Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is a compulsory course taken by all IBDP students and accounts for 3 points in your overall IBDP score together with the Extended Essay (EE). Unlike other subjects, students are not necessarily required to learn anything new in TOK. Rather, they are expected to examine and reflect on the ideas of knowledge and the process of gaining knowledge. Students must think about their knowledge, opinions, and the beliefs they have accumulated throughout their lives, both academically and outside of school. TOK is intended to allow the growth of empowered, sceptical, and critically thinking individuals.
The aims of TOK
To allow students to reflect on the question, “how do we know that?”, and to understand the value of that question.
To enable students to see that not all questions have solutions; there exists also uncertainty, ambiguity, and multiple answers.
To provide students the ability to understand the world better allowing them to prepare for new and complicated situations.
To help students understand their own perspectives and to be able to think about their beliefs and assumptions critically.
To expose students to different perspectives, allowing them to see the world with an open-minded, multicultural understanding.
To equip students with the ability to connect different academic disciplines together by letting them see the underlying ideas, facilitating the ability to compare and contrast the different methods used by separate areas of knowledge.
To ask students to think about the ethical considerations of the creation, transference, communication, and use of knowledge, allowing an understanding of their own responsibilities and values.
Content and Assessment
Throughout the course, students focus on the exploration of knowledge questions. These are open, debatable questions about knowledge itself, for example: “what counts as a good justification for a claim?” While students may find knowledge questions initially daunting, they become easier to understand and apply when linked to real life examples.
Students are assessed in two different ways during their study of TOK, via an exhibition (counting for 1/3 of their overall grade) and an essay (providing the other 2/3). In the exhibition, students are assessed on their ability to examine how TOK is seen in the world around them. It is an internal assessment and is marked by their TOK teacher/s. The Essay asks students to engage more formally in response to one of six possible titles (released by the IBDP 6 months or so before the due date of the essay) in a longer piece of writing (1,600 words). The essay is based on the examination of a title using the areas of knowledge and is marked externally by IB examiners.
How Students Score in the Top Bands
Through the assessments noted above, a student should be able to show the following skills:
TOK thinking through a critical exploration of the knowledge question
seeing and examining connections amongst the knowledge question and the real world
seeing and examining connections amongst areas of knowledge and the knowledge question
creating and delivering clear, coherent and relevant arguments
providing evidence and examples to discuss a claim
showing the understanding and evaluation of many perspectives
thinking about the implications of claims and their conclusions.
At CANA Elite, dedicated tutors from a variety of backgrounds all over the world aid students in widening their perspectives and understanding the daunting nature of knowledge. They help students organise their ideas into workable exhibitions and essays by providing them guidance in organisation and exploration.
Commonly Asked Questions
As stated previously, students in TOK are not focussed on learning new knowledge as much as they are asked to evaluate and reflect what they already know. To help guide their introspective examination, TOK is broken down into different themes and areas of knowledge. These parts are then further organised into a framework consisting of their scope, perspectives, methods and tools, and ethics. The details regarding the themes and areas of knowledge are provided below.
Knowledge and the knower: the Core theme
Knowledge and the knower gives students the chance to inwardly reflect on their role as thinkers and knowers, as well as the communities that they belong to.
This theme is studied by all students and forms a central pillar to further explorations of TOK.
Students will study at least two from the below 5 themes.
Knowledge and technology
Knowledge and language
Knowledge and politics
Knowledge and religion
Knowledge and indigenous societies
Each and everyone of these themes significantly impact the world and are significant in the moulding of knowers’ identities and perspectives.
Areas of Knowledge
Students must study all of the five areas of knowledge listed below.
The human sciences
The natural sciences
These are all unique parts of knowledge and all are distinct; at times exhibiting different methods in the creation of knowledge.
Knowledge questions provide the pillar of the TOK curriculum. They are crucial in the creation of significant and well made TOK discourses as they allow students to focus on knowledge itself and how people know. This allows students to go beyond specific subjects or real-life and into the area of TOK.
Knowledge questions, as the name suggests, are about knowledge: how it is produced, shared, used and acquired, what is not and what is knowledge; those who might be able to access it and who cannot and who are able to provide answers for these questions. In place of specific subjects, students must examine the construction and evaluation of knowledge itself. This is what makes the subject unique but also challenging.
Now, just because students raise questions does not mean that they have to find an answer. In fact, knowledge questions, by principle, must be contestable: meaning, there should not be a simple solution, they need to be open.
To examine these questions, TOK draws on its own concepts and terminology, rather than borrowing those from the other subjects they study or real-life examples. These questions are often taken for granted yet at the same time are the reason behind disagreements and problems seen throughout the world. Their exploration allows students to better understand how knowledge is created and viewed from different perspectives and practices.
Along with knowledge questions, students must know how to use and understand the following 12 concepts. They are evidence, certainty, truth, interpretation, power, justification, explanation, objectivity, perspective, culture, values and responsibility. Evaluating these concepts in correlation with knowledge questions allows students to grow their understanding of TOK.
The knowledge frameworks, as mentioned earlier, consists of 4 major parts: scope, perspectives, methods and tools, and ethics. Their meanings and how they are used are detailed below:
This part of the knowledge framework explores how different themes and areas of knowledge fit in the whole of all knowledge accumulated by humanity. It further asks students to think of the categorisation of the themes and areas of knowledge and the problems that might occur because of said categories.
This section of the knowledge framework explores the significance of the way different people might see knowledge or the context knowledge occurs. This, importantly, also asks students to examine their own views and think about how they are informed, along with trying to establish empathy with the views of others. It also asks students to think about the way in which knowledge develops through time and how perspectives might also change.
Methods and Tools
This part analyses the ways in which knowledge is produced: methodology. These ideas are broken down into the creation of conceptual frameworks, and how traditions and practices are established. In connection with perspective, it also allows students to think about the availability of certain tools and technologies throughout time in the pursuit of knowledge.
The final section of the knowledge framework asks students to think about how moral considerations have affected the pursuit and understanding of knowledge within the various themes and areas of knowledge.
A student may choose one of the below questions to explore through their exhibition. The question must not be altered at all and the exhibition should explore the question fully, making sure to not disavow any of the terms included in the question.
What counts as knowledge?
Are some types of knowledge more useful than others?
What features of knowledge have an impact on its reliability?
On what grounds might we doubt a claim?
What counts as good evidence for a claim?
How does the way that we organize or classify knowledge affect what we know?
What are the implications of having, or not having, knowledge?
To what extent is certainty attainable?
Are some types of knowledge less open to interpretation than others?
What challenges are raised by the dissemination and/or communication of knowledge?
Can new knowledge change established values or beliefs?
Is bias inevitable in the production of knowledge?
How can we know that current knowledge is an improvement upon past knowledge?
Does some knowledge belong only to particular communities of knowers?
What constraints are there on the pursuit of knowledge?
Should some knowledge not be sought on ethical grounds?
Why do we seek knowledge?
Are some things unknowable?
What counts as a good justification for a claim?
What is the relationship between personal experience and knowledge?
What is the relationship between knowledge and culture?
What role do experts play in influencing our consumption or acquisition of knowledge?
How important are material tools in the production or acquisition of knowledge?
How might the context in which knowledge is presented influence whether it is accepted or rejected?
How can we distinguish between knowledge, belief and opinion?
Does our knowledge depend on our interactions with other knowers?
Does all knowledge impose ethical obligations on those who know it?
To what extent is objectivity possible in the production or acquisition of knowledge?
Who owns knowledge?
What role does imagination play in producing knowledge about the world?
How can we judge when evidence is adequate?
What makes a good explanation?
How is current knowledge shaped by its historical development?
In what ways do our values affect our acquisition of knowledge?
In what ways do values affect the production of knowledge?
Generally, it is recommended that a student should explore the question that stands out to them. They should use their intuition to select a question that is both interesting but also challenging. There are no easy, difficult, correct, or incorrect questions within the list provided; they just all suit different students and different objects and their explorations. This could be done with a first exhibition object in mind, as it will help a student guide their thoughts into their explorations.
Once a question and a single object has been settled, it is then up to the student to link it to one of the themes they have studied. The core theme is the most flexible choice, as it really connects to the students themselves, but they all offer the possibility of analysis and insight. Now that the theme has been selected, a student may attempt to think of other dissimilar objects that explore different avenues of the prompt in relation to the theme, but still connect overall.
An excellent exhibition demonstrates how TOK manifests in the world. It will have three objects that are described and linked fully in their relation to their title and will be connected to their real-world contexts.
Importantly, students must make a clear justification of the reason why each of the chosen objects make a strong contribution to the exhibition as a whole. They should make sure that all of the points they make are both supported (this is an academic work, so research and evidence is expected) and connect to their prompt clearly.
A pitfall a student should avoid when conducting their exhibition is to not overly focus on describing the exhibition; a simple sentence or two should suffice. They should instead attempt to go into their exploration of their selected prompt as early as possible. All these explorations should be done while making sure their exhibition is convincing, lucid, and precise. TOK concepts (see the questions based on frameworks and concepts above) should be used above subject specific language in both the exhibition and the essay; a focus on TOK concepts will help students avoid missing the point of TOK.
Like the exhibition, one of the early traps students fall into when writing their essay is to overly focus and describe a real-world occurrence or item. Instead of doing this, they should try and explain the real-life situation as simply as possible, to get to their real discussion, which is how it relates to the aspect of knowing they are investigating. Indeed, students who receive the highest grades in TOK make sure their essays have a clear focus linked to the title being explored. An easy way for a student to make sure they are on track is to ask themselves after every question: “does this relate to and expand upon the title?” If not, then a student has probably gone off topic. Moreover, they must make sure that this exploration of their respective question clearly falls under the area of knowledge they are examining.
Another element students must make sure they adhere to is that they make clear, concise and effective arguments that are supported by examples from the real-world (these may be academic or from outside the classroom). After these discussions are made, students must be sure to line out the implications of their arguments.
Students must also be sure to look at their discussions from points of view other than their own, observing an understanding that the world is made of many ideas. In all, their essay should be insightful, convincing, accomplished and lucid. TOK terminology (see the questions based on frameworks and concepts above) should be used above subject specific language in both the exhibition and the essay; a focus on TOK terminology will help students avoid missing the point of TOK.
Here at CANA Elite, we truly believe that every student is unique and has the potential to reach their goals with the right guidance. Academic excellence is derived from both passionate teachers and eager students. That is why we provide a unique learning experience tailored to each individual student. Named after the location of the first miracle in the Bible, we hope CANA elite can be the place of miracles for all our students, allowing them to achieve their dreams.