Subject Outline

The Theory of Knowledge course challenges students to reflect critically on diverse ways of knowing and areas of knowledge. It is an interdisciplinary subject and it extends across all of the DP subject boundaries and invites the students to inquire into the complexity of knowledge, the process of knowing, and their own role as thinkers able to act upon their own knowledge claims.

TOK asks “How do we know?” The focus throughout is on the analysis of different types of claims to knowledge through different concepts: Truth, Interpretation, Perspective, Evidence, Explanation, Certainty, Justification, Power, Responsibility, Objectivity, Value, Culture – and in different Areas of Knowledge – humanities, natural sciences, history, the arts, mathematics.

The first year will also have a focus on themes such as Knowledge and the Knower, Knowledge and Technology, Knowledge and Politics.

It offers students the chance to broaden the scope and depth of their knowledge and to acquire and develop greater understanding of topics of contemporary interest and importance. Different themes and subject areas are explored and combined in a coherent way. The course has a core of critical reasoning skills, investigating types of knowledge and argument which students will find useful in other subjects. The aim is to foster free thinking, objectivity and critical reasoning skills.

Assessment Overview

The assessment model in Theory of Knowledge (TOK) comprises two components, both of which should be completed within the 100 hours designated for the course. Points awarded for the externally assessed component – Part 1, the Essay on a prescribed title (10 points), and for the internally assessed component, Part 2, the Exhibition (10 points), are combined (essay 67%, exhibition 33%) to give a total grade (A-E).

The band descriptors are:

  • A Work of an excellent standard
  • B Work of a good standard
  • C Work of a satisfactory standard
  • D Work of a mediocre standard
  • E Work of an elementary standard

The band descriptor is used both to determine the contribution of TOK to the overall diploma score and to provide the basis for reporting on each student’s TOK performance.


Part one: Essay: 10 points

One essay on a prescribed title (1200 –1600 words).

The title is chosen from a list of six titles prescribed by the IBO for each examination session.


Part two: Exhibition: 10 points

An exhibition of 3 objects, which show an aspect of a prompt. The Exhibition is marked internally. The student chooses a prompt from a list of 35 (provided in the subject guide), and exhibits 3 objects that provide a perspective of the prompt. The student writes a commentary for each object.

Skills Gained on the Course

  • The ability to develop the key skills of communication, problem‐solving, working with others, and improving learning and performance
  • Ability to identify, investigate and analyse questions and issues
  • Make connections between areas of study and other specified aspects of human experience
  • Communicate using reasoned arguments substantiated by evidence
  • Interpret and evaluate concepts, issues, ideas, the relevance of arguments and the views of others – including scholars.

And beyond…

The research and analytical skills developed by TOK students are useful in nearly every further course of life.

Keys to Success

  • be prepared to suspend judgement until you have examined different perspectives
  • keep up with current affairs
  • formulate ideas with care and precision
  • be prepared to ask others critical questions
  • be ready to critically (re)examine all positions, including your own
  • rely on your own ability to develop as a knower
  • critically examine the reliability of sources
  • take detailed notes and reflect on your wider reading and viewing
  • ask yourself where your assumptions come from
  • understand the need for (verifiable) justification of ideas.