Glossary of TOK

Terms, acronyms and their definitions

TOK is a course full of terms and acronyms, and it’s easy to lose track of what they all mean. Here is a list of the key things you need to know.

AOK (Area of knowledge)

The six AOKs represent our different categories of knowledge in TOK. These are the arts, history, the human sciences, mathematics, and the natural sciences.

Assessment instrument

The assessment instrument is the rubric used for your TOK essay and exhibition. Make sure you have read and understood this before you begin writing them!


It’s important that the arguments you present in TOK are fully interconnected. This means linking (by comparing and contrasting) different AOKs and themes, and ensuring that the real-life situations you use to explore knowledge question discussion are fully relevant.

Core theme

The core theme of TOK is called 'Knowledge and the knower', and considers ways in which personal knowers produce, use, and make sense of knowledge about the world. Like the optional themes, it provides content that can be drawn on within the exhibition.


The TOK exhibition is one of the two assessment tasks. It is done at the end of Year 1, completed individually, and involves students choosing an IA prompt, and selecting three objects to explain how TOK “manifests itself in the world around us”.

IA prompts

Students choose one IA prompt from a list of 35, on which they base their TOK exhibition.


Drawing implications is very important in TOK. This means being able to explain the significance of your arguments, illustrating and assessing this via examples.


During the TOK essay writing process, you will meet with your teacher for 3 ‘interactions’. For more details on each one, see the FAQs section.

International mindedness

TOK is one of the key ways in which the IB Diploma Programme achieves its mission to encourage international mindedness, via a consideration of different cultural perspectives, and how knowledge is produced in often radically different societies.

Knowledge framework

The knowledge framework is a tool provided by the IB to help you unpack and explore the different AOKs. This framework asks you consider the scope of the AOK, methods and tools within it that are used to produce knowledge, how it can be viewed via different perspectives, and how it links to ethics.

KQ (Knowledge question)

Knowledge questions are exactly that - questions about knowledge - and exploring them are a key part of the TOK course, and one of the ways in which you are assessed in the essay.

Optional themes

There are 5 different optional themes (knowledge and indigenous societies, knowledge and language, knowledge and politics, knowledge and religion, and knowledge and technology), and students should explore at least two of these in detail and depth. It is recommended that the TOK exhibition is based on one of the optional themes (or the core theme).

Personal experiences and beliefs

The new ‘core’ theme (Knowledge and the knower) encourages us to reflect on our own personal biases, experiences, opinions, and beliefs, and think about the origins of all these.


One of the key aspects of TOK is considering different perspectives, and how they affect the ways we acquire and use knowledge. Perspectives might include our gender, cultural background, an academic tradition, or the point in time when we are looking at the world.

Points matrix

Your grade for TOK (A-E) combines with the one you receive for the extended essay (EE) to give a mark out of 3. So, an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ give you 3 points; a ‘B’ and a ‘C’ give you 1 point, etc. The FAQs section has a table to illustrate the points matrix.

PPF (Planning and progress form)

This is filled in by you as you produce your TOK essay, giving details of the three interactions you have with your teacher. Your teacher will also write their comments about your essay on the PPF.

PT (Prescribed title)

You write your TOK essay on one of the six PTs released by the IB about 6 months before the completion date.

RLS (Real-life situation)

RLSs are issues, events, and experiences that you might have had, or read about, that serve as examples to support your discussion of knowledge questions, and also as the source from which you extract your knowledge questions.


The theory of knowledge course.

Twelve TOK concepts

Although TOK is a concept-rich course, with hundreds of ideas and concepts, the IB has picked out twelve which are of special importance: evidence, certainty, truth, interpretation, power, justification, explanation, objectivity, perspective, culture, values, responsibility.


Although TOK doesn’t look at a separate area of knowledge for morals or ethics, the concept of ‘values’ runs strongly through the course, and students should be able to discuss the relationship between the knowledge we possess, and the values we embrace.

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