Essay on a prescribed title

General instructions

Each student must submit for external assessment an essay on any one of the six titles prescribed by the IB for each examination session.
The titles ask generic questions about knowledge and are cross-disciplinary in nature. They may be answered with reference to any part or parts of the TOK course, to specific disciplines, or with reference to opinions gained about knowledge both inside and outside the classroom.

The titles are not meant to be treated only in the abstract, or on the basis of external authorities. In all cases, essays should express the conclusions reached by students through a sustained consideration of knowledge questions. Claims and counterclaims should be formulated and main ideas should be illustrated with varied and effective examples that show the approach consciously taken by the student. Essays should demonstrate the student’s ability to link knowledge questions to AOKs and WOKs.

The chosen title must be used exactly as given; it must not be altered in any way. Students who modify the titles are likely to receive lower scores, since the knowledge questions that are explored in the essay must be connected to the titles in their prescribed formulation.
  • If the title has been modified but it is still clear which prescribed title for the current session it refers to, the essay will be marked against that prescribed title. Any lack of relevance in the student’s response to the prescribed title arising from this modification will be reflected in the score awarded.
  • If it is clear that the title bears no literal resemblance to any title for the current session, the essay will be awarded a score of zero, in accordance with the TOK essay assessment instrument.

The essay must be written in standard 12 font and double spaced.

The role of the teacher

In relation to the student’s essay on a prescribed title, the teacher has three principal responsibilities:
  1. to encourage and support the student in the writing of the essay
  2. to provide the student with advice on and guidance about the skills needed
  3. to ensure that the essay is the student’s own work.

These responsibilities should be met through the following interactions.
The student should discuss the prescribed titles with the teacher, although the final choice remains with the student who should be encouraged wherever possible to develop his or her own ideas.
After choosing the title and unpacking/developing ideas in relation to it, the student may present his or her work (an exploration) to the teacher in some written form. For example, this might resemble a set of notes and ideas, with tentative connections drawn between them, spread over a large piece of paper. Discussion with the teacher should subsequently allow the student to create a plan in which the structure of the essay can be laid out by paragraph.
After this, the student is permitted (and should be encouraged) to present to the teacher one full draft of the essay. The teacher is permitted to provide written comments of a global nature, but is not permitted to mark or edit this draft.
While the student may seek further advice, for instance, on the appropriateness of a particular example, or on the degree of clarity if writing in a second or third language, no further written advice on drafts is permitted. It is the student’s responsibility to correct mistakes and make improvements.
The procedure for uploading the TOK essay can be found in the Handbook of procedures for the Diploma Programme.

Academic honesty

Teachers must ensure to the best of their ability that essays are the student’s own work. In cases where there is concern, the authenticity of the essay can be checked through a discussion with the student and scrutiny of one or more of the following before uploading:
  • the student’s initial exploration of the title
  • the full draft of the essay
  • the student’s references and/or bibliography for the essay, where appropriate
  • the style of the writing, which may reveal obvious discrepancies
  • a report from an online plagiarism detection service.

Acknowledgments and references
Students are expected to acknowledge fully and in detail the work, thoughts or ideas of another person if incorporated in work submitted for assessment, and to ensure that their own work is never given to another student, either in the form of hard copy or by electronic means, knowing that it might be submitted for assessment as the work of that other student.
The IB does not prescribe which style(s) of referencing or in-text citation should be used by students; this is left to the discretion of appropriate faculty/staff in the school. Regardless of the reference style adopted by the school for a given subject, it is expected that the minimum information given includes name of author(s), date of publication, title of source, and page numbers as applicable.
Students are expected to use a standard style and use it consistently so that credit is given to all sources used, including sources that have been paraphrased or summarized. When writing text a student must clearly distinguish between their words and those of others by the use of quotation marks (or other method such as indentation) followed by an appropriate reference that denotes an entry in the bibliography or works cited. The title "bibliography" or "works cited" depends on the referencing style that has been chosen. If an electronic source is cited, the date of access must be indicated.
Students are not expected to show faultless expertise in referencing, but are expected to demonstrate that all sources have been acknowledged. Students must be advised that visual material, text, graphs, images and/or data published in print or in electronic sources that is not their own must also be attributed to the source. Again, an appropriate style of referencing/citation must be used.
Factual claims that may be considered common knowledge (for example, “animals are not capable of performing photosynthesis”) do not need to be referenced. However, it should be noted that what one person thinks of as common knowledge within a particular culture, may be unfamiliar to someone else, for example, an examiner in a different part of the world. This would relate particularly to examples given from popular culture. If in doubt, give an authoritative source for the claim.
Classroom handouts, if they are the original work of a teacher, must be cited in the same way as a book. If their contents have been taken from a separate source, that source should be cited.

At AIS, we strongly recommend you use Harvard Referencing. This is a simple guide

and a more complete guide can be found at Monash University: Harvard Guide (PDF 1.12M)

We do not recommend that you footnote, but if you have done it in the past, or are a contrarian, please follow this guide:

Do not "make up" your own system of referencing: stringently follow an accepted method of citing sources. These are easy marks that should not be thrown away through carelessness or laziness.

Bibliography or works cited

The TOK essay is not primarily a research paper but it is expected that specific sources will be used and these must be acknowledged in a bibliography or works cited list.
The bibliography or works cited list should include only those works (such as books, journals, magazines and online sources) used by the student. There needs to be a clear connection between the works listed and where they are used in the text. A list of books at the end of the essay is not useful unless reference has been made to all of them within the essay.
As appropriate, the bibliography or works cited list should specify:
  • author(s), title, date and place of publication
  • the name of the publisher or URL (http://…)
  • the date when the web page was accessed, adhering to one standard method of listing sources
Failure to comply with this requirement will be viewed as plagiarism and will, therefore, be treated as a case of academic misconduct.

Essay length

The maximum length of the essay is 1,600 words. Extended notes, extensive footnotes or appendices are not appropriate to a TOK essay and may not be read.
The word count includes:
  • the main part of the essay
  • any quotations.
The word count does not include:
  • any acknowledgments
  • the references (whether given in footnotes, endnotes or in-text)
  • any maps, charts, diagrams, annotated illustrations or tables
  • the bibliography.
Essays that exceed the word limit will be penalized in the following ways:
  • examiners are instructed to stop reading after 1,600 words and to base their assessment on just the first 1,600 words.
  • a 1 mark penalty will be applied to the essay.
Students are required to indicate the number of words when the essay is uploaded during the submission process.

May 2015 Prescribed Titles

FYI only, these are NOT the ones you are assessed on.

Specific Instructions

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TOK Essay Mark Scheme

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