Please Mind the Platform Gap: Taking H2 Knowledge and Inquiry

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By Raphael Niu (23A01A)

Knowledge and Inquiry (KI) is one of those subjects often shrouded in mystery. With its small batch size (often no larger than 30) and niche focus (what even is epistemology?), many incoming J1s have no idea what the subject is about, let alone whether they should take it. If you want to know what you’re signing up for before you register for the KI selection test, this article is for you.

“Knowledge and Inquiry” sounds pretentious. Is it just philosophy?

While H2 KI is offered in lieu of H1 General Paper (GP), the two subjects differ substantially in terms of subject matter. While GP (as its name suggests) demands a more general understanding of current affairs, KI has a particular focus on epistemology, the study of knowledge. However, it is not quite the same as RI’s Philosophy or RGS’s Inquiry and Advocacy (I&A) that RP students might be familiar with. Instead of exploring different philosophical issues, KI requires you to investigate specifically the nature and construction of knowledge, or ‘NaCoK’, as Y5 KI teacher Ms Michelle Kwok calls it.

The curriculum begins with a brief unit on critical thinking, where argument forms like modus ponens and logical fallacies like ad hominem will be introduced to you, before you explore theories of knowledge, truth, justification, and perception. Subsequently, you will learn about the nature and construction of knowledge in six fields: mathematics, science, the social sciences, history, ethics, and aesthetics. Along the way, you will grapple with questions on whether mathematics is discovered or invented, whether scientific knowledge is objective, and whether historical truth exists. Given the small class size, lessons tend to be fairly lively, primarily comprising class discussions rather than lectures over a screen.

Actually the conclusion to half of your KI essays. (Source)

Okay, but ‘NaCoK’ still sounds like some Chemistry thing. What do I actually have to write in the exams?

The KI A-Level exam consists of three papers. Much like GP, Paper 1 is an essay paper, except that you have to write two essays instead of one (don’t worry, you also get double the time). The first essay will explore the concept of knowledge in general, while the second essay requires you to apply your understanding of NaCoK to specific fields of knowledge.

The differences between GP and KI become clear when you compare their essay questions:

KI’s Paper 2 is also different from GP’s. Instead of reading comprehension in GP, KI requires you to reconstruct and evaluate the strength of arguments presented to you in the form of one long passage and two short passages. Finally, Paper 3 (with no GP equivalent) comprises an Independent Study (IS), where over the span of 6 months, you get to write a 3000-word paper on any topic of your liking (so long as it deals with the nature and construction of knowledge, of course). Topics ranging from econometrics and neurobiology to British humour and Google Search have been explored. 

We ask the last question a lot, especially when we had to do a short passage assignment before the answering techniques were taught. (Source)

Are there any practical matters I should bear in mind before I choose to take KI?

Unlike H1 GP, KI is an H2 subject and can serve as a contrasting subject for both Arts and Science combinations. This means that you can integrate KI into their subject combination in a variety of ways: you can take a total of 4 H2 subjects (e.g. KILME), 4 H2 subjects and 1 H1 subject (e.g. HELmKI), or even 5 H2 subjects (e.g. BCMEKI). The only limitation is that KI cannot be taken with certain other subjects such as H2 Art, H2 Music, and H2 English Language and Linguistics (ELL).

Each of these subject combinations, however, come with their unique considerations. If you opt to take a total of 4 H2 subjects including KI, dropping KI would be a tricky affair: you would have to take on GP and a new content subject to meet the minimum number of academic units. Conversely, if you take 5 H2 subjects, this would effectively preclude you from taking any H3 subjects in Y6, since MOE only lets a handful of exceptional students take 13 academic units. Additionally, as KI is the only H2 subject that includes an IS component, you might want to consider carefully if you can manage the workload before taking an H3.

Before you decide to take KI, it would also be advisable to look up the admissions guidelines of universities you are considering applying for: some universities like LSE may not recognise KI as a content subject.

That’s quite daunting. Is there any reason why I should take KI?

KI isn’t an easy subject: you will encounter counterintuitive concepts and terms you can’t pronounce (“analyticity” still trips me up). But it can also be an extremely rewarding subject for those who take up the challenge: you walk away with the skills of logical reasoning, argument evaluation, and a very good understanding of the pet topic you have chosen to write your IS on. Additionally, KI student Ethan Lau (23A01A) finds that compared to GP, KI is easier to study for:

“every time i see the 80+ page notes the GP students get (per chapter!), i feel happy that i have no notes to reference”
— Ethan Lau, 23A01A

However, KI is ultimately not for everyone. If you’re not sure you would enjoy the mental gymnastics involved in epistemological endeavour, or you are worried about writing a 3000-word IS while juggling the demands of Y6, taking KI may not be the best choice. For those that decide to take the subject though, I’m sure you will enjoy the study of knowledge and the process of inquiry.

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