What is ‘Theory of Knowledge’?

25 February 2021

As part of the IB Diploma, Sixth Form students are required to study ‘Theory of Knowledge’ (TOK). Next week, the Year 12 students will be completing their TOK Exhibition, so it seems like a good time to explain the course for anyone who might be interested to know more about it.

Here are just a few key points you might be interested to know:

1) TOK students are awarded a grade from A-D, based on the Exhibition task in year 12, and the Essay in year 13.

2) The TOK grade combines with the Extended Essay grade to give students up to THREE extra core points, in addition to the score from their six subjects. This matrix explains how the number of core points is calculated:

3) TOK is all about looking more deeply, both at the world around us and at our academic pursuits. It focuses on what we call ‘second order questions’. So, instead of asking, ‘what’s in the news today?’ we might ask, ‘is bias inevitable in any media report?’ Or, instead of asking, ‘what was the cause of the Russian Revolution?’ we might ask, ‘how can we assess the reliability of historical knowledge?’

4) The first part of the TOK course focuses on our relationship with the world. The students study modules on knowledge, technology and language, and the course aims to be relevant and useful for 21st Century students. For example, we study the concepts of bias and misinformation in online media. We also consider ideas about ethics in the real world. For example, we look at the ethical decisions behind programming driverless cars.

5) The Exhibition assessment requires students to curate a set of objects and link them to the concepts we have studied in class. For example, a student might discuss how the novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ presents the knowledge of the Igbo culture. Or they could consider to what extent a chess-playing robot can be said to have knowledge.

6) The second part of the course is about adding depth to students’ understanding of academic subjects. It challenges them to think about the nature of the subjects themselves. For example, they study how paradigm shifts in the natural sciences have influenced scientific development, and they study the limitations of gathering data in subjects like Psychology.

7) The Essay assessment requires students to respond to one title from a selection of six released by the IB each year. Previous titles have asked students to consider concepts such as ‘certainty’, ‘bias’, and ‘trust’. They approach these concepts by considering how we gain knowledge in academic subjects. For example, certainty in Mathematics is different to certainty in the Human Sciences.

Thank you for taking the time to read about TOK! Feel free to email me Mrs Rand on hrand@windermereschool.co.uk with any questions about the TOK course, and I hope you are looking forward to the Virtual Exhibition by the Year 12 students.