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Varun Srinivasan
6 IB Guides

Guide to IB Theory of Knowledge

What’s Covered:

 

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (referred to as IBDP, or IB throughout this blog) is a two-year educational program in about 140 countries around the world. In it, students take part in six subjects and three other core requirements. Of these three core requirements, one of them is Theory of Knowledge (TOK). TOK is a mandatory class that is central to IB’s philosophy of questioning and understanding the simple idea of, “How do we know?”. This course leads IB students on a reflective path in better understanding how they study and excel in their program. 

 

What is Theory of Knowledge (TOK)?

 

Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is a critical requirement to the philosophical beliefs of IB as an education system, and IB’s approach to create a more holistic learning experience. Most  importantly, it aims to teach students how to apply the knowledge they acquire in their six subjects into meaningful purposes effectively. TOK as a subject is broken down into two main components, areas of knowledge and ways of knowing. 

 

Areas of knowledge (AOK)

 

TOK branches knowledge as a concept into specific mediums, each useful in different ways. These are broad categories that can be analyzed and investigated over the two years students spend participating in TOK. The eight AOKs are listed below:

 

Mathematics

 

Mathematics as an AOK is based on a set of universally accepted laws. This level of communal acceptance makes mathematics a good subject for study in TOK, allowing students to question the processes of forming laws based on assumptions and proofs. The creative applications of this AOK can also be pushed to unimaginable extents, as pure mathematics can be very theoretical. The applications of mathematics in the real-world uses often overlaps with the AOKs natural sciences and human sciences, making mathematics a great AOK to better understand science. 

 

Natural Sciences

 

Natural sciences tackle the laws of nature, understanding the cause and effects in the natural world, and how we can apply this knowledge into applications, (for example, engineering). Natural science differs from the other AOKs in that topics in natural sciences are usually binary in nature, true or false. This binary behavior doesn’t facilitate opposing discussion as much as the other AOKs, making it a reliable AOK to prove the regularity of something. Perhaps being the most empirical AOK of them all, natural sciences is one of the most analyzed and studied AOKs. 

 

Human Sciences

 

Human sciences actually closely relate to the subjects in IB’s group 3 subject selection, which are mostly humanities. This AOK mostly dives into psychology, anthropology and social studies as a measure of one’s knowledge. While findings in natural sciences are proven with facts and empirical testing, human sciences instead relies on experimental conclusions, gathering data and statistics to form an answer when a question is provided.

 

History

 

History is a controversial AOK, because everything requires a form of witness to capture a moment’s validity. TOK students will question how much knowledge from the past, gained from history, can actually be applicable to modern day issues. History as an AOK can teach students many things about historical perspective and understanding which side of the situation they are reading impacts their judgements. However, studying history can also help us learn from mistakes, preventing its repetition. 

 

The Arts

 

Art refers to anything that possesses creative value, often capturing emotions of the artist in an attempt to use their art as a medium of expressing these emotions. The nature of this AOK completely embraces and questions the reality of being a human being, and having a consciousness that allows us to enjoy things in a subjective and opinionated manner. We use art as a way to bridge our understanding of other AOKs and explain it in meaningful ways to others. This AOK, like human sciences, also promotes students to look at themselves more introspectively, and better understand themselves. 

 

Ethics

 

Ethics is arguably the most controversial AOK to approach, as what one considers to be ethical, unethical, or immoral depends solely on the personality and mindset of the individual. IB makes sure to have students question whether or not there is a concept of right versus wrong. Students will find themselves often stuck on how to approach ethics in a calculated manner, and they may think that it’s not possible. Ethics is meant to be approached in a more personal manner, addressing what ethics means to the student and how their mindset can shift the way they think.

 

Religious Knowledge System (RKS)

 

RKS focuses more on how religion relates to human purpose and beliefs. How knowledge can be based on what someone learned via their religion is often a focal point of RKS. Varying from monotheism to pantheism, different religions provide alternative perspectives on what we call “knowledge.” RKS aims to form a single view, formed as a blend of different religions, but often finds difficulty in meshing well with the views of AOKs that use more concrete views, like natural sciences, thus making RKS a relatively one-dimensional AOK.

 

Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS)

 

IKS refers to the knowledge gained from people of indigenous tribes found over the world. These knowledge systems are often not set in stone and are continuously changing with interactions with other societies. They make use of artifacts and traditions to pass on knowledge through generations of people. 

 

Ways of knowing (WOK)

 

Ways of knowing play a central and important role in understanding what it means to “know” something. WOKs connect our AOKs to the real world and form meaningful applications of knowledge. The following WOKs are some of many, but are listed here as they are recognized by the board of IB:

 

Emotion

 

Since we usually understand our emotions and reconcile with them more than any other WOK, emotion is considered the most believable and personal WOK of them all. Considered to be the opposite of reason, emotion can actually be a drive or motivating factor to learn more in an AOK.

 

Memory

 

Our knowledge is mostly formed from preexisting information, or memory. It plays a large role in our senses and our identity. It can serve as a quick tool for quickly recollecting information and applying it, but it can also be fickle and easily influence future experiences due to preexisting biases that we retain. 

 

Sense Perception

 

Sense plays the most rudimentary, primal role of all the WOKs, because without them we’d have no picture or idea of the physical world. Using our senses to gather information might be the progenitor of all the other WOKs, but it can also be considered limiting. There are things that our senses don’t pick up such as radio waves, something that’s always traveling around us. This shows that our senses miss information, or rather hide it from us. Sense perception is a great WOK to start learning with, but quickly proves to be not enough on its own. 

 

Imagination

 

Imagination is hard to define as a WOK but we can understand that it helps us visualize and think. Using our imagination to hypothesize and calculate things demonstrates its usefulness as a WOK, but it’s important to remember that it’s best used as a tool to support other WOKs. 

 

Reason

 

Reasoning is the process of breaking things down into a logical format. We can “reason” with the information we gain using other WOKs. It allows us to make seemingly confusing information, explainable and logical to our minds. IB students often find themselves thinking reasoning is the superior WOK, or at least one that works well with nearly every other WOK.

 

Intuition

 

Intuition is usually seen in the form of quick judgements and actions. Intuition is often associated with memory, and this is seen when we make quick decisions using memories or previous experiences, such as remembering where to turn on a street. 

 

Faith

 

Faith is considered to be the “weakest” WOK, mostly due to its link with the religious knowledge system, an AOK mentioned earlier in this blog. It’s often hard to draw knowledge on something based purely on faith as opposed to reasoning or any other process where we’d have a bit more control. Basing an argument off pure faith is often hard to express as convincing or solid, making it a WOK that is less coveted. 

 

Language

 

Language is more than just a WOK, it’s a medium in which people have expressed and shared knowledge through various forms, from written texts to songs. Communication of knowledge is just important as gathering it, leaving language as the WOK that IB students often find combining with nearly every other WOK. 

 

How is Theory of Knowledge Scored?

 

Your TOK scores come from two different assessments:

 

  • An in class presentation (33% of total grade)
  • Externally assessed essay (67% of total grade)

 

Scoring in TOK isn’t as simple as a letter grade because TOK is a third of what IB calls its “core,” with the other parts being Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) and the extended essay. Scoring well in all three of these can give you up to three of the attainable 45 points in IBDP.

 

The following table details how the three points are attainable from the core:

 

Remember, if you get an E for either TOK or CAS, you’re not eligible to get the diploma.

 

 

Theory of Knowledge

Extended Essay

 

Excellent (A)

Good (B)

Satisfactory (C)

Mediocre 

(D)

Elementary (E)

Not Submitted

Excellent (A)

3

3

2

2

1 + Failing Condition

N

Good (B)

3

2

1

1

Failing Condition

N

 

Satisfactory (C)

2

1

1

0

Failing Condition

N

 

Mediocre (D)

2

1

0

0

Failing Condition

N

 

Elementary (E)

1 + Failing Condition

Failing Condition

Failing Condition

Failing Condition

Failing Condition

N

 

Not Submitted

N

N

N

N

N

N

 

While IB scores are important to receive the diploma, your actual scores don’t determine your chances of college admissions as much as you think. Instead, it’s more about taking the IB classes pertaining to your future major, and showing work ethic by signing up for hard classes.  For more insight into college admissions and your chances, use CollegeVine’s admissions calculator!


Short Bio
Varun is a junior at Arizona State University, Tempe. He aims to share his knowledge of college admissions and the IB Diploma Program with high school students. In his free time, he can be found making music or trying a new recipe!