By Andre Hui (14A03A) and Darren Teoh (14S06R)
A rather important philosopher once said: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” The central task of Knowledge and Inquiry would be summed up in the process of proving (or disproving) that quote. Picking apart exactly how we know what we claim to know is what you’ll be doing if you choose to offer this subject.
The first (and hopefully only) reason why you should consider taking KI is interest in the subject. Under no circumstances should you offer KI solely because you wouldn’t like to offer GP. Epistemology—the study of knowledge—is definitely not everybody’s cup of tea. If you can’t imagine yourself killing your brain cells over why the notion of good may simply be a human construct, or whether Mathematics is discovered or invented, then KI is most likely not the subject for you.
On the other hand, if your interest is piqued by questions such as ‘how do we know an artwork is beautiful?’ or ‘is scientific knowledge really reliable in giving us an account of how the world actually is?’, then you’d want to sign yourself right up. Having the annoying habit of being fascinated by asking (and sometimes receiving answers to) ‘why?’ and ‘how do you know that?’ will come in handy. Classes are often lively affairs, being discussions rather than lectures.
In other words, KI is a H2 subject offered in lieu of General Paper (GP). In terms of subject combination, assuming you took Mother Tongue, you would either be taking 5 H2 subjects (as some of the current Year 5 batch is doing), 4 H2 subjects and 1 H1 subject, or even just 4 H2 subjects.
Since KI is also classified as a Knowledge Skill, how exactly does GP differ from KI? The skills they use are, at their core, similar. Both require you to understand extracts from various articles; both require you to critically analyse and construct arguments. Both also require you to know your content knowledge. However, the similarities end there.
As mentioned earlier, KI focuses on the study of knowledge. To that end, essay topics and passages will undoubtedly be related to epistemology. While perhaps covering a range of topics as broad as GP, the focus on KI is very decidedly on nature and construction of knowledge in one of seven particular fields: maths, science, ethics, history, the social sciences, aesthetics, and culture. A link to the syllabus on the SEAB website is found here. As a H2 subject, you would be expected have content knowledge of great depth and breadth; after all, the seven fields together span nearly the whole of human knowledge.
KI also does not have a comprehension, summary or application question segment – instead, by the time you reach the A-levels, KI papers will consist of two short argument analyses and evaluations, one longer argument analysis and evaluation, and two essays (spread over one 3-hour paper, and another 2-hour paper).
One last way in which KI differs from GP is the presence of an Independent Study (IS) – a 3000-word research paper spanning around 8 months from conceptualisation to submission that constitutes 40% of your A-level grade. It is given in the October of your first year, and usually submitted in the September of your second year. You will get to pick any topic you like should you manage to present how you would tackle epistemic issues in that topic convincingly. Past year ISes have seen papers on the Brothers Grimm’s fairytales, the law of supply and demand, typography, psychology, and even theology. The only thing that is required is that your paper address an epistemic issue in that topic.
The pragmatist in you might also want to know how offering KI affects one’s university applications. KI is still a relatively new subject (being started in RI in 2006). It is not recognised as a content subject (implying that offering KI is not a prerequisite for any courses). Due to its relative youth, some UK universities (for example, the London School of Economics) do not recognise KI as a subject. (But others, like University College London, have explicitly permitted it for admissions purposes.) Acceptance amongst the Russell group of universities varies, as well.
As for Oxbridge colleges, we understand that Oxford might not recognize KI for some of its courses, but would happily accept it for its Law and PPE courses. On the other hand, KI is perfectly fine when applying to US universities. That being said, for those universities which do not recognise KI, one can still meet their selection criteria (for example, three H2 distinctions), with your other subjects. This author recommends you do your own research in order to find out exactly which universities reject KI, and whether those universities would be a likely place you would head to. You could start here.
Consider KI if you have more than just a slight interest in epistemology. Otherwise, it’ll become a drag for you along the way; and once your interest wanes, it gets hard to keep up with the content you’re supposed to know.