Questions about the PGRE

  • #1
Since the start of the semester, I have been preparing for this test. One professor, my de facto advisor, has reminded me repeatedly that, due to my less-than-outstanding GPA of 3.5ish, the PGRE could be my saving grace. While I will end up asking him all these questions, I am interested in getting some different opinions.

Anyway, about three weeks ago I took one practice test with no preparation whatsoever, and I scored 700, which was much better than what I and my advisor expected. I took another shortly after, and scored 680, so, despite being lower, I was more confident that it wasn't a fluke. For the past two weeks, I had been studying both the two tests and old textbooks. I decided to try another test today, and despite completely overlooking most of optics and RC/RLC/LC circuits (neither my introductory physics course nor my intermediate E&M course covered these in any great detail) in my study, I ended up getting an 800.

Here are some notes to help you in answering my following questions:

  • I am only now taking a quantum mechanics course (albeit a slow and poorly taught one), so some things elude me. I have taken modern physics, which covers "baby" quantum mechanics, but we didn't go further than a few novel solutions to the Schrodinger equation. A lot of the braket notation and quantum harmonic oscillator stuff are over my head, but I'm sure that will be fixed soon. Even then, I got some of these problems right just by elimination.
  • Speaking of elimination, I have found that a lot of the questions I get right are questions that I only understand at a very surface level, but using that understanding I can narrow down the options easily. Working backwards seems to work very well.
  • On the other hand, I often spend way too much time on classical mechanics problems, things I SHOULD know, and I even end up getting them wrong because I am not thinking correctly. This is something that got better during the third test, but was still a problem.
  • I notice there are a lot of 'trick' questions, and inclusion of irrelevant variables. I didn't really make this connection until after this last test, or at least I didn't notice how prevalent it is. It seems like if I think it is a trick question, it probably is, and knowing that would save a lot of time.
  • I also notice that a lot of the questions are very similar, and in some cases exactly the same, just with different given values.
  • When taking these tests, I tried to maintain a rigorous timing scheme, so that it would emulate test taking environments.

Questions

If I were to study like I have been from now until the October test, based on the information I have given you and knowledge you have of other cases similar to mine, how much of an improvement would be reasonably expected? Would working my way to a 900 be unreasonable? 850? 950? I know there's definitely not enough information here to make a good assumption, so I'm just looking for something visceral.

Is it worth taking both tests if money is of a much lower priority than getting the best possible score? I have received conflicting information regarding this. Some say the fact that I took the test twice may look bad?

Would the PGRE really be my saving grace? What kind of score would I need to boost my 3.5 GPA and minimal research experience to vaguely the same level as the 'regular' 3.8ish student with noteworthy research? I just want the best possible educational opportunity I can get.

If scoring the highest I can is my #1 priority, would my time be better spent studying the test itself, and searching for and then answering questions like the ones that might appear on it? One problem I am having is that the questions that interest me are in no way PGRE questions--you know, the problems that take up entire pages, like coupled oscillators (though I have seen questions that ask for the Lagrangian/Hamiltonian, or the frequency of normal modes--simple things, though). It's tempting to spend (waste?) time solving these types of problems, but I'm wondering if it would serve a purpose that I am not considering.

I might think of more, but for now this is what was on my mind.
 

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