The TOK Essay

The TOK Essay is an essay completed on a title assigned by the IB, usually in the fall of the second year of the IB diploma. It is 1600 words long and counts for 2/3 (67%) of the overall TOK mark received. As such, it is quite an important piece of work, given that it can count for up to 1 full point on the diploma and yet it still relatively short.

When should you start thinking about the TOK Essay?

While you might want to get a head start and begin working on the TOK essay early, it is not feasible to do so as the TOK essay titles are posted quite late (usually in the summer between IB year 1 and 2). As such, it is impossible to begin planning for your actual essay before the fall of IB year 2. However, much of the preparation for the TOK essay is done in TOK class. Learning thoroughly about the ways of knowing, the areas of knowledge and TOK terminology will help you immensely when you come to write your actual TOK essay. The TOK presentation (which is worth the other 1/3 of the marks) is also very good preparation for a TOK essay. It would be wise to begin thinking about the TOK essay no later than November of your second year, so you give yourself time to complete your IAs and revise for your IB exams.

What is the usual timeline for writing the TOK Essay?

Each school will have their own timelines, however the timeline I outline below should work in most school systems.

  1. Once the TOK Essay Titles have been announced, spend at least one hour seriously considering each title. Do not pick one or discard one on the spot; think carefully about each. One major issue to think about when picking an essay title is how many real life situations you can think of for that title -- if it is less than five, then you should probably pick another one.

  2. After having picked an Essay Title, it is time to plan thoroughly. Think about which areas of knowledge you would like to discuss and which arguments you would like to make. For each argument, think of a counterargument and how you could disprove it to make your point stronger. Make sure to include TOK terminology and concepts in your arguments, as well as a minimum of one real life situation for each argument.

  3. It is only after you have planned thoroughly (which usually takes around 2-3 weeks) that you should begin to write your TOK essay. It is advisable to write your TOK essay all in one sitting, so that you are aware of your ideas and the essay is more smooth and comprehensible. Find a weekend to write it and sit down for a couple hours. Make sure you do not go too much over the word count (1600 words) as it is a common trap.

  4. Once your TOK essay is written, you usually hand it over to your TOK teacher for a first round of official feedback. If this is not possible at your school, try to have one teacher at least look over it and tell you their thoughts.

  5. From the teacher feedback, it is time to go back and edit the essay. While this should take less time than the writing of the actual essay, it should be done carefully to ensure the essay remains comprehensible.

  6. The essay is edited, and done!

How is the TOK Essay graded?

The TOK essay does not have specific grading criteria. The essay is assessed as a whole, and graded on a scale of 1-10. The IB also provides some adjectives for essays in each band. This is quite subjective and the grade can vary based on the examiner, however, following the IB guidelines for top essays should ensure that the grade does not vary too much. The overall grading criteria from the IB is shown below:

Good luck on the TOK Essay!