How to Write a TOK essay - A step-by-step guide

Last Updated: 10 June 2023

How to write a TOK essay and score the best grade

Essay writing is pervasive, with various types of essays contributing to the art. Most students will understand essays as the kind of write-ups you will write as long as there is an introduction, body, and conclusion.

However, there is more work than we can imagine. It is also good to understand that several types of essays are written for specific purposes. An excellent example of such an essay is the TOK essay.  Our write-up today will cover the basics of a TOK essay and all that it comes along with.

What is a TOK essay?

The abbreviation of TOK stands for Theory of Knowledge. It is a kind of essay with a range of between 1200- and 1600-words discussing problems through compare and contrast, just like a comparative essay. The concept of the TOK essay came along through the International Baccalaureate and has specific features that make it unique.

The essay aims at allowing the students to reflect on knowledge and have a chance to prove what they know. It has comprehensive coverage in terms of titles and many others hence maintaining the quality standards. Such an essay is essential both during the school days and after the school days.

You need to know several things about the essay, including the choice of titles and the format. It is also essential to understand the specific role that the essay needs to play. Apart from getting the writing samples, you also need to know the most effective ways of writing the essay.

Who writes a TOK essay?

The TOK essay is designed for students who want to achieve a specific qualification. Students such as those doing IB have something essential to learn about these essays and their formulation. The students specifically write the essay so that they get an endorsement for their diplomas.

Purpose of the TOK essay

The purpose of the TOK essay is to answer the questions about why specific studies were made. It also makes the students gain awareness about their implications concerning their areas of studies. Application of the studies to real-life becomes easier and possible when we have the TOK essays.

Addressing the different perspectives becomes easier using the essays. The students can mix their knowledge and beliefs with those from other people, hence getting a more comprehensive understanding of the topics.

Features of the TOK essay

There are specific areas and features that make the TOK essay effective. Including these features while writing will make you write a TOK essay that earns you a good grade. Most readers and writers will call them the 4c. You have to ensure that the essay has a strong background of;

Creativity is a sign that the students understand the subjects and topics and apply them in real life. Having independent thought from the existing knowledge and having a solid argument proves that the course is appropriately grounded.

Common Terms used in TOK Explained

There is a specific lingo or jargon that only students who write TOK essays would understand. If you are new to writing a TOK essay, here are some basic explanations so that you are not confused. You will encounter terms such as Prescribed Titles (PT), Areas of Knowledge (AoK), Ways of Knowing (WoK), Knowledge Question (KQ),

  1. Prescribed Titles (PT)

These are the titles set by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) – typically ten questions. You have to choose one to write your essay.

The titles are often comparative in nature, which means that you are required to compare and contrast diverse ways of knowing such as perception, reason, language, and emotion or different areas of knowledge such as mathematics, natural sciences, history, ethics, or arts.

For instance, in 2007, two of the PTs read:


  1. Areas of Knowledge (AOK)

The areas of knowledge are basically the branches of knowledge that challenge students to know more about given topics. These areas of knowledge include history, arts, religion, natural sciences, indigenous knowledge, human sciences, mathematics, and ethics.

  1. Ways of Knowledge

Ways of knowledge refer to how people know what they know, such as sense/perception, imagination, language, faith, reason, emotion, intuition, or memory.

  1. Knowledge Question (KQ)

KQ refers to the questions that contest knowledge in a manner to provoke a discussion instead of a response.

  1. Real-Life Situation (RLS)

These are the situations encountered in real-world settings that derive from the knowledge question.

TOK essays begin with knowledge questions that evoke your perspectives about the theory of knowledge. Mostly, these questions should be about specific knowledge and not subjects such as archeology, anthropology, or sociology.

Knowledge questions must relate to the three aspects of knowledge, especially the AoK and WoK.

11 Steps to writing an A+ grade TOK Essay

A good TOK essay is a good essay. It is more than an assemblage of statements that are loosely connected to the question. Rather, a good essay is well-structured and clearly written. We have a detailed guide on how to compose a good essay if it would help. But, for now, we focus on the steps to take when writing a TOK essay for you to score well. 

Writing an effective TOK essay is easy only if you have everything planned and structured. Therefore, we have come up with steps to make it easy to write the essay and get the best result.

1. Thoroughly Read the Instructions

Before planning and writing a TOK essay, spend some quality time reading the essay prompts or instructions. When reading, take note of the keywords that the instructions use.

Focus on such words as “explore,” “evaluate,” “assess,” “critically analyze,” or “synthesize” a claim. These keywords mean that you should consider the points that are for or against the prescribed title. It is also the chance to factor in any ambiguities or grey areas related to the title.

For instance, questions using “in/to what extent” require you to offer arguments either for or against the statement that follows.

On the other hand, where the questions are direct, you should address in or to what extent you either support or disagree with a given argument or position.

Reading the instructions also includes understanding the grading criteria. IB assesses essays based on four criteria, each with equal weight to the other. You can print these criteria and pin them on your work table. The assessment criteria include understanding knowledge issues, knowers' perspectives, analyzing knowledge issues, and organization of ideas.

2. Understand the Prescribed Title

In a TOK essay, the title is everything. Therefore, ensure that you comprehend what it requires of you regarding the theory of knowledge question it brings forth.

Consider if the type of knowledge allows you to use shared or personal knowledge. For example, given that TOK essays are comparative, select an AoK and WoK that can allow you to draw comparisons and establish contrast comfortably.

Even when your PT asks you to use two disciplines or AoK, you should be clear about the chosen discipline, unless it is history or math. Then, take some time to unpack the PT by defining the keywords, understanding what it asks, and responding.

3. Be careful when choosing the title

By this time, you would already have familiarized yourself with the title. When choosing a topic, ensure that it contains an AoK you are interested in or familiar with. Do not choose a topic only because it is simple or appealing. Instead, focus on the title, and notes on concepts, and definitions.

In most cases, rewrite the title in your own words when developing the topic. Then, rephrase it so that it makes sense to understand what you are writing your essay about.

A good title turned into a topic creates an excellent first impression to your readers. Therefore, when selecting the title from the list provided by IB, ask yourself:

If you can answer these questions, you have yourself a good PT for your TOK essay.

4. Brainstorm ideas around the essay title

Although choosing the prescribed title and knowledge question can be part, it is often a great idea to brainstorm. Brainstorming helps you gather enough facts, ideas, and examples for your essay. When brainstorming, ask yourself:

5. Do the research

Before you start writing the essay, you must have done proper research. First, you have to look at all the issues you want to address and then write the main points. These points will be easier to write about when you have thoroughly researched what you will write about.

6. Create an outline

Now that you understand what you want to write about, it is time to know how to write it. Preparing an essay outline helps you organize your paragraphs and points in an essay. Although no specific structure or way is preferred when writing an outline, ensure that it ensures a good flow of ideas.

There is no correct sequence or way to answer the knowledge question. However, how you lay out the main points, ideas, arguments, and examples matters greatly.

Create an outline based on your brainstorming and the AOK issue you selected. It should be a blueprint for your essay.

We have highlighted the main sections of a TOK outline in this article.

Related: How to create a great outline for an essay.

7. Write the introduction

After doing the research, you will do the introduction. This part will have between 150 and 200 words. You will highlight the whole topic explaining why it is a topic of concern. You will also explain the things that the essay will have. One of the best things to look at is the catchy introduction directly linked with the title.

While writing our comprehensive guide on writing a good introductory paragraph for your essay, we noted the significance of a captivating introduction. It is your second contact point with the writer after the title page and should be done better.

Your introduction paragraph contains the knowledge issue, overview of the knowledge question, WoK, and AoK in your essay.

The introduction must have a good essay hook and a great thesis statement.

8. Structure the body

Even though you had brainstormed earlier, it is good to brainstorm the points to prove your thesis in the body paragraph. Doing so helps to create a flow of ideas in your essay.

Begin by figuring out the similar ideas that are against the opposing ones. Then, you can simply write anything that comes to mind about your title. The Freewriting technique can be great during this stage. Skim through your writing, refine the good points, and then arrange how they will appear in your essay.

If you have done good and thorough research, you must know what you will include in the body. You will write the various parts of the body to have an easy time writing and completing the body of the essay.

You can first write the body in point form to capture all the details you want in the essay. Writing the points is important because you will have an easy time finishing the main body and doing exhaustive writing.

9. Write the body

You have now to do the actual job: writing the body. Spending more time doing analysis and creating arguments is the main job here. You will go point after point, writing what you have gathered from the research.

Include all the facts and the argumentative points in the TOK essay. But, of course, you have to take caution at this point so that you don't go out of topic.

When writing the body, you will begin with the development paragraphs that account for around 600 words. These have to be the basic points about the topic that you are writing about. They give a better explanation of the introduction and the title.

Now write the remaining two paragraphs creating a comprehensive approach. At this point, you have to complete the remaining parts of the body, which have arguments and facts. You have to give your independent thoughts and express them clearly and easily understood. This is where the objective of the essay proves itself.

10. Do the conclusion

once you have done the body, you will do the conclusion. The conclusion is not so comprehensive as it has to be less than 100 words. A good conclusion will summarize the parts you have covered in the essay's body.  After the summary, you will write a parting statement that concludes the whole essay.

11.  Proofread and edit

You now have to proofread and edit the areas that are unclear on the TOK essay. You will check if there are any grammatical errors, factual errors, and other errors. An error-free essay scoops a higher mark.

Best tips for writing a TOK essay

Essential Parts of a TOK Essay

The structure of an essay holds it together, determines its scope, and gives it a sense of direction. Therefore, you must critically and creatively think about how you will order your major points to achieve natural flow and help your readers understand your arguments.

The TOK essay has four main areas. First, it has the title, introduction, and conclusion. Second, each part has its features and implications.


The title of the essay is the representation of the specific thing you want to write about. The topic that the essay covers has to be short, with less than 7 words. It is a condensed version of your thesis statement.

Introduction Paragraph

The introduction is the part that introduces the topic. Therefore, it has to be brief but comprehensive coverage of the topic. Under the introduction, the writer highlights a few arising things that pertain to the topic.

Think of the introduction as a contract between you (the writer) and the reader. This means that you tell the reader what to expect and then deliver the goods in the body of your essay.

A good introduction:

You can arouse the readers' interest using an essay hook: a question, anecdote, quote, statistic, fact, or a puzzling statement.

When explaining what you understand by the question, ensure that you formulate it in your own words without changing its meaning. As well, indicate the key terms that are unclear or ambiguous. Finally, say why the question is important. Try to impose your limits on the question. For instance, if you tackle the question of imagination and reason, limit yourself to comparing their roles in literature and mathematics. This will apply if the question is “Compare the roles played by reason and imagination in at least two Areas of Knowledge.”

Finally, your introduction must have a good thesis statement, the fundamental claim you make in your essay. The thesis is the thread that runs through the essay and holds everything in your essay together. All the body paragraphs give evidence that supports the essay. Initially, it is good to develop a preliminary thesis, which you can refine when writing or editing the first draft to get a comprehensive thesis statement.

Body Paragraphs

The essay's body has everything to do with the main contents of the whole write-up. It has to fulfill the purpose of the topic. It has to be comprehensive and have a good backing of the facts and the arguments.

The body paragraphs of an essay signal the introduction of major points that support the main argument – the thesis statement. 

Paragraphs are like mini-essays since they have a beginning, middle, and end with a clear line of development. A good paragraph consists of a cluster of evidence and arguments with a specific theme. This means that a paragraph must only have a single main idea.

A paragraph begins with a topic sentence that sets up a new topic for analysis and ends with a concluding sentence that clarifies how it contributes to developing your essay’s thesis.

In terms of order and length, here are a few insights:

You will use examples and other creative thoughts to bring out the concepts you want to put across.


The last part of the TOK essay is the conclusion. It is usually a summary of the whole essay and the facts. One thing about it is that it has to cover all aspects you have done in the body of the essay but briefly. It also contains the final thought about the whole essay.

Your conclusion should draw things together and give your readers a sense of closure for you to avoid ending your TOK essay abruptly.

Instead of repeating what you said in the essay, find new ways of formulating the critical insights of your essay without introducing new ideas. Mention any unresolved issues and implications of your argument.

Finally, your last sentence should be striking, well-crafted, and memorable so that it is an effective full stop that gives your readers a positive impression.

TOK Essay Outline Template

Let us break down the anatomy of a TOK essay to make it easier when planning, drafting and writing your essay.

Introduction (150-200 words)

Body Paragraphs (approximately 1200 words)

Body Paragraph 1(200- 300 words)

Body Paragraph 2 (200 -300 words)

Body Paragraph 3 (200-300 words)

Body Paragraph 4 (200-300 words)

Body Paragraph 5 (200 -300 words)

Conclusion (200-300 words)

Examples of TOK topics

There are various topics that the TOK essays address. Some areas where you can get the topics are the arts, ethics, human science, natural science, indigenous knowledge systems, religious knowledge, history, and mathematics. The students formulate titles from the subjects and the topics they cover. Such topics include;

Dos and Don’ts when Writing a TOK Essay

Writing a convincing TOK essay requires 1200-1600 words, or sometimes more than 1600 words. As you write your two AoKs, main argument, and main counterargument, consider these dos and don’ts.

Do these things when writing your TOK essay and score the best grade:

Do not do this when writing your TOK essay:

FAQs about TOK Essays

How to write a TOK essay introduction

The introduction of the TOK essay has to be very interesting. You will start by saying something that is attention-catching to the reader. The second thing you do is the thesis or the stand and then highlight the outline.

Starting with a claim topic is the most effective way of doing it. First, you will link back the facts and then use examples and explanations to understand what you say. Proper explanation and elaboration will make you get the objective quickly.

Is it possible to write a TOK essay in one night?

Yes, you can write a TOK essay in one night or overnight if you plan out everything, gather the right sources, and find an excellent place to write your assignment.

Begin by brainstorming the major points you want to feature in your essay. Next, research to familiarize yourself with the points, write an outline, then write your fast draft. Also, focus on writing first, then editing and proofreading later.

If you are not great at writing fast, you can hire fast essay writers to help you write your TOK essay. However, this should only be after you are sure there is no deadline extension or when you are overwhelmed to write.

Once you receive the paper, revise and customize it as your own. Buying essays help you know how to write one yourself as you have a model paper for the next series of assignments.

How do I write a TOK essay conclusion?

Writing a TOK essay conclusion is not as complicated as we expect. You will restate the thesis first and then brief the arguments and limitations you want to have based on the structure. Finally, you will express the main argument in the last statement, acting as the TOK essay's final statement.

What does a TOK essay outline look like?

The outline of the TOK essay is simple to write. You will write it by doing the introduction first, which should have 200 words. The body has to have 1200 words, and the conclusion must have between 100 and 250 words. Part of the outline is the topic of the whole essay.

As you write, you will address the issues of the thesis and then define the scope of the essay. A strong account of evidence and your language style is also part of the outline.

Can I write my TOK essay in 4 hours or less?

It is possible to write an essay fast if you are committed, determined, and organized. You can take 15 minutes to brainstorm the title, including understanding the knowledge issue, AoK, or WoK you must incorporate into your essay.

Spend the next 25 minutes finding examples to illustrate the knowledge issue. Use personal examples or real-life examples if possible.

You should then budget around 10 minutes to identify the critical concepts to introduce so your reader can understand the examples. Use the next 10 minutes to identify two or more sides to the positions on the knowledge issue. Budget the next 25 minutes to evaluate the arguments and support each position.

Spend the next 10 minutes finding assumptions underlying the arguments and doing some comprehensive analysis. Some assumptions can be ethnicity, culture, religion, age, gender, social status, etc.

You should then spend the next 20 minutes outlining your TOK essay. Then, comfortably write, edit, and revise your first draft into the final draft TOK in 2 hours. Good research will make the flow of thoughts easier and more convenient. So, spend as much time in your research as you do when writing.

Can I write a TOK essay fast?

Writing the essay at a fast speed has all to do with the preparation. You will ensure that you understand the prescribed titles, choose the titles, understand the writing and grading criteria, read the instructions, get the ideas, create the outline, and then get to actual writing.

Under actual writing, you will craft the thesis, go directly to the body, and finalize with the conclusion.

How do I develop a TOK essay plan?

A TOK essay plan involves writing what each paragraph will have. You will have sections that will represent all the facts and the points that you need to cover. You will pick the relatable plan in the introduction, then go to the thesis and outline the paragraph.

You will next go to the body and then make the claim statement. You can also so other statements and explain them later. Choose the examples and link back to the sources and the facts you want in the essay.

In conclusion, you will write the counterclaim. The final parts will involve doing the summaries and the final statement.

How should I write a knowledge question for a TOK essay?

It is good to note that writing the knowledge question is the best way to start the essay. The formulation of the question must be such that it makes the writer get a wide range of questions to answer. Thus, it greatly contributes to the development of the whole write-up.

How much does a lack of knowledge affect illiterate persons? This is an example of a question that you can write. Such a question involves doing thorough research to get the outcomes. The analysis is another thing that such a question will facilitate, and the outcome will also carry a thorough representation.

How long does it take to write a TOK essay?

There is no specific time that you will take to write the TOK essay. Some people will have a low writing speed, and some will be super-fast writers. The basic thing is to have the essay written to completion and in the right order.

The best essay will take above 4 hours and can take more than 6 hours. Once that the writer has done proper research will take a shorter time. Initial and thorough preparation is good, making the whole process faster or slower. Poor preparation will consume too much time.