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Sixth form student in a lesson

Theory of Knowledge

Curriculum Intent:

The theory of knowledge lies at the very core of the International Baccalaureate. It is a subject that provides opportunities for students to develop skills, such as analysis and evaluation, which allows them to question and reflect upon the accuracy and reliability of the knowledge they gain in their other subjects. For example, they will learn to apply an ethical dimension to Science and consider whether it can ever be value free, or they could use their skills about language to consider whether Maths is able to cross international boundaries and allow for universal collaboration. This results in them becoming actively engaged in questioning and challenging the knowledge they receive, and not merely passive receivers of information.

The aim of the course is for students to take responsible risks in challenging and assessing previously held norms and values, considering how knowledge is context-dependent and affected by an individual’s beliefs and perspectives. The nature of the subject allows students to become international citizens, who are open-minded and able to empathise with various religious, cultural and global perspectives and to compare these with their own. Students develop the ability to become life-long thinkers and learners and to continually apply these knowledge-skills outside the classroom; in their careers and beyond.

Key Stage 5 Theory of Knowledge

Curriculum Overview

Students in KS5 have 4 lessons a fortnight as part of the Core of the IB diploma

  Term 1 Term 2 Term 3 Term 4 Term 5 Term 6
Year 12 Knowledge and the Knower Knowledge and Technology History as an Area of Knowledge Natural Sciences as an Area of Knowledge Human Sciences as an Area of Knowledge Exhibition Assessment
Year 13 The Arts as an Area of Knowledge

Knowledge and Language

Mathematics as an Area of Knowledge Essay Assessment Reflection on the course as a knower    

Year 12

In the first year of the course students are introduced to the key principles and skills required to be successful in the Theory of Knowledge, ranging from analysis, to discussion, to evaluation. Students are taught to become aware of their own perspective as knowers, and how this influences the way they interpret facts and information from a wide variety of international sources.

Lessons take the format of analysis and debate, and are focused on rigorously examining and challenging the scope of knowledge, considering the implications of how knowledge is used and disseminated. Students are expected to be aware of current issues and to apply the techniques gained on the course in order to analyse the validity of the knowledge in areas of their IB course: History, Natural Sciences, Human Sciences, Maths and the Arts.

Assessment in year 1 is in the form of an internally assessed Theory of Knowledge Exhibition, which is marked out of 10. This involves students displaying three real-life objects to answer a knowledge question prompt from a list of 35. This involves creativity, empathy and analysis, in order to justify why the objects that they have chosen successfully address the knowledge question posed. Students will have the opportunity to exhibit these in a variety of formats: virtually, online, or to younger students.

Year 13

Students should be able to approach year 13 in a holistic manner, as the emphasis is on building and honing the skills acquired in the previous year, to gain a more in depth understanding of the way that knowledge is acquired.

Students will by now have at their disposal a “TOK toolbox” of skills and will be able to use this as a framework through which to compare the reliability of knowledge in different contexts, while also being aware of how their own perspectives affect the knowledge they accept. The emphasis this year is on perfecting essay-writing skills, and being able to successfully examine and evaluate the multi-faceted nature of knowledge.

Assessment in year 2 is in the form of an externally assessed 1600-word essay on one title from a choice of six, prescribed by the IB. The essay is marked out of 10. Students will be expected to explore their perspective as a knower, and to evaluate the knowledge that they have gained.

Assessment at IB:

As the Theory of Knowledge is essentially a meta-tool used to analyse all subjects on the IB, the emphasis is very much on skills gained and not on content. There is therefore no examination.

In order to test Theory of Knowledge skills, students complete two coursework pieces, one in each year.

Year 12: TOK Exhibition – weighting 33% (1/3)

The exhibition is an opportunity for students to demonstrate a personal response to a knowledge prompt, using three real-life objects that are particularly pertinent to their own understanding of knowledge. The objects can range from a sculpture they have produced, to a film they have watched, to a cultural artefact that is personal to them.

For example, to the knowledge prompt, “What challenges are raised by the dissemination and/or communication of knowledge?”, three objects that could be used to answer this are:

  • a jumper that a student has knitted, with some errors in, showing how communication can sometimes be limited or disrupted;
  • a re-tweet on Twitter the student has been sent about school opening for year 12 after the Coronova virus lockdown, demonstrating a multiplicity of different views about an issue;
  • an abstract painting the student has created in an art class, showing how the author’s intention can be interpreted in many different ways.

Students will been given time and guidance to plan this exhibition, and then to write up how each object links to the knowledge prompt that they have chosen. A draft will be commented on by their teacher, before the final write up of 950 words is submitted.

Year 13: TOK essay – weighting 67% (2/3)

The essay allows students to demonstrate the Theory of Knowledge skills they have accumulated during the two years of the course, in an 1600-word essay, responding to one of 6 titles prescribed each year by the IB. Some of the previous titles have ranged from Present knowledge is wholly dependent on past knowledge.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge”  to “Context is everything” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.”

Students will be given time and guidance to plan the essay and will then submit a draft, which will be commented on by their teacher, before submitting the final version of no more than 1600 words.

Further Reading/Resources

Documentaries about TOK issues:

  • What is knowledge?

  • Problems of Knowledge

Films that raise TOK issues:

  • Good Will Hunting – the difference between academic and experiential knowledge
  • The Matrix – the nature of reality
  • The Adjustment Bureau – are our lives already planned or can we change them?
  • An Inconvenient Truth – climate change
  • Inception – the place of the imagination in gaining knowledge


British Values:

British Values in TOK

Democracy: Role of authorities and politicians in dissemination knowledge to the public

Rule of law: Purposes and value of education for providing knowledge

Individual liberty: Individual knowledge vs shared knowledge; uses of social media

Mutual respect: Comparing and discussing methodologies in different subjects; Sharing of own cultural experiences and knowledge

Tolerance of others’ faith and beliefs: Faith as a way of knowing; Exploration of individual paradigms and ways of shaping knowledge; Perspectives is one of the key aspects of the knowledge framework