The course teaches that there are four Ways of Knowing (WoK): perception, emotion, reason, and language. (In the new syllabus, "sense perception" has replaced "perception" in order to reduce ambiguity.) Also used are the following six Areas of Knowledge (AoK): mathematics, natural sciences, human sciences, history, the arts, and ethics. Also the course discusses Knowledge Issues, or limitations of knowledge, concerning the WoK and AoK.
These nine justifications and four truth tests are key to the introduction of ToK.
The course is formulated and centered around one main question: How do you know? One is supposed to use the Ways of Knowing and the Areas of Knowledge to discuss how one acquires, perceives, and applies knowledge and how reliable it can be. Another question central to the ideas of ToK, relating specifically to the application of knowledge is: What is your obligation as a knower? Questions that may be discussed may include examples such as How do you know that the scientific method is a valid method of gaining knowledge? or What is the reason for having historical knowledge, and how is it applied in life?
During the later parts of the course or at its completion, students give an internally assessed oral presentation of about 10 minutes and write an essay of 1,200 to 1,600 words that will be assessed externally by the IBO. The presentation follows a topic of the student's choosing while the paper must discuss one of 10 pre-determined topics that are changed each year. The presentation may be undertaken as a group. In both the presentation and the essay, the student is required to provide ample discussion of the Knowledge Issues, Areas of Knowledge, and Ways of Knowing concerning their topic as well as critical evaluation of their conclusions.
ToK, like Creativity, Action, Service, is a required course for students in the IB Diploma Programme, and a good final score in both ToK and the Extended Essay may help the student receive up to three extra points towards his or her diploma.
A final grade in ToK is necessary to receive the IB Diploma. Students receive a grade from A to E. Not having a grade in ToK, or achieving a grade E in both ToK and the Extended Essay constitutes a failing condition of a candidate for an IB Diploma.