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GRE physics: Evaluation of my abilities

  1. Feb 29, 2012 #1
    Dear Friends,
    I am planning to take physics GRE test in October, between October and now I have nothing to do but to study physics. I have a three year Bachelor degree in Natural Sciences (i.e. equal emphasis on Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics). So here is what I know: I understand although not excellently a major portion of the physics covered but I have not solved any numerical at all, that does not mean I don't know how to solve them I absolutely do but they are not required for getting good grades so naturally practice is lacking and I have enough time for practice (Hopefully!), although I am pretty good at concepts.
    So here is my problem:
    First I thought GRE would be exceedingly difficult and now from web forums I am finding out it isn't, its difficulty I am told is average. I am told studying standard university physics books thoroughly (I have SEARS AND ZEMANSKY'S) is sufficient for good marks.
    So my questions are:
    1. Is it true? Will it be sufficient for performing better than 80%?
    1.1 If not then what in addition should I study for performing better than 80%?
    2. If it is true that studying a standard text of University physics is sufficient then what in addition should I do to get marks in 900's? In this regard I have already few ideas in mind like studying one specialized book in each topic like Griffith's for both Electrodynamics and quantum mechanics, will it be sufficient? If not then what in addition should I do?
    Thank you friends for taking time to read my post.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 29, 2012 #2
    Which of the following have you taken upper division sequences of:

    1) Thermal/Statistical Physics
    2) E&M
    3) Classical Mech
    4) Quantum
  4. Feb 29, 2012 #3
    I did not major in physics, but I did take the physics GRE and performed very well on it.

    I found that using:
    University Physics (Sears & Zemansky)
    Modern Physics (Serway, Moses, Moyer)

    worked fine for me.

    The test is relatively short considering how much material is covered and how many questions there are, meaning none of them can get into really deep material. So having a strong understanding of statistical mechanics, E&M, and quantum mechanics may mean you are going to be well prepared for entering graduate school, it is hardly necessary for performing well on the physics GRE.

    I knew most of the questions on the test (or at least thought I did + answered them) and encountered a few questions that I narrowed the answers down to two or three, then guessed. Those questions were mostly in optics and electronics, which I have not spent much time studying at all over the years. Some of the ones I guessed on were just time saving guesses (because I didn't have enough time to finish the calculations but had it far enough completed that I knew which ones were not the correct answer).

    I think the same can be said about most of the GRE subject exams. One might be a beast at Algebra and Topology, but if you don't have the "fast twitch" math muscles to do quick calculus and linear algebra calculations (the bulk of what is on the math GRE), you might not end up doing that well on the exam, even though you are otherwise quite well prepared for graduate school in pure math.
  5. Feb 29, 2012 #4


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    Fortunately, there are several past physics GRE exams which you can take to gauge your ability. I'd recommend taking one to get a feel for the exam, the types of questions, which you are strong at any which need work. Then after a period of study, take another one and see how things have changed. Rinse and repeat, and you should easily be able to get 900+.
  6. Feb 29, 2012 #5
    Only take and use the most recent tests for study. The past tests were totally different. In the past, you could get 50% right and score 900. Now, you get 50% right an you are at 500. There's just a ton of material that comes at you really fast. That's what you need to know and what you need to study for.

    This is only so much of a physics test as it involves physics material. It's very much a test where you're not supposed to solve the question, rather you're supposed to analyze the answers given to choose the best one. I tried solving questions, and I didn't do so well. My friends picked answers without solving, and they did much better.
  7. Feb 29, 2012 #6


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    Yes, what the heck is with that?! I took the PGRE a few years ago and when I had practiced for it, I used previous decades publicly released tests by ETS. It was clear that you were shooting for quality and not quantity. Then I took it the first time, got like 60 right, and ended up with a 50-percentile. It's like the test was now made to be ace-able.
  8. Feb 29, 2012 #7
    First of all I would like to thank you all for taking time to answer my question.

    @Jorriss: Classical Mechanics is covered without Lagrangian and Hamiltonian, i.e. university physics mechanics plus non-inertial frames plus relativity plus oscillations.
    In case of E&M first part of Griffith. I am quite comfartable with thermodynamics but Statistical and quantum physics is covered only what is found in the Modern Physics (Serway, Moses, Moyer) i.e. no Bra-Kit notation, no ensembles, now to cover my gap of classical and quantum mechanics I am heavily tilting towards Symon's and for quantum mechanics towards Griffiths and I am completely confused about what to do of Statistical Physics, so please help me and also point better suggestions if you find one.
    Thank You.

    @bpatrick: I intend to use exactly the same texts. Can you please if you find appropiate tell me the range of your scores? I shall be deep grateful for you.
    Yes, you are right in that most of GREP is about narrowing down the choices rather than solving the actual questions.
    Thank You.

    @Nabeshin: I in fact did took the 2001 test and found my self quite comfortable doing most of the questions, some of them were outright childish, but the question off course is Will it be sufficient for 900+.
    Thank You.

    @Mindscrape: You are absolutely correct, GRE physics is less about solving the questions and more about narrowing down the choices.
    Thank you.
  9. Feb 29, 2012 #8
    Hah, yeah, same here. I started my study (2 weeks before, whoops) with the older tests, you know work your way up/don't burn out the good tests, and did absolutely fine in practicing the older tests (800-900). Then I gradually made my way to the newer tests, and got hit... #*@! we have to do physics fast! I scored 500-700 in my timed practices on the new tests, so I knew going into the PGRE I was totally unprepared for speed physics. Like you, I think I got about 60 right and was about in 50 percentile, grrrr... Definitely quantity over quality on the PGRE nowadays, in my opinion at least.
  10. Mar 1, 2012 #9
    900 ~ 85th percentile. 85% of test-takers might have to disagree.
  11. Mar 1, 2012 #10


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    They're welcome to disagree and share their advice on how they scored <900 then.
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