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Best materials to prepare for pGRE?

  1. Feb 13, 2014 #1
    I intend to take the physics GRE this coming april, and will probably retake it again next year. I want to go to a good grad school, but my gpa isn't stellar (3.5ish), so in order to atone for my sins (so to speak) I want to put a lot of work into getting a stellar grade on the pGRE. However, people have warned me that a lot of practice books don't prepare you well for the exam, so I want to ask: what are good practice books/materials?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 13, 2014 #2
    I'm getting prepared for it too, and a lot of the materials at physicsgre.com have helped immensely.
  4. Feb 15, 2014 #3
    I just took the pgre last fall, and did really well on it. These helped me the most:

    Grephysics.net is a fantastic resource. There's message board type discussions on every individual problem. Take the 2001 exam under real timed conditions, and then go over the solutions on the site problem by problem. You'll see there's more than one way to skin a cat; that resource will teach you the correct way to think about problems if you want to do well on the exam.

    As far as textbooks go your upper division texts should be sufficient. If you've never been exposed to particle/nuclear physics, I think just reading the first chapter of Griffiths' particle physics text maybe a day or two before the test you should be ok for most if not all particle questions.

    For equations I made flashcards of all the equations I thought I needed, but couldn't memorize because my memory is awful. Then, rather than memorize by rote, I practiced being able to derive the equations quickly from first principles. It helps develop your intuition as well. Walter Lewin's lectures on MIT courseware are a good resource for learning those kind of tricks, especially the waves and optics ones.

    Any kind of practice book you can get isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Properly assess yourself as soon as possible, and figure out your own program/schedule to prepare.
  5. Feb 15, 2014 #4
    I prepared for about three days and got a 980. I followed the valuable advice that all you need for the PGRE is knowing your *freshman* physics. I remember reading a blog back then by one of the people who grades the PGRE, and he claimed that people who spent their time on upper division texts are in a way wasting their time (as far as the PGRE is concerned of course). So I got me one of those standard physics textbooks and basically went through it in a few days, spending time on things which I had forgotten, getting familiar with the typical material (certain relationships in optics etc). Then I did two or three practice exams to familiarize myself with the set-up of the test. Worked for me. My main point is that you don't need ages to prepare for the pgre if you want to minimize your preparation time. Good luck! :)
  6. Feb 15, 2014 #5
    I second nonequilibrium's advice. I spent way too much time on advanced textbooks where I should have been spending most of my time using an introductory text.
  7. Feb 15, 2014 #6
    You're kidding me, right? I've never taken it, so I'm seriously asking. Did you go to a top-tier school? No one at my school has ever gotten 700, except for one person with a 750 back in 2003 or something. I've started studying even though I'm a sophomore so that I can do well, and looking at past exams I only have learned the material for about 50-60% of it. I know several people who have studied for up to a year prior to the exam, and not done as well as you. Please... tell me your secrets!
  8. Feb 15, 2014 #7
    I might have had an advantage in that respect, since I did the exam *after* I finished my undergraduate... (But no I did not go to a top-tier school.)

    EDIT: Yeah I just remembered that the freshman physics books probably don't adress the appropriate quantum mechanics(?), but I did not feel the need to revise for those parts (except for practicing it through the test exams as I said) since I felt comfortable with it from previous classes (if you've had such classes the questions are really basic). I can imagine that if you wouldn't have had quantum mechanics by that point (I don't know how the American curriculum works), that that part could be challenging!
  9. Feb 15, 2014 #8
    By freshman physics courses, I assume you meant mechanics, an into to E&M, nuclear/thermo/relativity, and QM. Is this really enough to take the pGRE?
  10. Feb 15, 2014 #9
    Yes, on the condition you also include some stat mech (partition functions; maybe you count that in thermo?) and the bra-ket notation in QM (and stuff like pauli matrices). But(!) don't take my word for it, look at one of the exams online :)

    (Also don't forget optics which is also a part of typical freshman books. PGRE loves optics (I don't...))

    EDIT: It's been over a year now since I took the test, I hope I'm not making any wrong statements (I don't think so, but you never know, and I don't want to risk your future because of it!). Could someone back up what I'm saying?
  11. Feb 15, 2014 #10
    Don't worry, I'm not going to study or not study because of what you're saying, I just find it intriguing. I guess that your curriculum is different, since we don't cover bra-ket notation until Quantum II, which isn't even required for my sequence (computational physics, as opposed to plain old physics). I've also never seen partition functions. So my guess is that your overall curriculum prepared you for the pGRE much more than mine will.
  12. Feb 16, 2014 #11
    I can back up what nonequilibrium is saying for the most part. I only got a 970 though so his (or her) advice is probably worth 10 points more than mine :) Yes probably the majority of the exam is first and second year UG material, but I chose to focus a bit more on upper division material when studying because I knew I had the freshman level stuff down pat, which is why it's important to honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses. If you take a practice exam and find yourself making a lot of mistakes on the easier questions, then absolutely focus on your freshman/sophomore level texts. I wasn't introduced to bra-ket notation formally in class by the time I took it either, but if you look at enough old exams and solutions (grephysics.net) you can figure out the basic idea. Good luck.
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