What is TOK?

Theory of knowledge (TOK) plays a special role in the International Baccalaureate® (IB) Diploma Programme (DP), by providing an opportunity for students to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know.

It is one of the components of the DP core and is mandatory for all students. The TOK requirement is central to the educational philosophy of the DP.

How is TOK structured?

As a thoughtful and purposeful inquiry into different ways of knowing, and into different kinds of knowledge, TOK is composed almost entirely of questions.

The most central of these is "How do we know?", while other questions include:

  • What counts as evidence for X?
  • How do we judge which is the best model of Y?
  • What does theory Z mean in the real world?

Through discussions of these and other questions, students gain greater awareness of their personal and ideological assumptions, as well as developing an appreciation of the diversity and richness of cultural perspectives.

Assessment of TOK

The TOK course is assessed through an oral presentation and a 1600 word essay.

The presentation assesses the ability of the student to apply TOK thinking to a real-life situation, while the essay takes a more conceptual starting point.

For example, the essay may ask students to discuss the claim that the methodologies used to produce knowledge depend on the use to which that knowledge will be used.

What is the significance of TOK?

TOK aims to make students aware of the interpretative nature of knowledge, including personal ideological biases – whether these biases are retained, revised or rejected.

It offers students and their teachers the opportunity to:

  • reflect critically on diverse ways of knowing and on areas of knowledge
  • consider the role and nature of knowledge in their own culture, in the cultures of others and in the wider world.

In addition, TOK prompts students to: 

  • be aware of themselves as thinkers, encouraging them to become more acquainted with the complexity of knowledge
  • recognize the need to act responsibly in an increasingly interconnected but uncertain world. 

TOK also provides coherence for the student, by linking academic subject areas as well as transcending them.

It therefore demonstrates the ways in which the student can apply their knowledge with greater awareness and credibility.