I don’t know how to improve my ToK Essay, please help !

OK – so you’ve been writing your ToK Essay for a couple of days now. You’ve done the basics – you’ve unpacked the title, you’ve played with definitions, you’ve developed arguments and counterarguments (and you’ve linked them all to RLS). You’ve now reached an impasse – where do I go next with this essay ?

In this post I give you 4 easy ways to develop an OK essay into a great essay:

The metaphor of the map.
The Knowledge Framework.
Similarities as well as differences.

You could try to apply each one of these core ToK ideas to your essay in order to take your essay forward:

  1. The Metaphor of the map.
    Do you remember that “The Map is not the Territory” lesson from the first term of DP1 ? If not then ask your ToK teacher to remind you, or have a quick read of the ToK Study Guide , or have a quick scan of this powerpoint, or this lesson & Powerpoint presentation.
    The essential idea here is that knowledge is constructed for a particular purpose, it may serve that purpose well whilst not answering nearby knowledge questions. Just like a transport map of a city will show you how to travel from one district to another, but it will not tell you much about the topography of the city. Reality is not necessarily defined by that which is known. Additionally, we could look at the map metaphor in terms of the limits of maps being similar to the limits of knowledge – just because it’s not on the map does not mean that it doesn’t exist.
    The map metaphor quickly takes you into the realm of discussing the inter-relationship between shared & personal knowledge. This could be looked at in many ways, including:  are the AoKs under consideration more personal knowledge, or shared knowledge, biased ? Do the combination of WoKs used effect whether the knowledge is more personal or shared ? Which is more valuable – personal or shared knowledge ? etc etc

2. The Knowledge Framework.
The Knowledge Framework (KF) is, imo, the most important concept in the current ToK Study Guide. However, the KF is very rarely explicitly discussed in ToK Essays. The essential idea of the KF is that it explains how knowledge in each AoK is produced, why it is produced in that way, and what that knowledge represents / covers. Virtually every ToK essay would benefit from an analysis of how the processes of knowledge production (as described in the Methodology section of the KF of each AoK) affect the question that you are writing about. I would recommend that students ask themselves “how does the construction of this knowledge (in a particular AoK) affect the answer to this PT ?“, and then look at the KF for the AoKs that they are considering.

3. Similarities as well as differences.
Most of the essays that I marked last year had an element of debate in them, most of the students had understood that a ToK Essay has to be contestable (one side vs another side). So, most students had a structure which roughly looked like “on the one hand this________, but on the other hand this_______” this is a fairly good essay approach, and it gains you marks for perspectives. However, stronger essays will also comment upon those things which are common to all sides of an argument. Those things which are common can often help us to answer the question in a more substantial way than solely focussing on differences. This approach will also help you to draw out a more nuanced answer which shows gradation in response to those “To what extent questions”.

4. Implications.
The highest level of response indicated in the ToK Essay Assessment Instrument indicates that “Implications are drawn”. As such, if you have developed arguments & counterarguments, supported them with RLS, and evaluated those arguments you can now go on to ‘draw implications’.
Drawing implications requires that you comment upon the consequences of accepting, or rejecting your arguments, in terms of the question. For example:

In May 2016 Essay #6 was (to paraphrase): Is Knowledge is a trade off between simplicity and accuracy ? Assume that one of your arguments was that in AoK Mathematics Knowledge is a trade off between simplicity and accuracy. You may have evaluated this as a strong argument as mathematical proof (required to demonstrate accuracy) is a lengthy and complex process (the opposite of simplicity). The implications of this argument could be:
1. Mathematical knowledge is not easily constructed through WoKs with more personal knowledge approaches such as emotion, intuition nor faith.
2. Mathematical knowledge requires a shared knowledge component of learning in order to be comprehensible.
3. Accurate and comprehensible Mathematical knowledge may lack aesthetic value .
4. Mathematical knowledge may not be accessible as a component of Reason to those who have not learned the required tools for understanding, unlike Faith, Intuition and Emotion. This could have further implications when we are trying to understand the origins and causes of political movements which defy reason etc etc.

You may not agree with the implications above, that’s neither here nor there. I only post them here as brief excerpts to help students to understand what is meant by ‘Implications’.

I hope that this post helps students to move the ToK essays forward during the writing process. Of course, you should always use the tried and trusted methods of talking to your ToK teacher, discussing your essay with your fellow ToK students, and having a good read of the ToK Study guide.

Happy Writing !


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