03 JUNE 2015

The TOK Advantage

The TOK Advantage

As an IB Diploma student, you already have a distinct advantage over students studying other programmes when it comes to gaining a place at university or college. One of the key reasons for this is the theory of knowledge course. TOK helps you to hone your critical thinking, question your personal and societal assumptions, and develop an interconnected understanding of how the world works. By the end of the two year course, you’ll be able to “think with clarity about real and challenging questions, such as the extent to which disagreement sparks knowledge, or how economic and social circumstances prime us to think in certain ways about the world”, as headteacher Katy Ricks of Sevenoaks School puts it. Such thinking skills are arguably your greatest asset when it comes to applying to university, so how do you draw on them to help you win a place at your choice of university or college?

1. Pick fights in TOK classes

The only way to properly develop your skills in TOK is to offer your own opinions, reflect on those of others, and get involved in discussions, debates, and disagreements. Central to the TOK experience is understanding and respecting - although not necessarily agreeing with - different viewpoints, and realizing that your perspective is just one of many out there. The best TOK students are the ones that have felt challenged by others, and have even adapted their outlooks on life. Being able to say how your own views and beliefs have developed as a result of TOK, and possibly saying how you have helped to change others, will mark you out as a tolerant, reflective, and adaptable learner.

2. Read, watch, and experience

TOK is not a subject that can be fully appreciated by sticking to a textbook. It’s meant to encourage you to explore as many different sources as possible, including books, articles, documentaries, and websites. I will be adding pages to the theoryofknowledge.net site to help guide you in this respect, so keep your eyes peeled for this new content. It goes without saying that being well read in TOK also massively improves your university application profile. When you apply for a place at university or college, being able to refer to these titles will mark you out as a special candidate, and indicate that you are exactly the kind of person they'll want. And don’t neglect your own experiences (both inside and outside the IB classroom) as enriching and educational: you should not only be reading and watching the world, you should be interacting with it, something that CAS and your other extra curricular activities will help you to achieve.

3. Write a great TOK essay

Universities and colleges will also want more concrete evidence of your engagement with TOK, and your skills as a critical thinker. The key way to do this is to make a big effort with your TOK essay, ensuring that you plan, structure, and write it effectively. The Essay Guide found on theoryofknowledge.net will help you in this process, and the one-to-one online support will ensure that you have hit all the right assessment targets. The essay will require time and effort, but don’t see this as an investment that has no return. Make your TOK essay one of the central features of your college or university application, stating the prescribed title you have chosen and why, how you went about tackling it, and the research you carried out in order to support your arguments.

4. Enjoy your TOK presentation

The other assessment task allows you to immerse yourself in a topic of your own choosing, and explore knowledge questions that haven’t been forced upon you. For this reason, the fundamental aim of your TOK presentation should be to ENJOY writing and delivering it. If you choose a topic that interests you, if you identify and develop knowledge questions that you actually want to answer, then you’ll have a good chance of achieving this. Again, the Presentation Guide on theoryofknowledge.net provides a helping hand. Just as the TOK essay can be used a core component of your college or university application, so your presentation can be used as a way of highlighting your skills as a researcher, your engagement with what’s going on in the world, and the way in which you think critically about contemporary issues and situations. 


The Independent, ‘The IB develops the students top universities want’, 2013 

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