this with you. I've always worked hard to develop great materials, but this seems to be the best system I've ever put together! Honestly, if there is any help you need with your essay, this program is it.

I know you don't have time to waste on this.

You'll get streamlined video-lessons (and lots of other resources) that will help you complete a great essay quickly.

“Everyone at my school in Mexico uses your Structure for TOK essays. I’ve used it on all of mine and I’ve never gotten lower than an A-. I just wanted to thank you for being a lifesaver.” -Maria @ Greengates School (Mexico City)

“Every self-motivated IB student knows @timwoods.” -Amanda Tiew @ Campaka Schools (Malaysia)

"Dear Mr. Woods, thank you so much for your structure for TOK essays. It's really helped me develop a clear idea of what to do when I was absolutely clueless before! Definitely recommending it to all my peers." -Justine @ Tunas Muda International School (Jakarta)

"I was looking about to get some support material for my son’s TOK and EE today and your pages have been great. They are easy to follow and digest. ...Keep up the great work!" -Karen (Doha, Qatar)

“I teach ToK in Midvale, UT and LOVE your site. The students have really struggled with the essay writing process and your site structures it better than anything else I've ever received. Thanks” -S. Allen (Utah, USA)

During the past 10 months, over 350 students from around the world have emailed me their questions, requests and concerns about the recent essay titles and I have addressed all of these in this program. It's been a HUGE job, but I've done everything they asked for.

You'll get all of these resources too.

You will get everything you need:

  • Clear, step-by-step instructions for how to write
  • Answers to questions you might never otherwise realise you should ask
  • Insights into exactly what you should focus on to get great marks (and what you shouldn't worry about).
  • Guidance on the 8 Killer Essay Mistakes students make and clear advice on how to avoid them
  • Sample knowledge questions
  • Real help breaking down the most recent Prescribed Essay Titles
  • Exclusive access to the new Essay Method structure, adapted for the new ToK Guidelines. (The previous structure has been viewed more than 200,000 times, but this one is better.)

Make it easy with:

  • Videos so you can learn quickly (because you've got enough reading to do already!)
  • Access to private forums and a members-only Facebook group, so you can always get quick answers to your questions
  • Checklists so you can focus on the things that actually earn you the marks when you're crunched for time.
  • Audio advice (and other help) from me on how to consider this year's official essay titles
  • Collaborative areas where you can share your insights with each other.
  • And a downloadable, fill-in-the-blanks essay template, to jump-start your writing