Theory of knowledge (IB course)

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Theory of knowledge (TOK) is a compulsory core subject of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. It is marked on a letter scale (A-E) and aims to "provide an opportunity for students to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know."[1] Students who attain an E will not be able to receive their final IB Diploma.[2]

Course description[edit]

Theory of Knowledge is a course created by the IB organization and must not be conceived as pure epistemology. This course involves a process of exploring and sharing students' views on "knowledge questions" (an umbrella term for "everything that can be approached from a TOK point of view"), so "there is no end to the valid questions that may arise", "there are many different ways to approach TOK," "the sheer scope of the TOK course is daunting" and "teachers and students need the confidence to go too far outside their traditional comfort zones."[3] Teachers are entitled to select a teaching methodology and course material that will convey the theoretical foundation of essential concepts and may provide an environment in which these concepts can be discussed and debated. The focus of the discussion should not be the differentiation between "right" and "wrong" ideas but on the quality of justification and a balanced approach to the knowledge claim in question.

The TOK course uses a combination, in no particular order ("many entry points and sequences are possible"):[4]

The TOK course is expected to involve 100 teaching hours over the two years of the Diploma Programme.[5] Having followed the course, students should be competent to analyse knowledge claims and respond to knowledge issues in the context of different areas of knowledge and ways of knowing, expressing ideas accurately and honestly, using examples from their own experiences as learners and in outside life.[6]

  • Personal knowledge is the systematic assimilation of shared knowledge acquired in different areas of knowledge through a process that vary within disciplines.[7]
  • Shared knowledge is the accumulation of bodies of knowledge in different areas of knowledge, the media and society.[7]
  • The Knowledge Framework is a scheme that contains five elements: scope and application, language, methodology, historical development and links to personal knowledge.[8]

Course description for ToK first examination 2022

The Theory of Knowledge course has undergone some changes and now investigates five Areas of Knowledge (the Arts, History, Mathematics, The Human Sciences, The Natural Sciences), 12 ToK Concepts and four lenses of interpretation: Scope, Perspectives, Methods and Tools, Ethics. The 12 ToK concepts are Evidence, Certainty, Truth, Interpretation, Power, Justification, Explanation, Objectivity, Perspective, Culture, Values and Responsibility.

One of the Optional Themes for the 2022 Course is Knowledge and Technology, where teachers investigate questions such as:

Does technology allow knowers to access "the sum of all human knowledge"? And what would this "sum of all human knowledge look like"?


Theory of knowledge is assessed in two parts: an externally examined 1,200–1,600 word essay and an internally assessed presentation.[9] Each part is scored using assessment criteria, which differ between the essay and presentation. The total score is converted into a grade from A to E. A similar system is used for the extended essay and students can gain up to 3 points for the diploma based on the grades achieved for TOK and EE. No diploma is awarded if a candidate fails to submit either the TOK essay or TOK presentation, or receives grade E for either the extended essay or theory of knowledge.

IB Diploma Core Requirements - Awarded Points Matrix
Theory of Knowledge
Extended Essay
A 3 3 2 2 Failing condition
B 3 2 2 1
C 2 2 1 0
D 2 1 0 0
E Failing condition
Source: The diploma points matrix. May 2015 onwards[10]

TOK essay[edit]

For each exam session the IB prescribes 6 essay titles from which students must choose.[11] Each title raises generic cross-disciplinary questions about knowledge, and the student is expected to consider the issues raised in the title and reach conclusions about them. The essay should put forward claims and counterclaims, linking knowledge issues to areas of knowledge and ways of knowing,[12] and show evidence of original thinking by the student.[13] Essays over the maximum word count of 1,600 are penalised with a one mark reduction, and any content beyond the 1600th word of the essay is not read by the examiner.[14]

TOK presentation (Last exam 2021)[edit]

During the Theory of Knowledge course, students must plan and deliver at least one (in individual or small group, maximum three students) presentation to the class. The topic is based on a real-life situation of interest to the student, e.g. "Reliability of media reporting of science", "What makes something a work of art?" and the presentation is expected to show why the topic is significant, linking it to a relevant main knowledge question (KQ), and discussing those issues and examining the implications of approaching the question from different perspectives, given by WOKs (ways of knowing), and at least one AOK (Area of knowledge). Teachers have wide latitude to help with topic selection and identifying suitable approaches. About ten minutes should be allowed for each presenter.[15][16]

TOK exhibition (First exam 2022)[edit]

The TOK exhibition is a new assessment component implemented for all the candidates graduating in 2022 and after. It replaces the TOK presentation and bears the same assessment weight (33%).

According to the new IB Guide,[17] the TOK exhibition explores how TOK manifests in the world around us by creating an exhibition of three objects (or images of objects) that connect to only one of the themes (either core or optional) and on only one of the 35 prompts provided within the new Guide. Each object must be accompanied by a written commentary.

These 35 prompts are knowledge questions such as: What counts as knowledge? Who owns knowledge? Are some things unknowable? etc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What is the Theory of Knowledge". International Baccalaureate®. Retrieved 2020-11-20.
  2. ^ "IB Diploma Programme / Requirements". Earl Wooster High School. Retrieved 2020-11-20.
  3. ^ Theory of knowledge guide (first examinations 2008). International Baccalaureate Organization. March 2006. pp. 3–4.
  4. ^ Theory of knowledge guide (first examinations 2008). International Baccalaureate Organization. March 2006. pp. 6–35.
  5. ^ Theory of knowledge guide (first examinations 2008). International Baccalaureate Organization. March 2006. p. 3.
  6. ^ Theory of knowledge guide (first examinations 2008). International Baccalaureate Organization. March 2006. p. 5.
  7. ^ a b Theory of Knowledge Guide. Cardiff, Wales: International Baccalaureate Organization. 2013. pp. 17–33.
  8. ^ Theory of knowledge guide (first examinations 2015). International Baccalaureate Organization. April 2013. p. 28.
  9. ^ Theory of knowledge guide (first examinations 2008). International Baccalaureate Organization. March 2006. p. 41.
  10. ^ February 2016
  11. ^ "Core: Diploma requirements – 2 Theory of knowledge". 2009 Handbook of procedures for the Diploma Program.
  12. ^ Theory of knowledge guide (first examinations 2008). International Baccalaureate Organization. March 2006. p. 44.
  13. ^ ""Help" with IB assessment tasks". Archived from the original on April 20, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-11.
  14. ^ "Assessment Details". Theory of Knowledge guide. International Baccalaureate Organization. March 2013.
  15. ^ Theory of knowledge guide (first examinations 2008). International Baccalaureate Organization. March 2006. pp. 46–50, 57–60.
  16. ^ "Theory of knowledge presentation: Tips and Pitfalls". 2016.
  17. ^ Theory of knowledge guide (first assessment 2022), International Baccalaureate Organization, Cardiff, 2020.