How to Write a TOK Essay

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Theory of Knowledge essay is a 1200–1600 word 

essay on one of the prescribed topics set by the IB. As the name suggests, your Theory of Knowledge (TOK) essay should focus on knowledge issues (what is knowledge? why and how do we know things?) and link to other areas of knowledge as well. About 2/3 of your final TOK grade is determined by the grade you get for your TOK Essay.


  1. 1
    Ask your teacher to give you the prescribed essay titles. There is a separate set of topics for May and November candidates. Make sure you get the right topics.
  2. 2
    Choose the title that you know most about. Evaluate the suitability of the title by thinking how you could link it to what you have studied. For example, if your TOK essay title is mostly about history, but history is not your strong subject, you may want to consider choosing another title.
  3. 3
    Note the assumptions of the essay title. All questions contain some assumptions. For example, a past question was "Discuss the claim that some areas of knowledge are discovered and others are invented". You should note that the title assumes that areas of knowledge are either discovered or invented. Why could they not be both? Challenging the assumptions of the essay title enables you to write an essay that focuses more on knowledge issues.
  4. 4
    Brainstorm and research. Come up with your initial argument (i.e. what is your answer to the question and why), note down relevant personal experiences you could use to support your argument. Do research in the library and online to find out more examples to support your argument. Note that many IB textbooks contain sections about Theory of Knowledge. These sections may contain useful ideas for your essay.
  5. 5
    Consider using an essay template. Essay templates can provide you with ideas and guidance about the structure and formatting of your TOK essay. You candownload TOK essay templates or your teacher may have a template for you.
  6. 6
    Write the first draft with referencing. Stay focused on the topic and add in-text referencing or footnotes as you go along. This final edit will be much easier if you proceed like this. Provide detailed examples to support your argument. Avoid generalisations and vagueness. Remember to explore some counter arguments and stay focused on questions and issues of knowledge.
  7. 7
    Read your draft essay. Evaluate it against the assessment criteria and note which areas you could improve. Your teacher may also provide you with feedback about your essay. Remember that feedback should always be based on the IB TOK essay assessment criteria.
  8. 8
    Write the final copy. Improve your essay so that it meets the assessment criteria better. Make sure your referencing is correct and your essay is not below 1200 words or over 1600 words.
  9. 9
    Hand in your essay to your teacher. You should give an electronic copy of your essay to your teacher. Ask your teacher or the IB coordinator to tell you what specific file format you should use.