King William's College and the General Knowledge Paper


From 1977 to 1982, I went to school at King William's College on the Isle of Man.  King William's College is a traditional British "public school": a fee-paying boarding school (although many pupils do not board but are “day-boys” or “day-girls”: they go to school and return home each day.)


King William's College is probably best known for its General Knowledge Paper, known as the GKP. Up until 1999, pupils did this quiz every year just before the Christmas holidays. The questions are very hard and often cryptic, and pupils got hardly any questions right first time: 5% was considered a good score. During the Christmas holidays, pupils tried to find the answers to the harder questions. When they returned to school in the New Year, they took the test again and most got much higher scores.


The GKP is also published in the British newspaper The Guardian so that readers who like quizzes can have a go too. The result is that the quiz has become fairly well known.


The reason for setting the GKP can be seen in the Latin motto which is always printed at the top of it: "Scire ubi aliquid invenire possis, ea demum maxima pars eruditionis est." Freely translated, this means "the greatest part of knowledge is knowing where to find something".


The test started in 1905, and at that time, knowing where to find something was a skill in itself. In a form of “learning by doing”, pupils found out how to use standard reference works such as encyclopaedias, Who’s Who, a dictionary of quotations, etc., and perhaps more specialised works such as Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians.


Nowadays, of course, we can find many of the answers using Internet search engines such as Google. Following the Latin logic of the GKP’s quizmaster, we might now conclude that we have mastered the greatest part of knowledge if we know how to use Internet search engines effectively. However, to use Internet search engines effectively, we must also be able to analyse whether the information that we find is correct or not. True knowledge in the Internet age includes not only finding information but also evaluating its accuracy.