Advice from experienced TOK students

Advice from graduating students about TOK, April 2009

  • It is so worth speaking up (on hot and cold topics alike) even when you are alone or part of a minority concerning personal views. It is worth it as a person and a student. The more input from everyone, the more everyone benefits from the class. TOK can be a bore or very interesting—but that is up to each student right from their attitude during the first moment of the first class.
  • Begin the class with an open mind, without any preconceived ideas about it. You may have heard older students complaining about it, and may dread the idea of learning about different ancient philosophers and memorizing their theories. While at times philosophers are discussed, the focus is more on learning different and better ways to think. This can then be used in many interesting modern subjects. A lot of the time, TOK can actually be fun, especially during discussions or debates about cool topics where you can learn your classmates’ and friends’ opinions. This brings me to my second piece of advice: speak up as much as possible (even if you feel stupid), listen to others, and try to genuinely enjoy yourself. TOK can be fun, interesting, and enlightening, as long as you let it.
  • Ask a lot of questions. Ask questions about everyday life to get the full meaning of TOK.
  • Don’t be afraid of getting lost. The more you get lost the more you will have the motivation to think. Everything that you’ve known until now will have a completely or slightly different look. Refusing to think about things that you are made to question in TOK is cowardly. Get used to feeling like you know nothing and start from scratch.
  • It is important to question things we think we already know. Share your thoughts with your friends, because a lot of TOK is about discussion and sharing of ideas. During class it is important to participate in discussions as it will help you to explore more ideas. Lastly, it is important to pay attention to real-life examples—things happening around you—because these could end up being useful in TOK.
  • There are certain aspects that can be interesting if you choose to listen. Do research on a few areas of knowledge that interest you—this will help when you have to write your prescribed essay. Try to participate in class discussions even if you don’t understand much. Focus on the prescribed essay—that’s where most of the marks are. Don’t leave it to the last minute.
  • TOK is initially hard to grasp. The content and way of teaching is really different. You’ll get used to it!! As the course progresses you will find yourself having to ask more questions. Always feel free to express your opinions. The theories might seem overwhelming sometimes—don’t worry about it. Slowly get yourself into the TOK mode. Be analytical! Always look at different sides. Get a good night’s sleep before TOK class the next day. Read a lot, and think a lot.
  • You may think at the start of the course that learning the Areas of Knowledge and Ways of Knowing is pointless and that you will be able to bs a good essay at the end whether you pay attention or not. You are wrong! Approach TOK with a positive attitude. TOK is one of those subjects that grows on you as you learn.
  • Have an open mind. Everything you believe can be debated and most of it will be. When your strong beliefs are questioned, do not take it personally. Make sure you are awake for TOK.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk in class and express your views and ideas because it helps you and everyone else.
  • Speak up! Stay awake! TOK has no final exam, and therefore all the work you do in class is essential to your final grade. TOK is all about raising questions, defining boundaries, not acquiring a final answer. No one is good at TOK without speaking.
  • Don’t leave your essay and presentation until the last minute. Join in class discussions. Ask questions!
  • Be open minded! Do your homework and preparation for class [reading the TOK book before class]!
  • Come with an open mind. Be prepared to learn and share ideas.
  • Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions. Welcome a good debate. Don’t be embarrassed if your opinion is challenged or if you represent a minority. It helps you learn, strengthen your belief and/or open a completely new horizon that you have never previously touched upon.
  • Always remember that your debates/discussions in the TOK classroom should be about the ideas/opinions. They should not turn into personal attacks or the like. (Sometime debates do get slightly hostile, no?)

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Not all black and white; the most interesting bits are gray.