A guide to TOK

Article by: Angelica Chang

It’s that time of year again when seniors reach the peak of their philosophical quintessences and present the culmination of their answer to the universal inquiry of ‘how we know what we know.’ It is time for none other than the notoriously challenging Theory of Knowledge (ToK) Presentations. ToK is a mandatory course for full-IB diploma students, which challenges students to “reflect critically on diverse ways of knowing” based on the objectives of the Ways of Knowing (methods in which humans perceive knowledge: language, reason, emotion) and Areas of Knowledge (sources of knowledge: history, mathematics, the arts, ethics).

The class requires students to question what knowledge is and how our way of knowing can be justified, through formulating a research study that examines the constructs of knowledge on a particular topic. When asked what ToK meant, senior Kylie P. says, “It’s a way of exploring new topics that you won’t explore in other classes.”

Senior Kelly M. adds, “The class is definitely more student-driven and less structured than other IB courses.”

Students will deliver their research in the form of an oral presentation, and an essay externally assessed by the IB. Although ToK (along with the Extended Essay) constitutes only 1-3 points out of the 45 points for the IB Diploma, it is an essential class that molds students to approach real-life situations with a critical and balanced perspective- a necessary skill which transcends academic learning, and prepares students to thrive in a community. This fact is reiterated as senior Sarena N. expresses her belief that “ToK truly forces students to think for themselves, and to question the world around them.”  

Despite the generally positive learning experience the seniors have departed from, many expressed the difficulty of their learning process. Senior Beatrice O. shares how crucial it is to “take ToK seriously, because if you don’t pay attention to class in junior year, you’re going to have to relearn everything in senior year.” Meanwhile, Kelly drives home the importance of balancing tasks and starting work earlier, as she mentions how “having a good work ethic will take you far.”

As this year’s seniors temporarily graduate from this extensive course, the juniors will begin to embark on the journey that will shatter the very pillars of their preexisting beliefs. Beatrice offers her words of wisdom and advises her fellow underclassmen to “choose people that disagree with you” when selecting ToK groups. When asked for her rationale, she says, “It’s important to have conflicting viewpoints when constructing an argument- it forces you to think more deeply, and allows for nuances that make your argument compelling.” With a critical and analytical mindset, students of ToK bring complexities that cultivate growth to this world, as they are the same people capable of challenging society, and standing up to injustice.