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Testing Did Poorly on Physics GRE

  1. Dec 12, 2012 #1
    So first let me explain my background in studying Physics.

    Currently I go to Stevens Institute of Technology and will have a bachelors in applied physics this coming may. My GPA is almost perfect, around 3.93. I have an excellent knowledge of Physics and mathematics, in fact I tutor other students in it, and I have for years. I am taking graduate level E&M courses using Jackson as a text and I currently have an A in these courses.

    Then I took the GRE Physics Exam. I missed the registration (because I didn't realize that they are only given out three times per year!) and consequently had to just show up and ask if they had an extra seat. I didn't get to study at all! Although I thought I did really well.

    Turns out I BOMBED it. I am talking in the 20% percentile bombed (550). This came to me as a shock because Physics is my LIFE and I have ALWAYS done well in it. I consistently go above and beyond and sometimes spend HOURS on a topic just to understand it, even when we wont be tested on it. Even though I wasn't able to study for it for a good amount of time, I figured I would do better than THAT!

    That being said, what are my chances for getting into a PHD program? I have an EXCELLENT application, EXCEPT for this GRE score (I did average on the general GRE). I even have research experience under my belt. I am really disheartened by the fact that some schools will throw away my application right away just because of the GRE score and not even look at everything else.

    Here are the schools I am applying to..
    MIT (Well I can count this one out..)
    Princeton (This one too!!)
    Penn State (I might be getting a job here due to connections, so hopefully I get accepted!)
    Stevens Institute of Technology (This is the school I am currently going for my Undergrad)

    Thanks in advance for the advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 12, 2012 #2
    My advice (which you must weigh):
    1) Apply to all the schools (even MIT and Princeton if you have excess $$, and not Stevens, come on!), and get signed up for the April exam immediately. In your letter, state the circumstances of you bad GRE score and that you are retaking it in April and will amend your application once you receive the result.
    2) Study and practice like mad. The PGRE is just like any other competitive sport, you train like crazy then destroy the competition on game day. Xmas time is work time for a physicist so I know what you will be doing xmas day...working like mad to get to your destiny.
    3) Take and destroy exam in April and get awesome scores on May 20 (pay extra to get early).
    4) On May 20, send awesome scores to departments you have applied to already (even if they sent rejection letters initially), and late-apply to a few more schools using your new awesome scores and stating in your letter what happened to you, and why you are applying late. IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK. (I would say call the department chair of schools and ask if you may apply late, sometimes they didn't get the acceptance numbers they wanted. I myself was accepted late to more than one school after applying late. If you have new awesome scores, that will get their attention.) You may want to look at my school, U Arizona. I have heard profs on our acceptance committee complain that they send out so many offers, but end up getting too many or too few acceptances and that it is hard to predict with such small sample sizes.

    As a physicist, you are training to solve any kind of problem in the universe, including little life ones like this, so get cracking, go kill that test.
  4. Dec 12, 2012 #3
    Thank you for your response!

    The problem is, I already submitted all my applications and statement. But I believe what you said is very good advice and I might just end up doing that.

    But there is another problem, the money associated with taking the GRE again and sending the scores. Not to mention a lot of places make you pay for practice exams. This is just money I do not have. I put myself through college without any assistance and at this point I am pretty much broke.

    I would be happy with getting into any of those schools, and I would really not like the fact that if I got into one of them, and then took the GRE again and sent my scores. That is a lot of money down the drain.

    I need to think about this one...
  5. Dec 12, 2012 #4
    It seems you can wait until mid-March to register for the April exam:
    so you would probably hear from most of those schools by then. My only worry is that you are too worried about getting into ANY school that you end up at Stevens (which I had never heard of and is poorly ranked, #122:
    http://grad-schools.usnews.rankings...s/top-science-schools/physics-rankings/page+6 )
    If your description of your own abilities is correct, then it would be a crime of any of your undergrad profs to allow you to continue at Stevens, and if you did not get in at any of the others, I would advise you to pursue a little out-of-the-box thinking. Unfortunately, school rankings are important. Surf around on this site and see those of us nearing the end of grad school worrying like mad about getting jobs. I would not sell yourself short. If you are very bright, you will find being in a sub-par school VERY irritating.

    You're on the east coast. Here in Tucson, advanced undergrads charge $20/hour to tutor, so I would think you would be charging at least $20 so why is the cost of the test an issue? The PGRE helps the grad program know that you can survive monster comps. I would retake it even just for pride's sake, but now you see my physics ego coming out. Anyway, my opinion is that the preparing for and doing well on the PGRE helps you get started in your grad program which is hard core courses accompanied with hard exams followed by hard comps. Also, guess what all the new grads (and some profs who go and look through all the applications for possible new students) use to initially rank each other...often PGRE scores (or intro qual scores if your program has those). You need to be good at these kinds of exams, even if we all realize it is just hoops to jump through. I really recommend retaking it (it sounds like you need to study anyway, so you can be fast on exams once you are started in your program). Anyway, I would hate to see you end up at Stevens if you could get into at least a top 50 school. Good luck!
  6. Dec 12, 2012 #5
    Most people are surprised when I mention that the Max Planck schools in Germany don't require GRE scores...
  7. Dec 12, 2012 #6
    My my my, Germany you say. I had a buddy who failed his orals twice (got high score on his written comps, but was lousy at public speaking). He had to tour German schools if he was to finish (no US school will accept a failed transfer). He was welcomed with open arms to Max Planck, but his appeal for a 3rd orals attempt was accepted, and he passed (so no European punishment for him).

    There is a reason why the US is the best, why half of US profs are Europe's best. Xyius here needs to accept the American way, to study his basics to the detriment of his health, his personal life, etc., and prepare to join the elite. There is no way around it...unless he want to go a yodeling. Ask any European student who comes here to study, how they hate having to learn every aspect of physics to mastery; as if the current US is the Germany of 100 years ago. I completely agree with you, it would be much easier to get a European degree.

    (Of course I am a coward when it comes to the Russian way, so hats off to them!)
  8. Dec 12, 2012 #7


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    Well, just for some perspective:

    - One of the best textbooks on GR (praised in MTW) was by a professor at Stevens Institute.

    - Max Planck schools have good reputation.
  9. Dec 13, 2012 #8
    Yes, you are correct, sorry, those are some damn fine schools. I had to get down from my high horse. I just worry if there is a middle path between Stevens and Rutgers for Xylus to take, and going to Europe is probably not an option for a lot of people. It would probably help if s/he knows which field because often showing a lot of interest in one field, coupled to a good amount of research in that field, can really make an application stand out. I just remember a friend who ended up at a poorly ranked school, and he was quite dissatisfied as the other students didn't work very hard (it is important to study in an environment of physics-minded people).
  10. Dec 13, 2012 #9


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    No offense, but it doesn't sound like your application is excellent, even without the PGRE score. To me, an excellent application includes:

    -top general GRE scores
    -excellent research resulting in publications in well known journals
    -a stellar GPA and letters of rec from top university
    -a cogent and focused statement of purpose
    -(then add in a very good PGRE score)

    To me it sounds like your application (minus the PGRE) is a decent one, perhaps even a good one, but I think you need to lower expectations and have a bit of a reality check.

    There are plenty of programs you CAN get in though, probably some better than Stevens.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
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