SIX STEPS TO WRITING A GOOD TOK ESSAY:
A STUDENT GUIDE
SELECT A TITLE FROM THE IB LIST.
Do not instantly seize upon a title that sounds appealing and plunge into it headlong. Instead, read carefully all titles (that is, all topics or questions) on the list. Which one allows you to demonstrate best your understanding of ToK issues and your own critical skills? Remember that you may not change the title to something else that you wish you had been asked, but must respond to what the IB has given.
WHAT ARE THE KEY WORDS OF CONCEPTS?
Are there key words of the Theory of Knowledge course – words such as “belief,” “knowledge,” “truth,” or “justification”? Are you clear about what they mean? Are you aware of ambiguities in meaning, or of possible alternative meanings? Check back on class notes, and give these words some thought.
How are the key concepts related to each other? Put the title into your own words to make sure you understand what is being asked.
READ THE INSTRUCTIONS
AND THE MARKING CRITERIA.
Do not skip this step. Do not skip this step.
Do not even think about skipping this step.
(a) Read the instructions. What are the key words of instruction?
WHAT ARE THE KEY WORDS OF INSTRUCTION?
If you are told to “assess” or “evaluate” a claim, then you are supposed to consider the arguments both for and against it, taking into account any ambiguities in interpreting it. Possible responses, for example:
• that the claim is justified in these ways or up to this point, but not justified in those ways or beyond that point
• that whether or not the claim is justified depends on what is meant by one of its key words of concepts, so that if you take one version of the key word the claim is justified, but if you take a different version it is not
• that, although some justification can be offered for this point of view, the claim is really an oversimplification and misrepresentation
If you are asked “to what extent” or “in what way” a statement is justified, then you are being asked the same thing, but in different words.
If you are being asked a question directly, your response must still take the same approach of considering to what extent or in what ways you consider the answer to be yes or no.
Notice that the instructions on making and supporting arguments are not unlike those for all other courses where essays are required.
Now look at the general instructions which apply to all the topics/titles, regardless of what the key words of instructions within them may be. These instructions tell you exactly what you are expected to do in your essay.
Remember to centre your essay on problems of knowledge and, where appropriate, refer to other parts of your IB programme and to experiences as a knower. Always justify your statements and provide relevant examples to illustrate your arguments, and remember to consider what can be said against them. If you use external sources, cite them according to a recognized convention. Examiners mark essays against the title as set. Respond to the title as given; do not alter it in any way. Your essay must be between 1200 and 1600 words in length.
Last, read over the criteria according to which your essay will be marked. Pay attention to the description of the top mark in each category in order to set your goals for an appropriate essay. Note that the first two categories (Knowledge Issues and Quality of Analysis) are emphasized in importance by being given double points.
Think of the essay as a kind of game – perhaps basketball or soccer in which you have to show your skills. Or think of it as a performance of dance or music. The audience will recognize a good game or performance and give you applause – if you do it well. You’re going for gold. So read the marking criteria, and make sure that you understand how to get your gold medal.
GATHER YOUR IDEAS.
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