While students who recently completed the May exams can relax, candidates for the November assessment will need to continue their preparation. Not only do students have to be ready for their exams, but for their TOK (Theory of Knowledge) essay as well.
Below are the (paraphrased, due to copyright) TOK essay topics for the November 2018 candidates. Some considerations are added for students to think about when deciding which topic to go for and how they might approach it.
“Existing methods of classification influence the way new knowledge is gained.” Discuss.
It would be useful to first define what classification systems are and how they’re created. You might define them as methods of categorising information and that they help researchers understand large collections of data. There are plenty of systems of organising that can be observed in real life, such as classifying music genres or listing new cars based on their colour. As the question calls for a discussion relating to two areas of knowledge, such as human and natural sciences, it is important to choose examples you are familiar with.
“Technology provides more accessibility to shared knowledge, therefore the need to absorb such knowledge personally is continuously declining.” To what extent do you agree?
Despite the mention of technology, it would be wise to put attention to the relationship between shared and personal knowledge. As such, a first step could be defining what that relationship is and what the other key terms (e.g. need) actually mean. It’s quite evident that shared knowledge suggests that there is a universal component and we all have access to it. However, the utilisation and importance of such knowledge would differ between people and technology may facilitate the differences. Think of spelling: should we continue to learn how to spell correctly if auto-correction software can take care of it for us?
“Can disputes within a discipline regarding two knowledge claims be resolved?” Compare and contrast two disciplines when considering your answer.
Many students often forget the distinction being made when the term ‘discipline’ is utilised. It refers to a specific subject, such as chemistry, as opposed to the general area of knowledge (in this case, natural science). As the question requires a comparison between two disciplines, it is also an idea to think about some specific claims and the reasons why they can/can’t be resolved. In a subject like chemistry that involves more objectivity than, for example, literature, the dispute may revolve around the methodology of the knowledge claim. In the case of literature, the dispute may arise around the value of knowledge.
“Those who have knowledge don’t predict. Those who predict don’t have knowledge.” (Lao Tzu). Discuss.
Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher who founded the Taoist tradition. It isn’t required to write much background information about him, as the question’s primary concern is his statement. As with all questions, students are advised to define key terms and in this particular case it’s useful when formulating the answer. What is meant by prediction? One may consider the application of statistics or ideas described in religious texts. The question asks students to relate the statement to two areas of knowledge, so again be sure to choose areas you are familiar with.
“The production of knowledge might be hindered by too much relevant knowledge in that field.” Discuss.
While there may be subjective interpretations with this statement, it is important to note how relevant knowledge is defined. As with many questions, students are asked to relate the statement to two areas of knowledge. What kind of knowledge is deemed relevant in, for example, history or ethics? How are they determined? Think about how certain ideas may be dismissed if they don’t fit the established paradigm.
“The importance of creating undeniable truths is overemphasised. Knowledge is often dealt with ambivalence.” Discuss.
The first part of the statement claims that undeniable facts are overestimated and the latter section states that most knowledge deals in ambiguity. Like with all TOK statements, it’s important to understand the terms–in this particular one they are quite vague. Consider how incontrovertible facts are made and to what degree they are irrefutable. Again it is required to relate to two areas of knowledge, for example, natural sciences and religious knowledge systems.