ToK Areas of Knowledge: The Complete Guide for IB Students

In ToK, areas of knowledge refer to the broad structure within which human beings understand the world.

Each area has established and approved means of producing knowledge and the accepted norms for what counts as a good explanation or a fact.

Take the scientific framework, for example. In it is an agreement on the steps to conduct scientific investigations and the accepted evaluation for arguments and proof.

Although IB requires you to study and understand all the areas of knowledge, you’ll need to investigate only two ways of knowing and two areas of knowledge in your ToK essay.

Key Takeaways

  • Each area of knowledge in ToK is a system that deals with what we know.
  • Some guides define AOK in the ToK course as a collection of knowledge within a single system.
  • The areas of knowledge that every IB student must study and explore are Mathematics, History, Arts, Natural Sciences, and Human Sciences.

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5 Areas of Knowledge in TOK Explained

The following is an overview of the 5 areas of knowledge in TOK:

1. Mathematics

Mathematics may have constraint of mathematical logic, but the subject is creative.

The subject starts with axioms that prove facts and theorems. And although it possesses a degree of certainty, mathematics requires the application of deductive reasoning and considerable imagination.

Mathematics does not demand an initial sense of vision. Instead, it requires an application of real-life situations using methods similar in natural sciences and humanities. 

Furthermore, Mathematics has a strong link with arts. After all, artistic harmony and symmetry can’t be accurate without the application of mathematical frameworks.

2. History

History is an interesting field, particularly to the Theory of Knowledge course. History evokes some fundamental questions, which are ideal for understanding the subject.

  • What are the differences between the methods used throughout history? 
  • Are eyewitnesses’ accounts trustworthy enough to count as evidence?
  • What makes an event historically significant?

History as an area of knowledge examines the chronological sequences of the past and poses important knowledge issues.

A good enough of a knowledge issue that History raises is whether we can talk about historical facts, or what counts as facts.

The study of History enables you to understand human behavior because reflecting on the past makes it easier to foretell how the future might unfold.

We should mention that Historical events and therefore evidences are quite critical because they evoke the issue of determining how credible the evidences are in the first place. Also, we must question whether historical truths can exist independent of historians.

Notably, historical writings are highly subjective, as social and historical contexts are powerful enough to influence historians, as well as what they write.

3. Arts

Arts as an area of knowledge in TOK cover literary, performing, and visual arts. Arts serve the link between personal and shared knowledge and it explores the experience and reality of being human. 

As a structure that serves as a key cultural component, arts cover everything creative persons do.  Therefore, we don’t it to creative writing, painting, sculpting, and dancing.

However, there’s a contention on what counts as knowledge in this domain.

Some of us believe that information from arts is personal and not shared. As such, creativity is either unattainable or difficult to understand.

For others, arts in Theory of Knowledge bring out some of the most profound ideas by humans.

4. Natural Sciences

Natural sciences in Theory of Knowledge focus on rules that control nature. Note that the rules we observe around us are relationships of events. Usually, “if A occurs B will too” is the nature of relationship common to natural sciences.

Natural sciences use observations to test assumptions about an issue. They don’t develop a knowledge system that doesn’t require human participation.  Instead, natural sciences control harmful result of human preferences, aspirations, and expectations.

To some degree, natural sciences emphasize the role of empirical investigation. In this respect, scientific knowledge should stand up against experimental judgment.

5. Human Sciences

Human sciences examine the biological, social, and cultural dimensions of our very existence.

It’s easy to confuse natural and human science, but the two differ based on the definition of the word “science”.

Human sciences as a way of knowing are sciences because they cannot determine the reliability and validity of hypothesis without the application of scientific methods. Again, human sciences don’t have rules devoid of explanation, thus they depend on statistical approaches to corroborate results.

Within the structure of human sciences are several disciplines, including psychology, geography, economics, and social, cultural, and anthropological anthropology.

How Many Areas of Knowledge Should an IB Student Develop?

An IB student should develop any two of the five areas of knowledge. Each AOK has to have a claim and counterclaim, with example and evidence for support.


  • State your claim: The claim is the thesis statement of your essay. Think of it as the argument about your prescribed title.
  • Give an example: Write any example to support the claim. You can draw the example from your personal experience, as long as it’s real and specific.
  • Explain your example: A reader would want to know exactly how the example you’ve provided supports your thesis statement. Don’t hold back on writing something interesting, as that’s what’s likely to grab their attention.


  • State the counterclaim: It refers to an opposing point of view, which states something contrary to the claim you gave in the first paragraph. 
  • Give an example of a counterclaim: Again, you should share a solid example of a counterclaim to support your view.
  • Explain the counterclaim example: The target reader needs to understand how the example fits in your work. It helps to mention what’s interesting about the example and why it’s suitable for supporting your opposing point of view.

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