English ("b")

Four units (equivalent to four years) of college-preparatory English composition and literature required, integrating:

  • Extensive reading of classic and modern literature,
  • Frequent writing, from brainstorming to final paper, and
  • Practice listening and speaking with different audiences.

Course guidance

Goals of the English requirement

The English subject requirement seeks to ensure that freshmen are prepared to undertake university-level study; to acquire and use knowledge in critical ways; to think, read, write and speak critically; and to master literacy skills for classes in all University subjects.

More important than the specific topics covered are the more general abilities and habits of mind students should acquire through reading, writing, speaking and other course activities. As indicated in the ICAS Academic Literacy Statement of Competencies [PDF] and the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts [PDF], these include the following:

  1. They are well-informed, thoughtful and creative readers, writers, listeners and thinkers who incorporate the critical practices of access, selection, evaluation and information processing in their own original and creative knowledge production.
  1. They understand the ethical dimensions of academic life as grounded in the search, respect for and understanding of other informed viewpoints and pre-existing knowledge. They have a capacity to question and evaluate their own beliefs; the curiosity and daring to participate in, and contribute to, intellectual discussions; and the ability to advocate for their own learning needs.
  1. They comprehend and evaluate complex texts across a range of types and disciplines and can construct effective arguments and convey intricate or multifaceted information.
  1. They respond to varying demands of audience, task, purpose, genre and discipline by listening, reading, writing and speaking with awareness of self, others and context; and adapting their communication to audience, task, purpose, genre and discipline.
  1. They value evidence. Students can analyze a range of informational and literary texts, ask provocative questions and generate hypotheses based on form and content of factual evidence, see other points of view, and effectively cite specific evidence when offering an oral or written interpretation of a text.
  1. They use technology and digital media strategically and capably to enhance their reading, writing, speaking, listening and language use.
  1. They demonstrate independence by exhibiting curiosity and experimenting with new ideas.

Course requirements

Competencies for entering students cannot be reduced to a mere listing of skills. True academic competence depends on a set of interactive insights, perceptions and behaviors acquired while preparing for more advanced academic work. Good writers are most likely careful readers and critical thinkers—and most academic writing is an informed and critical response to reading. Courses should, at each level, give students full awareness and control of the means of linguistic production, orally and in writing.

Regardless of the course level, all approved courses are expected to stress the reading and writing connection and to address all of the Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards in Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking [PDF].They must also satisfy these criteria:

  • Reading. Acceptable courses must require extensive reading of a variety of genres, non-literary as well as literary, including informational texts, classical and/or contemporary prose and poetry, and literary fiction and non-fiction. Reading of literary texts must include full-length works; excerpts from anthologies, condensed literature, et cetera, cannot substitute for full-length literary works. Students should be expected to read for literal comprehension and retention, depth of understanding, awareness of the text’s audience, purpose and argument, and to analyze and interact with the text.
  • Writing. Courses must also require substantial, recurrent practice in writing extensive, structured papers directed at various audiences and responding to a variety of rhetorical tasks. Students must demonstrate understanding of rhetorical, grammatical and syntactical patterns, forms and structures through responding to texts of varying lengths in unassisted writing assignments. Courses should address basic issues of standard written English, including style, cohesion and accuracy.

   Writing is taught as a recursive process involving invention, drafting, revision and editing where writers return to
   these activities repeatedly rather than moving through them in discrete stages. Writing is also a way of learning
   and it should enhance the students’ understanding of a subject.

  • Listening and speaking. Courses must allow students to develop essential critical listening skills and provide them ample practice speaking in large and small groups. Students are expected to be active, discerning listeners, to make critical distinctions between key points and illustrative examples, develop their ability to convey their ideas clearly, and listen and respond to divergent views respectfully, just as they must do when they read and write.

For expected competencies in English reading, writing, listening and speaking, consult the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts [PDF]. Further information is available in the following resources:

English as a Second Language (ESL) / English Language Development (ELD)

Advanced-level English courses for second language learners may be approved to meet the English (“b”) subject requirement. Courses at this level must include college-preparatory composition and literature comparable to other college-preparatory English courses described above.

These courses should teach students to use academic language analytically to accomplish a variety of intellectually challenging tasks, calling on them to use sophisticated academic language to demonstrate, at an advanced linguistic level of competence, their ability to use a variety of writing techniques, modes of development and formal conventions, and to demonstrate advanced literacy skills, for instance, being able to locate, analyze and incorporate information gathered from multiple sources into their writing. Students should complete regular extensive reading assignments and write multiple drafts of full-length essays, often in response to one or more reading passages.

When applying to the University, students can use only one year of English coursework for second language learners to meet their four-year English requirement for UC admissions.

Sample courses

Samples of courses approved in the “b” subject area are available for reference as you prepare your own course for UC approval.


Other options for satisfying the “b” subject requirement

College courses or satisfactory scores on SAT Subject, AP or IB exams can also be used to fulfill the English subject requirement.