Have you ever found yourself just thinking about the world we live in? What about why we do what we do, or think what we think or even why we exist in the first place? Well, neither did I, or at least until I chanced upon this magical subject – Knowledge and Inquiry (KI).
If you desire to explore and step out of your comfort zone in terms of learning, KI is the perfect subject for you!
As a former KI student, here’s my experience to help you understand this intriguing subject more.
What is KI in A-Levels?
Some philosophers have attempted to define what we certainly know as “knowledge”, in response to the question ‘What is Knowledge?‘
However, the age old “I think therefore I am” seems to be one of the only legitimate answers. That it is knowledge that “I” exist, as our brains have to exist for us to even think in the first place. Yet, this has its objections as well!
Can’t believe it? Well, neither could I!
Needless to say, KI opened up many possibilities which I had never thought of before.
It introduced me to question the fundamental aspects of knowledge. An example (which you may not understand now) is the Justified True Belief (also known colloquially by its short form JTB) criterion of knowledge and the Gettier cases.
KI is an A-Level subject that tests your comprehension skills, critical thinking and encourages you to have your own unique response to various topics.
I remember having to answer questions like ‘What is art?’ in my exploration of aesthetic inquiry. I was also required to determine if a specific field of knowledge was so called ‘better’ than another, based on my own criterion.
Throughout the course of this subject, you will learn to develop your communication skills in a straightforward, yet insightful manner. You will also be relatively more well versed than your peers in philosophical topics, and hone your ability to wonder about the world around you.
Sounds good? Well it really is! KI might at first seem daunting, but what I have learnt from this subject definitely outweighed any downsides to taking it.
What is the KI exam structure?
Now, on to the more boring stuff, but trust me, this will be useful for you to better understand what you are dealing with.
KI as an A-Level subject has 3 core components:
|Paper 1||Essay Writing: |
Two choose one from General Epistemology
Four choose one from the other areas of inquiry.
|Paper 2||Passage Reading and Response:|
One compulsory long passage
Three choose two for short passages
|Paper 3||Independent Research:|
Maximum of 3000 words
One consultation only
Focused on nature and construction of knowledge
Freedom to pick your own topic
For Paper 1, you will need to choose 2 questions of your liking from a list of 6 questions. For General Epistemology, you will be provided with two questions and you can choose either one. For the other areas of inquiry, you can choose one from four questions listed in the paper.
For Paper 2, you will be provided with a long passage which you will have to dissect and respond to. On top of this, you will be provided with three short passages which you will have to choose two from to critique.
You would gain marks from correctly identifying the author’s reasons, examples and conclusion.
Further marks will be given for your own response to the author’s argument. You can do so by pointing out certain fallacies it contains. You should also award merit to the argument if it is logical.
For Paper 3, the independent research paper will begin in the later months of your J1. As mentioned above, you will have to decide on a topic focused on the nature of knowledge. This means you should be focused on how the knowledge has been constructed.
For example, my topic focused on gender. The nature of this knowledge could be that it is malleable and changing with time. The means it is constructed with could be through narratives, or through socialisation.
Sounds confusing? Well I advise you to pick a topic you are interested or confident in to make your life a little easier.
After all, you will have to write a research paper consisting of a maximum of 3,000 words on the topic you have chosen.
But don’t worry, you won’t be left out to dry. During the whole process, you are allowed ONE consult with your KI tutor for guidance. You will also be given some examples of good research papers from your seniors for reference.
What is the syllabus tested in KI?
Here are the fundamental things that examiners will be looking for in KI:
|AO1 Understanding the Nature and Construction of Knowledge||Candidates to demonstrate an understanding of the nature and construction of knowledge. |
They will be expected to show that they have read widely and have understood and can apply the concepts involved.
|AO2 Critical Thinking||Candidates to:|
analyse different kinds of arguments and information
identify and evaluate assumptions and points of view
provide reasoned and supported arguments of their own.
|AO3 Communication||Candidates to communicate their ideas and arguments clearly and coherently in good English. |
They will be expected to structure their arguments, and select an appropriate style of presentation.
They will be expected to communicate responses which are fully relevant to the questions asked and demonstrate clear ability to engage with different aspects of these questions.
Here are the areas of inquiry that are tested in KI which I have referenced earlier!
What are the Areas of Inquiry in KI?
- Foundations of epistemology
- Social Science
For more information, you can refer to this link.
Which JCs offer KI?
Here’s a quick FYI on the colleges offering KI:
- Raffles Junior College
- Hwa Chong Junior College
- Eunoia Junior College
- Temasek Junior College
- National Junior College
- Anglo Chinese Junior College (not offering for the year 2022 and onwards)
Do JCs require a selection test before you can take KI?
From what I have heard, as well as from my own experience, there is a selection test that students who are interested in the subject would have to sign up for.
The questions in the test mainly serve to surface on the way you think, as well as the depth of your English language skills to assess whether the subject is suitable for you.
As a JAE student in a JC with an Integrated Programme (IP), I took the second round of tests instead.
In both tests, the questions were more or less the same. I was given a list of statements in which I had to indicate whether they were:
according to my own opinion.
That section likely assessed the way I thought and interpreted things.
Following that section, there was a question asking me to write about two books I have read.
This section was likely the part that tested my linguistic skills and aptitude.
After completing the application test, when I submitted my paper to the teacher, I remember sitting down with him. He asked me why I chose to take the selection test, and If I was interested in taking the subject.
I gave him my reasons [that I was interested in learning new things outside of my comfort zone etc.].
If in the same situation,
I would suggest that you be sincere and truthful in indicating your interest!
Here are a few useful tips to take note if you ever find yourself having to take a similar selection test.
1. Make sure to be set on your reasons why you intend to take KI. Remember, you will have to commit to whatever decision you make, so ensure that this is really what you want.
2. Read up on knowledge related areas. Just a few would go a long way in helping you generate points to woo your teachers and display your passion.
3. Repeat after me. “Truth“, “Belief“, “Knowledge“. These are the three key things you should have a grasp on so that you can pass your test. “Truth”, “Belief”, “Knowledge”
4. Lastly, and most importantly, enjoy the process and let your insights flow. Don’t be too caught up on it being a test! In the end, it’s a simple assessment with little stakes. You can do it!
How are KI lessons conducted in JC?
As a KI student, your lessons will consist of lectures and tutorials, which are similar to other subjects.
My lectures were held once a week and focused on introducing areas of inquiry with slides and notes. For me, these lectures were done with the entire KI cohort.
Tutorials, on the other hand, were done twice a week, which mainly focused on group work and presentations. These sessions aim to familiarise you with writing essays and responses.
My teacher incorporated an element of public speaking, in which he asked us to present what we have written in preparation for the session, and we had to think on our toes and answer questions from our classmates.
Nearing the exam season, we would have timed practises, to mimic exam conditions.
Overall, the KI lessons I experienced were rather flexible and tailored to our needs and interests. Sometimes, lessons even turned into consultations for people who were weaker in the subject!
Since KI is a rather niche subject with a small cohort size, it makes lessons much more interactive and engaging.
What are some types of questions that are being asked in KI?
Here are some examples of Paper 1 Section A Questions:
- Assess whether justified true belief is an indubitable account of knowledge. 
- To what extent do you agree with the view that ‘doubt will only lead to solipsism’? 
The questions above focus on General Epistemology. This means the response should focus on the nature and construction of knowledge.
This field focuses on defining:
- What is knowledge?
- How is knowledge acquired?
- What do we know?
- How do we know what we know?
From my observation, there tends to be a “broader” question, such as Q1 above, as well as a more niche question, such as Q2.
- The “broad” question requires you to cover a lot more bases in your writing. Furthermore, you will need to bring in relevant examples from many different areas of inquiry. To be clear, that means not only general epistemology!
- The more niche question would be great for you if you had studied specifically for that topic! If not, I would advise against doing it unless you are extremely confident or have no other choice!
From my own observations of the past year trends, these cover most, if not all topics for Section A questions.
I have also provided some examples of such questions from each topic in the table below:
|Knowing/ Knowledge||“Experience is the best basis for the formation of knowledge.” Discuss.|
|Justified True Belief||“Justified True Belief can no longer be considered a relevant definition of knowledge.” Critically assess this view.|
|Justification||Critically discuss the role of justification in knowledge construction.|
|Truth||‘The only truths we know for certain are the ones we’ve created ourselves.’ Examine this statement with reference to the nature and construction of knowledge|
|Belief||‘A crisis of belief is essential for progress in society’. Discuss this statement, with reference to at least two fields of knowledge|
|Certainty||While knowledge can never be certain, the illusion of certainty is perhaps the most useful deception we have operated under. Discuss the issue of certainty and justification in knowledge|
|Rationalism/ Reason||“One can only come to know if one reasons.” Discuss the implications of this statement in relation to two different fields of knowledge.|
|Scepticism/ Doubt||We are not equally sceptical about all kinds of knowledge. Account for this with reference to at least two fields of knowledge.|
|Rationalism and Empiricism||Which of the two schools do you find more convincing – the Rationalist or the Empiricist? Justify your answer with reference to the nature and construction of knowledge.|
|Experience/ Empiricism||One can only truly know through experience.|
|Knowledge and society/ community of knowers||‘Knowledge construction is inevitably limited by the inquirer’ discuss with reference to any two areas of knowledge.|
Here are some examples of Paper 1 Section B Questions:
3. How significant are the differences between knowledge claims in Mathematics and Aesthetics? 
4. “All systems of morality are merely cultural inventions.” Do you agree? 
5. “Science should be defined by its method, not by its area of study.” Do you agree with this statement on the scope and methods of Science? 
6. ‘It is not the answers that differ, but the questions.’ Discuss with reference to the construction of knowledge in the Eastern and world. 
Section B questions of Paper 1 explore the different areas of inquiry as mentioned earlier. You can choose one question from the given four and write your essay.
These questions may not necessarily only focus on one topic, as there may be hybrid questions of two areas, such as Q3.
These tend to ask you to compare different areas of inquiry in terms of:
- the methods utilised
- the type of knowledge produced
- which field is “better”
For Paper 2, the paper will be in the form of a long passage, and three short passages. Of the three short passages, you can choose two to respond to.
Here is an example of a long passage, which is. adapted from the book “Bridging the Great Divide”.
The long passage, as shown above, usually covers an area of inquiry or general epistemology.
They might also be a hybrid passage such as the one above, which focuses on Scientific Inquiry and Religious Inquiry. Hybrid passages usually cover two areas of inquiry. Some common hybrid passages include:
- Mathematics and Aesthetics
- Science and Social Science
- Science and Religion
The mark allocation for this section is shown below:
Understanding of Nature and Construction of Knowledge
You will be expected to identify the author’s argument and lay it out. You should also recognise its merits and points of contention.
Another thing to take note will be further elaborating on your own personal stance.
Below is an example of the three short passages you would see in this section of the paper. The three short passages below are taken from The Times Online.
Pictured above are examples of the short passages. From which you are supposed to choose two.
The mark allocation for each response is below:
As there are two passages you are supposed to respond to, this section is worth 30 marks in total.
You will be expected to analyse the author’s argument and lay it out, while responding to it. This will either be done with criticism and/or recognition of its merits.
So what is the difference between the long and short passage then?
Well, in my opinion, you will not be tested on AO1 (Understanding of Nature and Construction of Knowledge) in the short passage. As such, this section requires less prior academic knowledge of the exam syllabus.
Paper 3 comprises of a 3,000 word Independent Study. In this section, you do not have to stick to answering an examiner’s question. Instead, you will be brainstorming and writing a research paper to your own question!
Of course, there are limits to this.
Your research paper has to be under a certain area of inquiry (as covered earlier), or under General Epistemology. Furthermore, it has to focus on AO1, the nature and construction of knowledge.
There are two stages of your IS. The proposal stage and the actual writing stage.
#1 The Proposal Stage:
After generating a question, you would have to write out a proposal and submit it to Cambridge for approval.
During which, Cambridge would either approve your proposal, approve it with comments, or reject it.
If it is approved, you can proceed with writing your very first draft!
However, if it is rejected, you will have to brainstorm another IS topic, and submit it to Cambridge for another round of vetting.
However, that is not the most tedious part of the IS,In fact, it is the easiest part!
#2 The Writing Stage:
The most difficult part of Paper 3 would definitely be the actual writing.
The bulk of your time will be spent refining draft after draft, trying to hit or not to exceed the 3,000 word count, finding various legitimate sources which have to support your ideas. Most importantly, you will need to stick to the nature and construction of knowledge.
For me personally, I found myself spending days before my Mid Year Examinations wrecking my brains to churn out my IS final draft for submission to Cambridge.
This made me realise how important time management was in writing your Independent Study.
Furthermore, my friends who had picked relatively more straightforward topics were done weeks earlier than me. They also could spend considerably less time on their IS!
Therefore, another important thing to note is to choose manageable topics.
Lastly, you should also make full use of your single consultation with your subject tutor. The only limitation is that it has to be completed within a session. Other than that, things like the duration of the session or type of questions you ask does not matter.
Therefore, be prepared to make the most of this invaluable opportunity! I advise you to ask every single question you can think of, as well as take notes.
This would likely make or break your IS!
After all, your tutors would have the MOST experience in knowing what can get an A, and what cannot.
Here are some tips for IS:
Pick a topic that focuses on knowledge construction
Some ways knowledge can be constructed include:
- Innate Knowledge
- Observational Knowledge
Please note that each topic is unique and this is by no means a guide in determining your focus in the IS.
This is to prevent your Independent Study proposal from getting rejected, and having to be redone. As such, this will save you a lot of time!
Pick a manageable topic
This is to ensure you can complete your IS in time, and not be completely lost while writing it. It will also ensure good time management.
Plan your time wisely
There are deadlines for EVERYTHING. Your proposal, your consultation, and the final submission.
You would not want to rush anything just because you forgot about the deadline as the IS makes up 40% of your grade.
Treasure your consultation
Prepare questions, take notes, ask for tips, and generally write down EVERYTHING your KI tutor has to say about your IS, as it guides what you are writing in the right direction.
Be sure to follow the correct format while writing your IS. The headers, the spacing, font size etc. would not be fun to rush during the final submission
Ask for recommendations from your subject tutors on books or scholarly articles you may find helpful. Do a lot of your own research (sometimes wikipedia helps for definitions).
Remember to keep track of everything that you have referred to for citations!
Are you still intimidated by the subject? Well, after 2 years of taking this subject, I have consolidated a list of tips to help you do well in KI.
- Taking notes from your teacher’s slides during lesson
- Researching and making your own notes on things you might not have understood during lessons
- Consulting your KI Tutor as much as possible
- Having discussions with your friends about different ideas explored during class for MAXIMUM retention
- Be sure to complete every individual assignment your teacher assigns you, and pull your weight during group work
- PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE! – there will be an abundance of practises, attempt as many as you can and go for consultations to review them
- Be open to learning new things, seek help when you need it
- Create a list of definitions, common fallacies and examples for your easy reference
What is the difference between GP and KI?
Well, after that more sombre section, I will cover what many people are unsure about – What is the difference between KI and GP?
KI is a H2 subject, while GP is H1. They are replacements of each other, but differ in the intensity of the subject and the syllabus is different too.
Here I will attempt to run through some of the key differences according to my experience!
- For me, KI is definitely more intellectually stimulating than GP.
- You will have to assess the AO1 (nature and construction of knowledge).
- You are also expected to give your own unique response to questions. Something unexpected for me was how I had to even refute certain articles written by experts!
- Comparatively, GP has more surface level evaluations in terms of how answers can usually be found in the passages
- Being different subjects, there is a difference in the nature of content.
|Current affairs||Universal ideas of knowledge|
|Issues of global significance||More in depth with areas of enquiry|
|Issues of significance to Singapore||–|
|Choose one from 12 questions||Two from six questions (1 from Section A, |
1 from Section B)
|Issues drawn from across disciplines |
Issues of local interest and global concern
The suggested topic areas are:
Historical, social, cultural, economic,
political and philosophical topics
Science including its history, philosophy,
current developments and applications
Mathematical and geographical topics
Literature and language
Arts and crafts
Topics of local interest and global concern.
Areas of Inquiry:
Foundations of epistemology
Comprehension vs. Paper 2
|Questions cover: Understanding including literal comprehensionVocabulary and inference Summary Application||AO1 (Understanding of Nature and Construction of Knowledge), AO2 (Critical Thinking) and AO3 (Communication)|
|Text comprises one or two passages.||One long passage, 3 short passages (from 3 choose 2)|
Level of involvement
|Research on a broad range of topics||In depth research into a slightly more confined range of topics|
|H1 subject||H2 Subject|
|No Independent Study||Has Independent Study, which is similar to H3 Research Paper on its own. More commitment needed|
As such, you can see that GP and KI are 2 very different topics!
Debunking KI Stereotypes
Here are some perceptions that you may have about KI, which may not always be true!
- KI students are “different”
“Wah, you KI student ah, must be you big brain” If you heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times, and trust me, I’ve heard it all.
Although, there might be a misconception that KI students have to be incredibly smart, more intelligent or “Cheem” than GP students, this is definitely not the case.
In reality, I have had classmates who might do well in KI but not understand how to do GP and flop miserably.
In the end, both subjects are fundamentally different, so it may not be fair to compare both of these subjects. If I had to, I’d say GP is more evaluative and more contemporary while KI is more reflective and goes more in depth.
- KI is a pointless subject without any practical use
Some of the things I have heard is that “KI is useless for entering university”, which is, once again, untrue.
Despite it being a “newer” subject at the A-Levels, if you are looking to apply to overseas universities, KI might be the way to go.
The philosophical and inquiry based aspect of KI would definitely be a useful leverage putting you a cut above the rest.
Still worried about how it stacks up against GP?
Well, KI replaces GP, so courses that keep a look out for GP would also accept KI grades too!
To top it off, as KI is a H2 subject that requires an independent research paper. As such, you stand to gain invaluable skills from researching and writing your own paper in a short time frame.
This could go a long way in assisting you in your future projects and papers.
3. KI is only for the big brained and the pretentious
This is definitely untrue. You can find big brained and pretentious people everywhere, regardless of the subject!
This myth might exist due to the high proficiency of English required to pass the selection test.
Furthermore, the subject at its core is different from GP.
KI covers more universal values that have existed over time, while GP focuses more on current affairs.
4. KI is impossible to understand
From my experience, I struggled a lot in J1 with the unfamiliar content and the bulk of new ideas taught to us, so I am familiar with your worries.
However do not fear, as hard work definitely pays off for this subject!
With the help of making my own notes, research and many, MANY consultations, I managed to improve greatly. With great effort I even topped my cohort for Preliminary Exams, receiving the Commendation Award for KI!
As such, I believe that with hard work, you will be able to understand the concepts after a while.
KI may seem really tough, especially since it covers topics more in-depth and it is an H2 topic. However, I believe that you will be able to do well if you put in the effort and make the most out of your 2 years of studying.
I wish you all the best in your journey with KI!
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