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How To Write A Tok Essay Thesis

My full ToK Essay Mastery course is here (step-by-step videos, templates and tips) if you’d like a big boost with your essay– including the May 2016 Prescribed Titles.

The following structure is a foolproof, step-by-step method you can use on any ToK essay to get very high marks.

It works really well, to give you a strong foundation for your essay. And once you have this in place you can challenge your own thinking and consider ways you can make your essay as insightful as possible.

(I’ve also done this for the TOK presentation, here).

Before you can begin your real/final essay, you’ll need to take the title (something like: “What is it about mathematics that makes it convincing?” and come up with a Knowledge Question (KQ) that turns the title into a question of knowledge. For example, “To what extent is math more reliable than other areas of knowledge?”).

In my ToK Mastery Course I encour­age you to begin the KQ with words like: “To what extent…”,” “How do we know that…,” “How reli­able is…,” “How cer­tain is…” These kind of open questions allow you to pull in multiple perspectives (AoK’s and WoK’s, as we’ll talk about), so you can show your TOK think­ing. Also, make sure that your ques­tion is directly related to know­ing–that it is a question about knowledge (not about Sociology, for example).

Second, take your KQ and choose three aspects of knowledge you’re going to relate it to: any of the Areas of Knowledge (Mathematics, Human sciences, Natural sciences, the Arts, Ethics, and History) or the Ways of Knowing (Sense perception, Reason, Emotion, Language). Then you can explore these in your essay.

The Body

Each body section will look at another area of knowledge or way of knowing. To explore the KQ we came up with above, let’s use Mathematics, Natural Science and Ethics as our three aspects. Each of these parts can be thought of as arguments you’re making. Think of a court case. Your lawyer will make the case that you can’t be guilty of robbing the bank (her thesis), by using several arguments (claims); she’ll show that A-you weren’t there, B-you’re are a moral person and C-you don’t have the technical knowledge to pull off a job like that. However, if your lawyer was a ToK student they would also be explaining reasons why you might be guilty (the counterclaims). A-someone said they saw you there, B-you did lie to your mom about candy one time and C-you are pretty good at computers. The lawyers would use evidence to support each of these claims and counterclaims. Making sure your evidence actually supports your claim is one of the toughest aspects of the essay.

The Formula

The formula has 4 sections and 7 paragraphs overall and specific aspects need to go in each. Section 1: The Introduction 150-200 words

Paragraph 1

Give your KQ. For example, “To what extent is math more reliable than other areas of knowledge?”

State your thesis. What is your short answer to the KQ (your question of knowledge). “While looking at mathematics, natural science and ethics, we will see that mathematics isn’t necessarily more reliable; however, we will see that knowledge is different in different fields.”

Give us a roadmap, a sentence that gives us a preview, showing us what you’re going to do in your body paragraphs. Make it clear how you are going to explore the KQ, which Ways of Know­ing and/or Areas of Knowl­edge you’re going to use. This will make it easy for the marker to know what to look for. An example: “Mathematics can be seen as more reliable because it uses reason. Natural science can be less reliable because it relies on observation. And ethics can be less reliable because it is related to the norms of a person’s society. ”

Section 2: Two paragraphs totalling 600 words

Paragraph 2

Claim. A claim a topic sen­tence that outlines your argument about the KQ. For example you could claim that, “Mathematics can be relied on because it is a purely logical system.”

Explain. Elaborate and clarify your claim. “Mathematics is axiomatic and independent of subjective experience.“

Example. A real life example, to clar­ify and sup­port the claim from your own experience. Examples should be personal, specific, precise and real. Did something happen in your Science class? Did you have a conversation with your or hear a story from your grandfather? These are evidence from your own life rather than examples from Darwin or Lincoln. So you could talk about how, “In mathematics we learned that the inside angles of a triangle, in Euclidian space, sum up to 180 degrees.”

Paragraph 3

Counter-claim. Argue against your claim above. “However, it is possible to come to different conclusions using different systems of mathematics.”

Example. An example that supports your counter claim. “There are different It is not possible to demonstrate that the interior angles of a triangle equal 180 degrees in Euclidian space, this cannot be proven within other systems, such as spherical geometry or hyperbolic geometry.”

Link to KQ. Quickly sum up the (complicated) insights of this section. “It is therefore clear that mathematics is reliable to an extent, but often it can only show something to be true within one fixed system or approach.”

Section 3: Another two body paragraphs, looking at your second AoK or WoK. Write these using the same approach you saw in paragraphs 2 and 3. 600 words

Paragraph 4




Paragraph 5



Link to KQ.

Section 4: Conclusion with two paragraphs totalling 200-250 words

Paragraph 6

Implications and significance. Why is it important that we know about this?

Perspective. Explain another view that someone may have (i.e. an older person, someone who’s had different life experiences than you)

Paragraph 7

Sum up the argument. The thesis again, in short. What have we learned?

(My full ToK Essay program is here if you want/need a lot more help. It’s only available outside of Singapore Click Here. It expands on everything in this essay and takes it up a few levels. My online students are giving it great reviews. Feel free to join if you’d like. Or you can join our Facebook group for ToK students.)

Here are some more ToK Essay tips you might want to consider. (A big thank you to my ToK mentor, John Hell­ner who has helped me and encouraged me to develop and share this structure).

This entry was posted in Life and tagged areas of knowledge, Education, Organizing, theory of knowledge, theory of knowledge essay, ToK, tok essay, tok essays, ToK Resources. Bookmark the permalink.

Structuring the TOK essay is an essential component for obtaining many points on the essay. This post illustrates the first steps.

More info can be found here: TOK Essay and Presentation Help

You just received the list of the ten prescribed TOK essay titles. What are the next steps?

  • Read all of the prescribed titles: do this several times and take your time. You may not understand every title yet and you may not be certain on what the quesdtion asks you to do. You need to take your time to understand the titles.
  • Choose one prescribed title: Select one title based on your personal interest and previous knowledge on the issue. Be careful – you already may think that you know an answer to the title. Be aware that you have to answer the title question in a balanced way. Do not limit your options by focussing on one answer too early.
  • Highlight the relevant terms in the title: What are the key words of the title? What does the question ask you to do?
  • What do the terms mean? You need to interpret the terms in the introduction. Do not provide a dictionary definition.
  • Identify a problem of knowledge. Are there different views of a situation/term? Let’s have a look at the prescribed title “Can a machine know?”. One possible problem of knowledge could be: Is the word “know” is used differently in different areas and can it be that we tend to ascribe human qualities to non-human devices and machines?
  • Answer the title question in one line. This is your thesis statement. What are you going to show in the essay? Give a balanced answer. In the rest of the essay you will support and provide evidence for your answer. If you are not able to answer the title question, then there is the danger that your essay will lack a clear structure and coherence. The answer of the title question/thesis tells the reader what to expect in the essay.
  • Identify AOK, WOK that are relevant to the topic: You have to include examples from different Areas of Knowledge and Ways of Knowing, and compare them. Which areas do you intend to address in the essay?
  • Write an outline. This will help you structure the essay and provides evidence that you yourself have written the essay. It is easier to correct and modify an outline than full paragraphs. If you start writing the essay right away, then there is the danger that your essay will not be sufficiently “streamlined”, chaotic and difficult to understand. There is also the danger that not every paragraph will answer the title question.


For those students who have real problems strucuing their ideas, the following outline can serve as a help. DIfferent students may choose to structure the essay differently. The different sub-points do not have to be in this particular order, of course. Be aware that some prescibed titles focus only on very few Areas of Knowledge or Ways of Knowing. In this case is may not be appropriate to dedicate a separate paragraph to a different Area of Knowledge.

I. Introduction
A. Explanation and interpretation of the title question and clarification of key terms (no dictionary definition)
B. Answering of the title question (thesis sentence). What are you going to show?
C. Explaining and identifying of the knowledge issue/problem of knowledge.
C. Areas of knowledge, ways of knowing covered in the essay, eg. science, history, arts, ethics…

II. Paragraph 1: Science
A. How does science answer the title question?
B. Supportive example
C. Explanation of the example
D. Counter example/counter argument/limitations of the example
E. Comparison to other Areas of Knowledge, Ways of Knowing
F. Application of TOK theory

III. Paragraph 2: History
A. How does history answer the title question?
B. Supportive example
C. Explanation of the example
D. Counter example/counter argument/limitations of the example
E. Comparison to other Areas of Knowledge, Ways of Knowing
F. Application of TOK theory

IV. Paragraph 3: Math
A. How does math answer the title question?
B. Supportive example
C. Explanation of the example
D. Counter example/counter argument/limitations of the example
E. Comparison to other Areas of Knowledge, Ways of Knowing
F. Application of TOK theory

IV. Paragraph 3: etc.

V. Conclusion
A. Summary of the main ideas
B. Answering of the title question and their limitations/counter arguments

Tags: All Articles, essay, Internal Assessment, Internal Assessment, Teaching Advice, TOK Essay