Theory of Knowledge

All International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma and most A level pupils at Gresham’s take the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course to help them develop further critical thinking and analysis skills.

These attributes will provide an invaluable foundation for life after Gresham’s and TOK encourages pupils to look beyond their immediate areas of curriculum expertise.

Pupils are given the opportunity to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know. TOK is composed almost entirely of questions; the most central of these is “how do we know?”, through discussions of this and other questions, pupils gain greater awareness of their personal and ideological assumptions, as well as developing an appreciation of the diversity and richness of cultural perspectives.

Pupils are encouraged to think about how knowledge is arrived at in different disciplines (such as mathematics, the natural and human sciences, history, the arts and ethics), and what these disciplines have in common, and the differences between them. TOK therefore both supports and is supported by the study of other subjects, as students are required to explore knowledge questions against the backdrop of their experiences across their subject learning. Discussion and critical reflection form the backbone of the TOK course, centring on discussions such as:

  • What counts as evidence for X?
  • What makes a good explanation in subject Y?
  • How do we judge which is the best model of Z?
  • How can we be sure of A?
  • What does theory B mean in the real world?
  • How do we know whether it is right to do C?

The TOK course is assessed through a short oral presentation and a 1600-word essay. The TOK presentation assesses the ability of the pupil to apply TOK thinking to a real-life situation, while the TOK essay takes a more conceptual starting point (for example, asking pupils to discuss the claim that the methodologies used to produce knowledge depend on the use to which that knowledge will be used).

TOK is a demanding and challenging course, but one which plays a crucial role in effectively preparing pupils for the complex and rapidly-changing world they will encounter both during their Sixth Form studies and beyond at university and in their future career.