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Advice about GRE?

  1. Sep 7, 2008 #1

    So I just took my first timed practice physics GRE (using the '96 exam) and TOTALLY bombed it. I meant to be reviewing physics all summer, but ended up working a lot more hours than planned and never had time, and with the October date approaching I'm beginning to panic a bit. I'm just wondering if anyone else out there has been in the same place, where you only had about a month to study - did you manage to pull it together and save yourself from a REALLY bad score?

    Is it worth it to wait until November (if it means not being able to apply for fellowships?)? What happens if you're a good student with a 3.8 GPA, math and physics major, excellent research (with a publication) but you totally bomb the GRE? Is life over?

    any notes would be appreciated. I'm feeling pretty hopeless about graduate school now... I really wanted to Chicago, but I feel like I'm way out of that league now.:frown:
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2008 #2


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    If worst comes to worst, you could apply to Canada where GRE scores aren't required.
  4. Sep 7, 2008 #3
    GRE scores aren't required in canada? Is this true? What are the best gradschools in canada?
  5. Sep 7, 2008 #4

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    It sounds like you are asking us to say, "Don't worry - you'll still get in". First, we can't tell whether you'll get in or not. Second, the GRE is not unimportant. If grad schools didn't look at it, they wouldn't ask for it.

    It's particularly important for graduates from schools they have never heard of, and have no other means of calibrating the grades and letters.

    I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that I think it's difficult to study - and impossible to cram - for the subject GRE. Packing four years of study into a month isn't terribly feasible. Maybe some review is possible, and touching up some weak points, but I don't think that it's realistic for study to make a huge difference on the score.

    The good news is that your percentile is based on people who are planning on going to graduate school in physics. So "bombed" is relative. I've seen people who have been in the 99th percentile all their lives end up in the 75th percentile and freak out. That's actually a pretty good score - it means they scored higher than 3 out of 4 prospective applicants.
  6. Sep 7, 2008 #5


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    The GRE is a test that has to be studied for if you want to do well.

    If you study from now until November you should be able to bring up your score a little bit, but don't hope for a miracle.

    To help your studying:


    A forum thread on physicsgre.com about GRE scores and other stats and what schools people got into. Seeing other people's stats and where they got in may be of help in picking schools based off of your whole application and not just the GRE:

  7. Sep 7, 2008 #6
    I think the best thing you can do is just to keep reviewing and keep doing practice problems. Whether or not it helps, this is your best option.

    Are you reviewing out of like a Princeton Review book or a Barron's book? I highly do not recommend this. Review from your old physics textbooks as they are going to be way better than whatever the Princeton Review guys will print.

    What are your weakpoints? Did you just bomb everything, or certain topics? For me, when I took the GRE Math exam, I took vector calc maybe 2 years ago from the test date. Needless to say I did poorly. I forgot a lot of vector calc, precalculus and a lot of abstract algebra, but I really did well in those classes, I just never kept on reviewing material. So what I'm trying to say is, you clearly did well in physics courses. Either you aren't reviewing very efficiently or you just aren't good with standardized exams.

    Again, it helps to understand exactly what the weak points are, even if there are a lot of them.

    And what exactly do you mean by bombing? This is very subjective, some people think under a 90% is bombing, others think under a 50% is bombing.

    I believe if you review everyday, do practice problems everyday, your score can definitely improve.

    I consider an 80% and above a really good score. But for Chicago, MIT you probably need a 90+% score to be safe.
  8. Sep 7, 2008 #7


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    A 90% probably doesn't even guarantee acceptance into the top five programs, as sad as that is...
  9. Sep 7, 2008 #8
    Ok, maybe I am being too hard on myself. Most of the problem was that I barely made it halfway though the test in 170 minutes. Part of my problem is also that I am just now starting courses in optics and quantum, and won't even be taking thermal until the spring. Some of it I should have known from modern physics and introductory, but I left physics to do math for a while, so I forgot a lot of things.

    I guess I am just feeling discouraged and needed some encouragement... but I'm just going to try to do my best to review the things I've forgotten, and I guess worst case scenario, take a year off after I graduate and just study for the GRE and retake it... or maybe the math GRE would be a better option for me.
  10. Sep 7, 2008 #9


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    I bombed the real one - twice. Apparently after taking quantum mechanics, classical mechanics, and optics, I got dumber. I'm sure that's what kept me out of the top programs I applied to, but I still got into some very good schools. There are a few US grad schools that don't require you to submit a score, and most applied physics programs don't ask for one - like the applied physics program at Cornell. I think it was because I never really bothered studying for tests, and I couldn't make myself study for this one. I finally broke myself of that 'not studying' problem when it really mattered - 4 months before the qualifying exams. Just wish I had started a bit earlier.

    Not to mention that my Chinese friends told me they spent two semesters in China taking courses aimed at helping them pass that test - whereas my school was like, hey, if you want to go to grad school, there's this test next week....
  11. Sep 7, 2008 #10
    Do you think it should? I think the GRE subject exam is the least important component of graduate applications. Letters, GPA and related to letters is probably research experience are to me, by far more important in terms of judging a potential grad student.

    A 90% score with a great gpa, great letters and great research experience will get you into a top 5 program, I mean c'mon, I'm sure there have been applicants like this who have been rejected, but it's gotta be rare.

    For the OP, looking at some of the profiles on physicsgre, if you can get your GRE physics score up, you might have a shot at a really good school.

    I believe optics is on the exam (I'm not a physics major) and I believe quantum is as well. I think it's similar to a math major taking the GRE Math without ever having taken abstract algebra.

    Don't take it until you are ready. A bad score can really hurt your chances at a good program. And it also does not go away, they send all the scores I believe. So they'll see that you took it once, bombed, took it twice, possibly did better, but the stain is still there.
  12. Sep 7, 2008 #11


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    Your right, of course. The physics GRE only really tells you how well a student can recall formulas while under time pressure, nothing about how good of a grad student they'll be.

    But, that said, there are people with great GRE's and great everything else on the Physicsgre.com applicant thread who do get into top five programs, but also are rejected from other top 5 schools. To me, the whole process seems like a crap shoot sometimes. But I guess if you get into one top 5 program, then who cares!:rolleyes:
  13. Sep 8, 2008 #12


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    Applications also depends on who else applied at this particular university, on their field, on which supervisor are looking to take on new grad students, etc. An applicant may be rejected at harvard one year but accepted the next with no change to his application, just because everything else has changed.

    Moreover, physics departments don't look at the Physics GRE all that much. It's more of a lower-bound than something used to distinguish between top students. Getting 90% vs 95% means nothing on whether you will be a good grad student, but dropping to the 50th percentile means that there are some major gaps in your undergrad schooling. From what I've heard, as long as you get over 700 or so, you should be fine provided the rest of your application is good.
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