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How important are highschool English classes for physics major?

  1. Jun 23, 2008 #1
    I'm asking because I'm going to be a senior next year and I really, really don't want to take AP Literature. I loathe English with every fiber of my being. I'm also taking German IV which I've heard is mainly going to be a writing/literature class and I don't think I can handle two similar classes. I'd prefer to take German IV since it would probably look better. How important is it that I take AP Literature? And FYI, I'm 99.999...% sure I'm going to major in physics.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 23, 2008 #2
    Don't worry about it. I took the bare minimum for English and I'm doing fine. You'll have to make up for it in college, though. I had to take a few literature and writing classes (not many, though).

    So you have to ask yourself if you want to work it off now or later. If it's looking like it will be a hard semester, you might want to put it off. If you think you can handle it, then you might want to get it out of the way now. Just make sure you get a good AP score, or else you'll have to do it again anyway. :tongue:
  4. Jun 23, 2008 #3
    Writing well is extremely important. AP Literature most likely is not.
  5. Jun 23, 2008 #4
    I love literature, but you would be better served by a composition class.

    Take the German. Actually reading German literature was quite an experience after three years of learning the language.
  6. Jun 23, 2008 #5
    I'm in (was in) the exact same position as you. I also loathe english. I decided not to take AP Lit since I was already taking 4 other AP classes (Physics, Chem, Comp Sci, US/VA Gov) + Latin IV, which is based around ancient Latin literature. I think the reason that physics majors are recommended to have a strong english background, even though most physics majors hate english, is that physicists need to be able to write well and present their research work to their peers/colleagues (things you learn in english). But you don't really need to be good at english to do those things... I doubt a physicist would need to know about american romanticism and transcendentalism lol
  7. Jun 23, 2008 #6


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    The ideal English composition course for physics majors (or prospective physics majors) would be one that was based on physics topics. Unfortunately, few English professors know any physics, and few physics professors know how to teach writing!
  8. Jun 23, 2008 #7
    Yeah, I'm not sure if I could handle it or not since I'm taking AP Physics, AP Calculus, German IV, possibly co-oping a college class, and maybe AP European History. So not taking it really wouldn't hurt all that much? And exactly how difficult are the actual college courses because I've heard this AP Lit class is pretty beastly.

    Also, how good would four years of German look on a college application? My teacher says that it will really make you stand out from the crowd since a lot of people tend to take Spanish instead.
  9. Jun 23, 2008 #8


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    I doubt it would make a big difference, but then, I've never been a big fan of doing things just to make your application look good.

    There's a practical reason for taking more German, though, especially if you don't plan on going further with it. If you end up at a college or university that has a language requirement, the extra year will make it easier to "place out" of that requirement.

    My wife teaches German at the college where I teach, and is familiar with the language placement process here in general. Here, incoming students have to take a placement test either online during the preceding summer, or here during orientation week. Students who come here with only two years of a language are very likely to have to start at the beginning again, either with the regular first course for complete beginners, or with the "accelerated intro" course for students who have already studied the language. (Around here, many high school language courses are frankly not very rigorous.) Students who have had four years of a reasonably good high-school language program have a good chance of placing out of our language requirement completely.
  10. Jun 23, 2008 #9
    But would AP Lit be any better?
  11. Jun 23, 2008 #10

    Andy Resnick

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    I wish I took a composition class, either in Public school or college. My ability to write has totally suffered from this. I even asked around the English department if they could suggest a "grant writing" type class. There is nothing. There is one, but it's geared towards grad students who use English as a second language.

    By contrast, my AP literature class was useful only in that I was able to pass out of my undergraduate "liberal arts" requirement, freeing up more class time for physics classes.

    I have the good fortune to be related to a screenwriter- I got some serious help from him on how to put together a paper/grant application.
  12. Jun 23, 2008 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    First, I agree with jtbell in that doing things just to make your application look good isn't the best of ideas. It also rarely fools anyone.

    Second, I confess I am a little puzzled by the attitude of trying to learn the absolute minimum possible, and only that with an apparent immediate relevance. This is not an attitude shared by many successful physicists.
  13. Jun 23, 2008 #12
    Look at what classes AP Lit will give you college credit for. Since you already know you want to be a physics major, you may as well knock out some general education classes. I took AP German and got a sufficient score to test out of a 9 credit hour(!) foreign language requirement, so maybe the German will get you out of more non-physics work than Lit.
  14. Jun 24, 2008 #13
    I enjoy taking German classes. I wouldn't take it only if I thought it might look good. But if it does look good, all the more reason to take it but I'm not taking it just to look good.

    Also, where did the notion that I'm trying "learn the absolute minimum possible" come from? I just really don't want to take AP Lit because I know that I wouldn't enjoy it and I don't see much point in taking a class that wouldn't help me and that I wouldn't enjoy.
  15. Jun 24, 2008 #14
    All educated people need to be well-read outside of their disciplines. However, this may or may not come from formal classwork. Later on in life, it almost certainly will not come from classwork.

    It sounds like you stand a high chance of hating the lit course, and it may not be that beneficial to you, so perhaps you could skip it.

    I took AP literature, and scored well on the AP exam, so I had credit for Comp 1 (dual-enrolled) and Intro to Lit (based on the test score) when I entered college. That left me with Comp II to take, which I did my first semester...it worked out fantastically for me.
  16. Jun 24, 2008 #15


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    Main physical science students in high school could do well enough just taking the minimum of high school English (including Literature) which may fit their purposes. Literature courses in college will very likely be more interesting; so instead of hoping to "test-out from" English & Literature courses for college, students might actually enjoy the literature courses more in college. Also, most college students are more mature and life-aware than are high school students, and because of this, they can handle Literature courses better.
  17. Jun 24, 2008 #16
    Here in Canada (in university) you need to pass an english exam (called the ELPE (english language proficiency exam)) if you get less than 80% in high school english (and you can't graduate until you pass it)
  18. Jun 24, 2008 #17


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    Undoubtedly your English literature course will require a good deal of writing as well as reading. Good written communication skills are important in ANY field, and all the practice you can get is going to help.

    I do appreciate the point symbolipoint is making too. I also found that literature courses in college were much more enjoyable than in high school, because I had a more mature perspective to understand and appreciate the literature. I also found that books I was "forced" to read in high school and college ended up being much more enjoyable when I picked them up again years later for pleasure reading. Not having to chug through a set number of pages in a fixed amount of time, I was able to enjoy them much more and appreciate aspects of the plots I entirely missed while rushing to complete assignments.

    So, I'd suggest just keeping in mind that you might not get as much out of the books now as you might in a few years, but that later on, the things you discuss in the course will come back to you as you read the books for pleasure and make it more enjoyable than if you never had the class. And, also keep in mind that if you get nothing out of the class other than better writing skills, you'll have gained something valuable.
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