How to Structure a Theory of Knowledge Essay

This structure can be used to help you get a high mark on any TOK essay. It has been updated to reflect the 2022 syllabus.

Our video analysis of the November and May Theory of Knowledge Essay Prescribed Titles can be found in our members area. There is also a lot more information, tutorials and evidence videos. You are welcome to give it a try. You’ll find many videos, notes, and other resources that will help you with your TOK Exhibition.

Here we go…

First, select your Prescribed Title

Before you start your essay, make sure you look over the Prescribed Titles. Before you make your decision, take some time to consider them. Sometimes, the easiest one may not be the best. This could be because you don’t have any ideas or interesting ones. Complex questions can lead to more interesting essays.

Remember that answering the prescribed title is your top priority. Make sure that every paragraph is directly related to the title question.

Before you decide on one title, consider two to three titles.

Once you have chosen your Prescribed title, start to write down your initial ideas. Although this seems obvious, it is important. You can later seek evidence to back up the initial ideas.

Second, select your 2 AOKs

Take your title and select two Areas of Knowledge. (You can refer to our detailed notes, videos, and videos for each AOK, Theme, and WOK. You may need to include an AOK in some titles (e.g “…). You may be required to include an AOK in some titles. These types of questions will require you to select your second AOK.

Your essay should have two sections or “developments”. Each section of the body will focus on a specific area of knowledge. Each will also have a claim or counter claim. Make sure you are careful about how you present the counter claim and claim. In most cases, one side will agree with the question statement and the other will disagree. Tim is available to tutor you via TOK Zoom every day if you need help with your essay decision making.

The analogy of the courtroom

The TOK essay can be viewed as if you are sharing the most important bits of a conversation between two intelligent people. You could also think of it as two sides to an argument about knowledge presented before a judge. Each side must present evidence and clearly explain how it relates to the question in order to be successful.

The evidence would show that one side would answer the question with a YES, while the other side is arguing for the opposite side (saying NO), using evidence.

We want both sides to be able to argue well in your essay. Then, in your conclusion you will weigh the evidence and tell us which side is more right.

One of the most difficult aspects of an essay is making sure that your evidence supports your claims and counterclaims.
The TOK Essay Structure

The TOK essay structure has four sections and six paragraphs.
Write your introduction. (100-150 words)
Paragraph 1

-Say one to two interesting facts about the title question. This will show us that you are familiar with the question’s title.

-Define one or two key terms from the title. Find definitions for each of the key words in your title. While you don’t have to use all the definitions in your essay. It’s helpful to see what other people think about these words. These definitions may also provide some clues for evidence, claims or counterclaims.

-Give the reader a plan. The reader should know how you plan to approach the essay question. For example, which AOKs are you using. This will help the marker know what to expect.

Next write your first development. Two paragraphs of 600 words each.
Paragraph 2

-In this paragraph, you will discuss your claim for AOK 1.

-Tell us about your claim. A claim is a topic sentence which outlines your argument regarding the prescribed title. You could say, for example, that mathematics can be relied upon because it is a pure logical system. It is objective and independent from subjective experience.

-Example. Examples can come from your own life, such as something you saw while doing your Biology IA or from research like CRISPR. However, the example must be precise, real and specific. It must support and clarify the claim. You could say, “In mathematics, we learned that the inner angles of a triangle in Euclidian space sum up to 180 degrees.”

-Explain. Clarify and explore how your example supports the claim. Notice the interesting aspects of your example and what they say about the title.
Paragraph 3

-Counter-claim. Argue against your claim above. “But, it is possible for different conclusions to be reached using different systems mathematics.”

-Example. Give an example to support your counter claim. “It is impossible to prove that the interior angles of triangles equal 180 degrees in Euclidian Space. This cannot be proved using other systems such as hyperbolic geometry or spherical geometry.

-Explain. Explain (and then explore) how your example supports the counterclaim. Notice the interesting aspects of your example and what they say about the title.

Summarize the development section. Referring to the prescribed title, highlight any insights you have about the AOK and the prescribed subtitle. “It is evident that mathematics can be reliable up to a certain extent. However, it is not always possible to prove something within a fixed system or approach.

For your second AOK, add two more paragraphs to the body. (600 words)
Paragraph 4

-Report your claim.

-Provide an example that supports the claim.

-Explore how the example supports your claim.
Paragraph 5

-State your counter-claim.

-Provide a supporting example.

-Explore how the example supports your counter-claim.

-Recapture all the information you have about the AOK and the prescribed title.

Write your conclusion. (200-250 words)
Paragraph 6

-Your conclusion. -Your conclusion. Spend some time analyzing the key insights that you have about your AOKs.

Significance and implications. Tell us why this is important. These insights are important for us to understand when and how.

-Perspectives and extensions. Try to add a new perspective on your conclusion if you are able. You might be able to see a different approach to the question that could have led you to different insights than what you wrote in your essay. You could also refer to an unresolved problem or a limitation you discovered during your exploration.

There is so much more to say about what makes a great TOK essay. But this structure should get you started. We can also meet to discuss your essay if you wish.

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