The International Baccalaureate program released new guidelines in 2020 for its Theory of Knowledge, or TOK, component. For students who are currently or soon to be enrolled in the IB’s Diploma Program, it is important to know exactly what these changes consist of:
TOK is a core requirement of the diploma program. Per the IB website, TOK prompts students to “reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know.”
If you intend to earn an IB diploma while in high school, you must complete TOK. Failure to do so will prevent you from graduating with this distinction. However, if you are enrolled in just one IB course, you are not required to complete TOK.
TOK’s themes have changed considerably from those in earlier years. Specifically, the optional themes of “knowledge and technology” and “knowledge and politics” have been added, and the new theme “knowledge and the knower” is now at the heart of the course.
Also significant is the underlying theme of ethics, which is embedded in every theme and within all five compulsory areas of knowledge:: the arts, history, mathematics, human sciences and natural sciences.
IB Senior Curriculum Manager Jenny Gillett notes that the above changes were made “to keep pace with the ever-changing world in which we live,” and “to be more relevant to today’s learner than ever before.” She says the new knowledge and technology theme is a prime example of relevance to modern times, as it “will enable students to discuss important issues such as fake news, and the impact of social media, questioning the impact of technology on knowers and knowledge, and how it helps and hinders our pursuit of knowledge.”
While the changes to TOK went into effect in 2020, the first assessment for the updated TOK course will not be given until spring 2022.
The two forms of assessment have been modified, though less so with the essay. TOK students must still compose a 1,600-word essay, but the focus for it will be on the compulsory areas of knowledge. The oral presentation has been replaced with an exhibition task that is meant to show “how TOK manifests in the real world,” according to IB.
The process for external moderation by IB examiners for the exhibition task requirement is different. Students will produce one file containing the content of their exhibition. This must include a title that clearly identifies their selected prompt, images of their three chosen objects, a typed commentary on each object and appropriate citations and referencing.
If you are unsure how to tackle the TOK requirement, consider these three tips:
- Locate examples of TOK essays and exhibition tasks.
- Emphasize multiple disciplines and approaches when drafting the TOK essay.
- Seek input from individuals familiar with drafting the TOK essay.
Locate Examples of TOK Essays and Exhibition Tasks
One effective way to prepare for TOK is to read essays and view exhibition tasks by former IB students. Just be aware that it may be quite difficult to find examples of the latter since it was just added to the TOK curriculum.
There are three resources that can help you familiarize yourself with TOK content and style.
First, the official IB website lists former and upcoming TOK essay prompts that students might encounter. Most prompts require students to explain “to what extent” they agree with a statement and to support their stance using two areas of knowledge. Others may prompt students to “consider” or “evaluate” a statement.
Another resource is the Mid-Atlantic Association of IB World Schools, which offers a PDF that consists of two full-length sample essays that correspond to the following prompts: “Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of reason as a way of knowing” and “To understand something you need to rely on your own experience and culture. Does this mean that it is impossible to have objective knowledge?” These essays are valuable study tools because the TOK instructor has made long, detailed comments using Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature.
Finally, YouTube is a fantastic free resource for accessing TOK exhibitions and how-to advice. One benefit of using YouTube is that you can pose questions to video creators, and they will sometimes mention other useful resources.
Emphasize Multiple Disciplines and Approaches When Drafting the TOK Essay
As students compose their TOK essays and exhibitions, they should consider the IB’s five areas of knowledge. They should also review the eight ways of knowing: emotion, faith, imagination, intuition, language, memory, reason and sense perception.
Each essay and exhibition should incorporate elements from both categories, areas of knowledge and ways of knowing. One TOK instructor recommends exploring two areas of knowledge in the main body of the essay and then, around the edges, including a few insights into the ways of knowing. By incorporating a variety of disciplines into your work, you give the impression that you have a broad range of knowledge.
According to the IB, two of the questions that students may explore in the new TOK essay are whether it is artificial to divide mathematics and natural sciences into separate areas of knowledge and how important the opinions of experts are in the search for knowledge.
Seek Input From Individuals Familiar With TOK to Make Revisions
Once you have drafted your TOK essay and exhibition, seek out advice from others. It is best to consult with individuals who are well-versed in the TOK requirement, rather than friends or family members who are unfamiliar with it.
Your TOK instructor is, of course, your primary resource for study and preparation. After school, ask your instructor for pointers. He or she may be willing to look over your essay or review your exhibition notes.
Stay abreast of these key TOK curriculum changes so that you know exactly what to expect and how to prepare for the updated assessment types.