The “what” / “why” phrases in the first sentence of May 2020 Prescribed Title #1 can be  linked to observation, investigation, research etc.  Consider a person working / researching / studying in a particular AOK field.

The “what” / “why” phrases in the second sentence suggest something a step beyond just observation, investigation, and research.  The second sentence could refer some of the following kinds of actions:

  • Developing a new medical procedure
  • Integrating two different types of dance to create a new style of dance 
  • Applying a set of moral principles to solve an issue
  • Coming up with a new way to interpret a set of historical documents
  • A criminology applying psychological theories in a groundbreaking way
  • A lawyer using genetic research to try and help his / her client
  • A mobile app developer using a mathematical formula to try and predict user behavior to increase profits

Some of the Prescribed Titles state that a response needs to focus on two areas of knowledge (PTs #1, 5, 6). Essays on these PTs absolutely need to focus on just two AOKs – no more, no less.  

For the PTs that that do not state a number of two AOKs, it is best to stick to only a few.  If the IB states that for some essays the essay needs to focus on two AOKs, it stands to reason that in general essays with two AOKs may be more successful.  

Three AOKs is doable but an essay with too many AOKs could easily lack depth. A good compromise for PTs #2, 3, 4 might be to focus on two to three AOKs throughout the essay development process and then decide later on if the weakest AOK of the three is worth keeping.  Basing an essay on one AOK regardless of what the title states would likely be a mistake as there are fewer opportunities for comparison and contrast.  


In this Prescribed Title (as with many) there are two contrasting ideas that a student must resolve. “Describing” something is quite different from “explaining” something but they are obviously closely linked.  There are situations (RLEs) where someone is simply focused on describing a particular event, phenomenon, piece of art etc.  In other situations the person is more focused on explaining what is happening, the background, possible causes, etc.  The explanation will often (but not always) be broader in scope than the description.

There are cases where the people / groups involved in the description are separate from the people involved in the explanation.  Some researchers may be recording data (ie. describing) but don’t have the technology or expertise to offer an explanation.

In other cases, a researcher may be able to describe something but someone from a different area of expertise may be the one to offer an explanation.

That are, of course, a number of examples where the people involved in the description are the same ones trying to explain it. 


This Prescribed Title is atypical in that it is a yes / no question which is rare in TOK.  The question makes a presumption – that a person’s circumstances affects how seriously others take his / her knowledge.  The answer in a TOK essay though cannot be simply yes or no.  There are situations where it matters a lot and others where it may not matter at all.  A solid essay should look at a wide spectrum of RLEs and Different Perspectives where the influence of personal circumstances matters a lot or almost not at all.

On the face of it this Prescribed Title seems to ask for a more personal / individual response than most due to the use of “your” instead of “a person’s.”  There is nothing wrong at all with responding to a Prescribed Title by using personal experience.  However, a student’s successful TOK essay would very likely require more than a narrow focus on her / her own individual experiences.  The body of the essay could open with an analysis of a student’s own RLE that has direct links to the Prescribed Title.  The essay could then move on from the more personal focus to an investigation of how other people had their personal circumstances affect how other people judged their knowledge.

The “personal circumstances” phrase in the title is quite open to different interpretations and could include the following:

  • Nationality
  • Age 
  • Gender
  • Education
  • Language usage (e.g. speaking the dominant language of a particular group vs. speaking a dialect – i.e. linguistic discrimination)
  • Sexuality
  • Political affiliation
  • Race / ethnicity
  • Socio-economic status


This Prescribed Title is relatively clear-cut and doesn’t require much in the way of unpacking compared to some of the others.  An essay on Prescribed Title #4 would look at RLEs where analogies are used to aid understanding and compare / contrast them to RLEs where analogies provide justification.  There are many RLEs where analogies do both.  Different AOKs use analogies in different ways for different purposes and this is something to consider in the essay.  The “justification” in different AOKs and RLEs needs to be addresses in an essay on this May 2020 Prescribed Title.


A TOK essay on this May 2020 Prescribed Title is focused squarely on how a theory or theories can be used to understand an RLE.  Some theories may be completely adequate to explain an RLE. In other cases multiple theories may be needed.  Also, although a theory may sufficiently explain an RLE from a particular perspective, another theory can also explain it just as adequately from a different point of view.  For example, minimum wage laws can be explained just as effectively with a purely economic theory as they can be with a Marxist theory.

Keep in mind that the word “theory” does not mean the same in each AOK.  In the sciences, for example, a theory is much more than an idea or explanation as it used in everyday conversation.  A scientific theory is “a coherent group of propositions formulated to explain a group of facts or phenomena in the natural world and repeatedly confirmed through experiment or observation.”   


There clearly is a relationship between past and present knowledge. This Prescribed Title, however, includes the phrase “wholly dependent.”  These two words need to be the central focus of a TOK essay on this May 2020 Prescribed Title.  

Look for RLEs where there seems to a clear development of knowledge from past to present leading directly to some current breakthrough.  When investigating an RLE, consider the different ways present knowledge comes from past knowledge.  

There are, of course, breakthroughs in knowledge that seem to come from nowhere that do not seem to have much, if any, link to previous knowledge. The lack of dependence on previous knowledge can also come from someone working independently.