I recently joined this forum because I wanted to provide a "physics grad student perspective" which I often felt was missing. (This is only possible because I have a little extra time lately; I will soon evaporate back into my research, but while I am here...) American students are not used to taking high stakes exams as are students from pretty much everywhere else. The PGRE is a rude introduction for the US student who has "learned a lot" in their undergrad courses, but been passed along with last-minute study habits and curved test scores. I view American physics undergrads as idealistic cherubic Pollyanna neophytes. I believe this because I used to be one. One of my previous advisers describes physics as a "full contact sport". After two physics grad school experiences, I believe this to be an understatement. I was recently at the funeral of a physics professor where another physics professor made a speech. He eulogized the deceased for having done well professionally while all the time being a "nice guy" in a field where everyone is very good, but each thinks they are the best. Think "shark tank". There is a very good reason why physicists found their way to Wall Street; Wall Street is less douchy. Every worthwhile professional field has a set of standards that must be met. Often there are professional exams that establish these standards. I will not lie to you; physicists at the PhD level view themselves as the top of the food chain of intellectualism. Whether or not you agree (and you should), rigorous exams are *the bare minimum* of meeting the standards of this club. The PGRE is the first such exam American undergrads will have encountered. The SAT/ACT, general GRE, undergrad finals; these are jokes in comparison (but not undergrad finals in Europe/Britain where they don't mess around). American undergrads are sitting ducks, they are not ready, I was not ready but became ready. And it is such a shame since the PGRE is 1/3 of your "physics portfolio". Most US undergrad programs are "criminally negligent" in not providing an entire course on preparing for this exam. And too bad because it is actually a lot of fun once you get going, once you start getting good at it. The PGRE for the average US physics undergrad (obviously not the atypical brilliant student), is an exam that must be met with 200-300 hours of training. I am an older, non-traditional student. I did poorly as an undergrad, and came back to grad school after many years to find that life had toughened me up and made me smarter. I studied for the PGRE for four months. I cannot begin to describe how many holes I found in my knowledge base. But I kept at it, studying (in quiet, without TV or internet) every night until I passed out exhausted. I ended up with an 820 and was VERY disappointed. In retrospect, I should have redoubled my efforts and retaken the exam. I'm sure that I could have pushed into 900's, and then (because of my undergrad research) many better schools would have been open to me. Trust me, now that I have studied physics for many many years, I view the PGRE as a joke, a "piece of cake", an easy thing to do. This is because I put in the time to master the material. You can get there, too (here I am speaking to the average American physics undergrad). I assure you that I am not smarter than you, and I was probably a lazier undergrad than you have been. But that must end now, now you must buckle down. Because what is waiting for you is some seriously difficult learning experiences, some shark infested waters, and a very competitive job market. But isn't this a club you want to join? Of course it is! There is nothing else as intense or awesome as getting a PhD in physics. Those credentials are going right on my tombstone! Many students do poorly on their first attempt. My advice is always the same, study hard and retake it. If you don't do well the second time, study harder and retake it. Until you can master this exam, how do you conceive that you will survive the following: 1) Qualifier exams. At many if not most US physics grad programs, there are quals that you must pass either UPON ARRIVAL or WITHIN THE FIRST YEAR. These are always harder than the PGRE by a factor of two I would say. If you have not learned to study hard and master the PGRE, it will be that much harder for you studying for the quals. (Often the new physics grad student spends the summer before grad school prepping for the quals. Get started early by prepping for the PGRE!) 2) Core courses. Every American university requires that you master "the core" in order to get a PhD in physics. What is the core? E&M, QM, StatMech, Classical, and MathMethods. Does this ring any bells when you think about the PGRE? 3) Written Comprehensive Exam (and usually oral comps in addition). At one school I was at, where there was some contention about what material would be on the comps, one professor said that it was mainly the core, but anything could be on it since as a PhD physicist, you are expected to provide a reasonable answer to any problem in nature. (The student receiving this news was not happy.) Nevertheless, you must study your core material and know it inside and out or you will not be allowed into the club. (And yes, you are a physicist, you step up while others fall aside. I once built a self-guided, map-solving robot just because I didn't want it to be said that an engineering student could build a robot and I, a physicist, could not. How much did I know about robots when I began? Nothing. I hate robots.) But here is some positive news, studying hard for the PGRE helps you every day of physics grad school (until you pass your advancement to candidacy exam, I guess). By studying hard for the PGRE, you will have become more fluent in the basics, you will be much faster at the easy stuff, you will have made up (to some extent) for poor course grades, and you will have taught yourself the most essential skill for getting a PhD: surviving high stakes exams. And it is 1/3 of your grad school application, so shouldn't you be taking it more seriously? I know that the really good schools will only look at your first exam score, and others will average your scores. But I had a friend at OSU (math dept admittedly) who was let in conditionally provided she increased her score to 50% (I believe she went from 20s to 70s, it's called "studying"). So rules get bent or may not even exist for the mid-level schools. And quite honestly, if you are still reading this, then we are talking about how to get you, the average US physics undergrad, a PhD from a mid-level physics grad program. I knew an undergrad with outstanding grades, great research, excellent letters, but (unfortunately) a poor PGRE. His highest acceptance was a school ranked in the 80s, and he chose one ranked over 100. He was miserable there because the other students were "sub-par" (it really helps to be in an environment of highly dedicated people). He should have studied hard and retaken the PGRE, he should have applied late to some other schools, should have-would have-could have... I know, this is my opinion, you must weigh my advice for yourself, and your own situation. But if you think that maybe the real reason you don't want to retake the PGRE is that you are lazy, or you don't have enough time to study properly, then you are precisely the person who should be studying and retaking this exam (in April), because in physics grad school things get "intense" and you need to start preparing. (Note: I was accepted to more than one school with a late application. Your mileage may vary, but I always say that it NEVER hurts to ask. And often mid-level schools won't get the number of acceptances they were hoping for ESPECIALLY FOR FEMALE STUDENTS. Retake and kill the PGRE and prove you have the right stuff.) HOW TO STUDY FOR THE PGRE: Here, I will give you million dollar advice because never have you seen a physics loser go to a physics all star as I did. 1) Study by practicing old PGRE problems. Don't waste your time reviewing class notes or reading texts. That ship has sailed, it will have to wait for your grad school core courses. 2) Study one field at a time. Begin with your strongest field, and master this section first. It will give you confidence. At the time, mine was classical, so I would go through all the practice exams and do just the classical problems. Once I could nail 90% of the classical, I moved on to E&M. Then quantum. Then atomic. You get the idea. 3) Do each problem as if it were during the actual test: go as fast as you can, and try to imagine that you feel the pressure. You CAN train yourself to become good at exam-taking! I would do 10-15 problems fast (and without cheating by looking at texts), and then I would grade them. Anything I missed, I would then look up and learn how to do. So my cycle was: GO-GO-GO for exam-taking practice followed by slowing down and learning. 4) Know the exam. I began to notice patterns in the test material, WITHIN each category. At the time, I could even tell you which subcategories I was weak on and would be likely to skip during the exam. You would be surprised at what a few hundred hours can do, how it can make you an expert on this material. I noticed that I almost always got tricked by the special relativity questions, so I put in more time studying the tricks. 5) Be stubborn, learn it all. By the end, there was not a single problem on the old practice exams that I did not fully understand how to do (or so I thought). Studying for that exam made me so smart that I might as well have skipped the undergrad classes entirely (which was good because I had been a terrible student). 6) Redo the problems, cycle through the practice exams more than once. This may not work past twice, it depends on how good you have gotten. When I tutor students, I often tell them that physics problems are like waking up to find that you have been buried alive. You start with NOTHING, and must claw and scratch your way out. And the beginning is the most terrifying part since you never know where to begin. In physics, you get addicted to this wild sensation (why you are doing this). Anyway, a problem is always useful to you if you don't know how to begin it because it forces you to "dig for your life". (Students always waste too much time practicing their algebra, i.e., the easy part of the problem where you have figured out what to do and set up some equations to solve. This is just crank turning, a comfortable place to be. Force yourself to operate in the danger zone. You will be expected to do this every day past the bachelors degree. Physicists are often hired for their awesome "problem solving skills" (not mathematicians). It is because we can find our way in the dark. There are actually "Problem Solver" positions nowadays, a buddy of mine has applied to a few. Practice this skill!) 7) Study with others? I don't know if this will help. I studied exclusively on my own. But it would have saved me some time to work in a group since on my own it often required a lot of time to research how to do some of the material. DISCLAIMER: I know there are a lot of so-called geniuses out there who say that over-studying for the PGRE is like cheating, that it doesn't really demonstrate how good you are at physics (whatever that means), but just your test-taking skills. This is rubbish. Do not listen to them. In one of my grad school experiences (at a school where I did not enjoy myself and thus my transfer to U Arizona), I did every homework set in my core courses entirely by myself. I was able to compete with any student in my year, even the one everyone thought of as "the best". (The student considered "the best student" in your year is usually the one with the highest PGRE. Don't you know that the faculty dig through your application materials before you get there to know "who is who" among the new grads?) I always scored at the top or near the top in my course exams and finals, and I absolutely killed my comps. And yes, I have worked very hard to be this smart, but it all began with PGRE studying. My true belief is that we are smarter than others because (in addition to genetics) we got a little ahead in 1st grade, and kept going from there. Use the PGRE to get a little ahead now, and it will pay dividends. It's a compound interest sort of thing. (Actually, my definition of "being good at physics" is being able to solve any problem they throw at you, and I bet Feynman would have agreed with me.) OTHER DISCLAIMER: I knew a guy who got successively on the PGRE: 27, 18, 9 (he was getting worse!). He now has his PhD from a good California school, but he had to do some serious "out-of-the-box" thinking (and time consuming things) to get there (as well as learn how to pass these kinds of exams somewhere along the way). I was once told by a professor of a woman who got a 0% and yet did very good in grad school and eventually became an astronomy professor. Let me warn you however that astronomy programs do not put much stock in the physics GRE (and often only use the general GRE). If you want a PhD in astronomy, then I recommend finding a school where astronomy and physics are two separate departments (like here at U Arizona) because otherwise you will have to survive all the physics crap that you don't enjoy. Alright, I don't think I have any more time for this website tonight, I need to get a ton of research done. I hope that some undergrad out there will read (some of) this, and perhaps it will help them get some perspective, and convince them to study like mad for the PGRE (and possibly lobby their department chair for a PGRE course). Good luck young undergrads, good luck achieving your destinies!