FAQs About the Essay

Common questions asked about how write an effective essay

How many words should the TOK essay be?

The maximum number of words for the TOK essay is 1600 words. The challenge is not reaching that word count (as, perhaps it is in the EE), but fitting everything you have to say into it. Your final version of the essay should therefore be as close as possible to 1600 words. Anything less, and you are probably leaving out useful content.

How should the essay be structured?

There’s no one definitive way of structuring a TOK essay, but however you do it, it should be clear to the examiner what purpose each element of your essay serves, which almost certainly means an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. The context of the main body should be two or more different areas of knowledge, which should be fully interlinked.

How should I write my essay introduction?

Essay introductions are always important, but they are arguably even more so in the TOK essay. Because you are dealing with words and terms in the title that might have abstract or subjective meanings, it’s vital to pin these words and terms down, and explain exactly how you will approach them in your introduction. Not only will this give your readers a clear idea of the flow and direction of your essay, it will also help you to figure out the flow and direction of your essay.

Don’t use cliched or dictionary definitions to pin down meanings; give your own interpretation, proving that you have a sophisticated understanding of the title (with ‘knowledge’ being the best example of this - do not just say ‘justified true belief’!). In addition, you should provide a ‘roadmap’ of where you are going. You do not need to state a thesis or conclusion yet, but you should mention which AOKs you will focus on. Thirdly, give your readers some sort of ‘hook’ to pique their interest. A quote or a challenging statement is an effective way of doing this.

How do I structure the main body of my essay?

A typical TOK essay will ask you to consider a question within the context of two different AOKs. In order to consider different points of view, you will structure the main body of your essay around arguments (that might support an assertion in the title) and counterarguments (that might oppose an assertion in the title).

After introducing your argument, you need to analyse and discuss it. This should initially be in the form of general argument, with your own ideas perhaps augmented with those of other thinkers you have come across. Only when you have properly discussed your ideas should you refer to your real-life situations. Remember, their role in an essay is to support what you have already said.

Another point worth making is that you should also link your different areas of knowledge. An ideal moment to do this is the transition point from one AOK to another, when you can compare and contrast the nature of knowledge within the AOKs.

What is the purpose of a TOK essay conclusion?

In the conclusion of your TOK essay you will summarize the main points offered in your essay, try to answer the question definitively, and leave your reader with the sense that their understanding of the world has been genuinely moved on. You might also want to revisit your comparison of knowledge within your AOKs that you mentioned in the transition point of your main body, stressing points of difference or similarity. However, you should not be presenting any new ideas or evidence. In the same way it is advisable to hook your reader’s interest in the introduction, it is good practice to leave them with something memorable, so a profound assertion, quote, or particularly articulate expression is an effective way of finishing off your essay.

Do I need to draw on lots of sources in my TOK essay?

Your essay will not be evaluated in terms of the level of research used to support its ideas, so you can, in theory, earn an excellent grade without referring to any other sources. However, it is recommended that you do draw on books, websites, and other sources of information, in order to indicate that you approached your essay with the seriousness and commitment that it deserves. Referring to other people’s ideas will also help you to discuss your knowledge claims and counterclaims, before you move on to support them with your real life situations.

What should the balance of personal experiences to outside experiences be?

Although the IB recommends that you include your own experiences amongst the RLSs you use in your essay, it recommends that the balance of personal and outside experiences should be slightly in favour of the latter.

How much help is my TOK teacher allowed to give me for the essay?

For the TOK essay, your teacher will meet with you for three ‘interactions’, during which you will discuss the different prescribed essay titles (PTs), form an essay plan, and go over your essay draft. In addition, your teacher will provide you with tips and advice on how to write an effective essay, and field specific questions you have, perhaps on the suitability of arguments, and the quality of examples that you are using. Your teacher cannot give you editorial advice, a predicted grade, or provide you with written feedback on more than one occasion.

How important is my PPF?

The Planning and Progress Form (PPF) represents an important part of the essay-writing process, helping you to track the development of your ideas, and demonstrate that you are receiving the appropriate level of support from your TOK teacher. Your teacher’s comments are also helpful to examiners as they evaluate the way you have approached your prescribed title. However, whilst it is important to take the PPF seriously, it does not contribute directly to the mark you receive.

How much teaching time does the essay take up?

The IB says you should spend around 10 hours writing your essay.

Where can I see essay exemplars?

The IB publishes exemplar essays; your teacher should be able to provide these for you as a model for your own essay-writing.

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