Ib Survival Tok Essay

Eleni Vardaki received her IB diploma from the Anglo-American School of Moscow and began her career as a theory of knowledge (TOK) and IB history teacher. She used her experience as both an alumnus and educator to address questions about the IB diploma from students and parents on her website. We invited her to present her views on one of the most common topics: workload and stress.

by Eleni Vardaki

Back in May 2016, I interviewed one of my lovely former IB History and TOK students, Kleio Kartalis, to talk about coping strategies for managing the stress of the IB Diploma Programme (DP). As a former DP graduate, I’m part of a minority of IB teachers in the world who have actually done the IB diploma.

One of the problems that arises from a worldwide education system where a significant majority of teachers (and parents) have never done the DP themselves, is that it can sometimes feel hard to know how to best help your students, or child, manage stress.

From the perspective of students, it can sometimes feel like no one “gets” what they’re going through.  And to top it all off, this is the first time in students’ lives when they experience so much independence, from making life choices to managing their time effectively, as well as so much responsibility. It can be a lot to handle. Exams, the extended essay, creativity, activity, service (CAS), and theory of knowledge (TOK). And then there are the life choices, where to apply to university, how, by when…

We must first appreciate the value of listening to IB students themselves…and understand what it is that they’re going through.

I have seen a surge in IB diploma students wanting to hear from successful IB graduates, like Kleio, as a sign that it’s time we all started bridging the communication gap between school principals, teachers, parents, and students, on the topic of stress.

While preparing for IB exams one of my IB history students once said: “Why can’t mindfulness and things like yoga lessons be scheduled into the school day?”

The answer is: it can.

And in some very forward-thinking IB schools, it is.

But such schools are the exception, rather than the norm. For a real change to happen to the well-being of IB students around the world, it requires a multi-layered approach to talking about stress amongst all parties in a school community, with a willingness for all to implement changes on the systemic level, as well as on the level of the individual.

But before any of that can happen, we must first appreciate the value of listening to IB students themselves, to listen to the words they use when they talk about stress and understand what it is that they’re going through.

Kleio’s talk is a gem of a resource for teachers and educators to share with their school communities, and I hope that it inspires dialogue around systemic reform and increased emotional support.

I encourage you to use Kleio’s example to create discussion among graduates from your own programme. Assemblies, homeroom, and professional meetings are all good times to listen to students. Success is more than just a number. If Kleio’s talk resonates with you, watch it and share it with the people who you feel would find it helpful! Because #sharingiscaring.

Eleni Vardaki is a former IB graduate from the Anglo-American School of Moscow with a Masters in Education from Cambridge University. She’s taught more than 300 IB Diploma candidates since 2013 in her roles as a TOK and IB History teacher. Her work life is now split between continuing to teach some IB and IGCSE History students part-time for a local IB school, as well as looking after her clients who enroll in her exclusive online confidence training programs. To contact her, go to: elenivardaki.com


Hey Hey! It’s that time of year again…no, I don’t mean Christmas, I mean Theory of Knowledge time! Yay!

Getting a top grade in ToK is a) Totally Achievable and b) Super important.

It’s important because those 3 core points can be achieved before the exams – when everything gets real crazy in school. This means if you get the ToK points, you can get the advantage over other students competing for a uni place…all before exams even start.

In this post I’m going to go through everything you need to know to get a top grade in ToK in light detail. Lucky you!  If you want the heavy detail, then check out the posts I link you to. Double lucky! Ok, let’s get started.


Shared vs. Personal Knowledge

In ToK class you need to break down what kinds of knowledge you’re looking at. This is one division.

Shared knowledge is knowledge that can be checked and corrected by other people. So ‘The earth is spherical’ is a matter of shared knowledge. If somebody wants to check they can send a tweet to the ISS and those folks our friends in space will hit you back with a selfie of what is obviously a spherical earth. That is an example of community checked knowledge.

Personal knowledge cannot be checked by a community. It involves things like feelings and skills. ‘I love this ToK article’ is an example of personal knowledge. No one else can tell you if that is true or if it is ‘correct’. Although, of course, I can tell you that you should love this post, after all, look at these llamas.


Anyway if you want to know more about shared vs. personal knowledge you can find lots more exciting details here http://www.lanternaeducation.com/pt-2-types-of-knowledge-shared-and-personal/

Now let’s talk about…


Knowledge Questions and Knowledge Claims

The ToK syllabus says ‘an essay or presentation that does not identify and treat a knowledge question has missed the point’. Obviously this is kind of a big deal guys.

Basically knowledge questions ask about how we know things.

Knowledge questions are:

    1.  About knowledge ‘When was Henry VIII born?’ is not about knowledge it is asking for a piece of knowledge. That’s not what we want. We want something like ‘Is history always biased?’ – now that’s a good knowledge question because it’s about knowledge in general. Good job me!


  1. Knowledge questions are also open – so they shouldn’t have ‘an answer’ like those boring questions you get in other subjects. Instead they should only lead to an endless philosophical discussion that leads you to wonder if ToK is pointless (answer to that questions is here: lanternaeducation.com/pointless-tok/)
  2. Finally, knowledge claims should be general. See my example in point number 1 about history. This applies to all of history, not just the cold war, for example.

So what about knowledge claims??????

Well these are really important too, but I don’t have all day to spoon-feed you information. Honestly, students these days expect everything to be given to them on a plate. When I did the IB we had to look for information in libraries. No only that but the libraries were lit with oil lamps and all the books were actually stone tablets. Nowadays if you want to find out about knowledge claims all you have to do is look herehttp://www.lanternaeducation.com/theory-of-knowledge-ib-guide-part-3/ 🙂 Glad you read that, huh?


The Ways of Knowing

Ok, this is a biggie – and really important to get those presentations, essays etc. hitting all of the syllabus requirements.

Here’s what you have to do:

  1. Have a basic understanding of all the Ways of Knowing
  2. Include 2 or 3 WoK in everything you write, speak or do in ToK class.

I can actually recommend two excellent articles, written by an expert in this field, which explain all the WoKs in a clear and enjoyable style. Plus, you know, I get an ego boost when people read my articles.

Ways of Knowing: Language, Senses, Emotion and Reason


Imagination, Faith, Intuition and Memory


Please stop getting distracted, we have more work to do.


Areas of Knowledge

ToK is all about categorising knowledge. Looking at the structures of ‘how we know what we know’ and understanding how we think about things. You should always keep in mind that the IB wants you to break down knowledge, whether into the AoKs, the WoK used to discover, the types of knowledge, personal / shared etc.

Now, you may remember from about 10 seconds ago that there are 8 Ways of Knowing (also known as WoKs in Chinese cooking).

As well as 8 WoKs, there are 8 Areas of Knowledge. This is not because the universe has an inherent beauty and rationality – a structure and guiding purpose that leads us to finally perceive that there truly is balance in all things. Instead it is because the IBO like neat stuff and mirrors.

Nonetheless, here are the 8 Areas of Knowledge.

There are 8 Areas of Knowledge, these are: Mathematics, the Natural Sciences, History, The Arts, Ethics, Religious Knowledge and Indigenous Knowledge.

Each Area of Knowledge is a system. Within each AoK system there are agreed ways to investigate things. This just means that, within each AoK there is consistency. That is all the ‘players’ of that ‘game’ (science for example) agree to use the same rules, like experimentation and statistical measurement. If you’re a scientist you will find that your rules do not apply in other games / AoKs. Artists tend not to value objective measurement in the same way.

TIP: If you’re a smart cookie you might notice that these somewhat mirror the IB subject areas. This is because the IB is grounded on the most philosophically sound principles of Education and Pedagogy.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you here, there is a lot to learn about the knowledge areas. It’s not hard to understand, but you need to read, like, an entire page about it. Sadly that won’t fit here* so I’m going to go ahead and link you to two awesome articles about the Areas of Knowledge.

*Clearly it would, this is the internet and we don’t have limited space here…but, you know, it’s easier to go check out the original articles.

Mathematics, the Natural Sciences, The Human Sciences and History


The Arts, Ethics, Religious Knowledge, Indigenous Knowledge


Knowledge Frameworks are also worth reading about and if you want all those precious ToK points, you should read up on them herehttp://www.lanternaeducation.com/theory-of-knowledge-ib-guide-part-6/


You’ve made it to the end! Well done!


You now have access to loads of ToK resources and hopefully a better idea of what the ToK course wants you to learn. Now go through those resources, read up on everything we discussed and I promise you, when your teacher / examiner / mom looks at your ToK work you’ll get the gold star, the lollipop and the core points you deserve!



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