What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Choose a TOK Knowledge Question

What is Covered:


The International Baccalaureate Program (IB) is a chance for students to prove themselves capable of a standard above that of typical high schools. One of the tasks in which students do this is writing the theory of knowledge (TOK) essay. The TOK essay is a mandatory component of the core, which consists of 3 of the points attainable from the total of 45. Passing TOK is essential to getting the diploma and passing the curriculum as a whole.


Aside from the essay, there is a TOK presentation that accompanies the core. Both the essay and presentation can only be started after better understanding what drives them both, the knowledge question, which is the central focus of this blog!


What is the TOK Essay and Presentation?


The TOK essay is a 1600 word essay tackling the theoretical nuances of “how people gain knowledge.” It’s not only a chance for students to boast and display the intellectual skills and knowledge of TOK they’ve gained over the course of IB, but to also challenge their own views of knowledge as a bare concept. Understanding TOK as a course, including the ways of knowing (WOKs) and areas of knowledge (AOKs), is essential to writing the essay and demonstrating higher-level thinking.


The TOK presentation is in some ways very similar to the essay, but is more discussion-based and open-ended in nature than the essay. The presentation also assesses critical thinking and inquisitive behaviors, but makes more use of real life scenarios as examples to understand applications of TOK on a more practical level. Due to a time limit and discussion section with the audience at the end, the presentation is much more fast-paced and requires more cohesive structuring to keep the audience locked in and make delivering information easy. 


Understanding what the TOK presentation and essay are makes it much easier to determine the components of a good and well-scoring set. 


What Makes a Good TOK Presentation or Essay Topic?




Both the presentation and the essay should be open-ended, and this makes sense because the writer/presenter would make use of a myriad of claims and counterclaims with various WOKs and AOKs, just to pick apart the essay to even greater details. Leaving space for thought and discussion is important because in TOK it’s hard to arrive at a conclusive answer to big questions, and that’s what IB wants! They want you to arrive at a conclusion and to even question that, before thinking you’ve arrived at an answer.


Relevant to Modern Situations


IB examiners tend to appreciate TOK topics relevant to modern day issues and events. Writing a TOK essay about the ethics of a certain global crisis happening at the time of writing would be an appealing essay, simply because it shows the writer took the extra effort to find a topic that would be relevant to a modern audience and world. Of course, writing about past events isn’t inherently bad, but finding a way to include the knowledge gained from history in modern and practical applications is more meaningful. 


Facilitates Multiple WOKs and AOKs


A topic that only focuses on a singular WOK or AOK doesn’t leave much room for the student to explore other mediums of learning and expressing knowledge, which inevitably produces a narrow-minded essay with a limited form of perception on whatever they’re analyzing. Making sure to have a topic that allows you to look at it from different WOKs and AOKs already means you can create more claims and counterclaims to strengthen your essay. 


How to Choose a Knowledge Question


Whether we’re talking about the essay or the presentation, your knowledge question (KQ) is the backbone of both. Breaking down the knowledge question into segments makes it a lot easier. We’d start with a starter segment for the KQ, and the following examples are great options:

  • “To what extent…”
  • “Is it possible for…”
  • “In what sense is…”


Notice that none of the starters begin with a simple “why” or “how,” because that isn’t descriptive enough and will come across as lacking effort to IB.


Next, finding ways to use IB vocabulary in your title is also important. Words like “bias,” “belief,” and “claim” are all examples that have been used in previous IB papers. After this, finding ways to include and share your personal knowledge can change the overall feel of your KQ. Thinking of a memory that made you question knowledge is a great start to creating a topic, and relating that to your KQ can make it more personal and enjoyable to write. 


Finally, finding ways to incorporate AOKs and WOKs in your KQ is useful because it sets the path of your essay and presentation right away. An example KQ that does this might be like:


To what extent is intuition responsible for our understanding of the practical applications of theoretical mathematics? 


This title makes use of a WOK (faith) and an AOK (mathematics), and starts with a clear and well written starter. This is what an ideal KQ would look like, but the combinations and ideas are essentially endless, so taking time to construct one that you could personally discuss is important. 


A KQ will improve the overall writing and creating processes behind the essay and the presentation, but it’s also some of the defining parts of TOK, and where most students make or break their essays and presentations. So, make sure to take as much time as you need to plan out a KQ, because once your KQ is set in place, it’s just a matter of expanding and detailing upon this KQ with sources and evidence. 


How Does the TOK Presentation and Essay Affect My Admissions Chances?


While your TOK presentation and essay don’t have any direct impact on your college admissions chances, it teaches you how to write essays in a clear and concise manner, which could prove to be useful for applying to schools! For more information on what can affect your chances in applying for college, use CollegeVine’s college admissions calculator. This free tool will take into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and more to determine your chances at your dream schools!


Short Bio
Varun is a recent graduate from Arizona State University, Tempe, with a degree in Computer Science. He aims to share his knowledge of computer science, the IB Diploma Program, and all things college-related with high school students. In his free time, he can be found performing DJ sets or cooking!