In the beginning...

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fermiboy
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In the beginning...

Postby fermiboy » Wed Feb 13, 2008 10:36 pm

ETS administered the first ever Physics GRE exam. Does anyone know what year this was? I was talking to my dept. chair today and he took the physics GRE, and he's like 900 years old. Actually I think he's in his 60s. When was this hellish demon created? Did Weinberg have to take the physics GRE?

cancelled20080417
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Postby cancelled20080417 » Wed Feb 13, 2008 10:58 pm

:cry:

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fermiboy
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Postby fermiboy » Wed Feb 13, 2008 11:37 pm

I googled it and the first physics GRE actually predates Newtonian physics itself. The mechanism for how it bootstrapped itself into existence is still a mystery, since no one at time had any idea about positronium.

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Postby vroomfondel » Wed Feb 13, 2008 11:49 pm

I googled it and the first physics GRE actually predates Newtonian physics itself. The mechanism for how it bootstrapped itself into existence is still a mystery, since no one at time had any idea about positronium.


pfft. international students have been getting the positronium q's right waaay before it was actually discovered.

fboy, seriously, that's the funniest thing I've heard all week...

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Thu Feb 14, 2008 11:42 am


I googled it and the first physics GRE actually predates Newtonian physics itself. The mechanism for how it bootstrapped itself into existence is still a mystery, since no one at time had any idea about positronium.


pfft. international students have been getting the positronium q's right waaay before it was actually discovered.

fboy, seriously, that's the funniest thing I've heard all week...


International students were getting the right answers because the answer key was published in China soon after the test bootstrapped itself into existence.

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fermiboy
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Postby fermiboy » Fri Feb 15, 2008 3:53 am

Wouldn't you cheat to get out of China? I sure as hell would.

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Fri Feb 15, 2008 11:17 am

Lie, cheat, steal--whatever it takes.

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Fri Feb 15, 2008 9:35 pm

I too was always curious when the physics GRE originated. I tried google searching but never found an answer... anyone know?

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Fri Feb 15, 2008 9:36 pm

When did the general GRE originate?

cancelled20080417
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Postby cancelled20080417 » Fri Feb 15, 2008 9:37 pm

when was ETS born???

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fermiboy
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Postby fermiboy » Fri Feb 15, 2008 9:47 pm

I tried to find it (seriously) and I could not get any info. But my department chair had to have taken it in the late 50s-early 60s.

Edit: maybe that's a little too early. It was probably more like the late 60s, but it's not like he took the first one ever.

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zxcv
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby zxcv » Wed Feb 20, 2008 3:13 pm

I did my best to find all the articles on the history of physics GRE I could. I still couldn't find a date, but the oldest reference I found, Am. J. Phys. 29, 859 (1961), was a note about "new forms" of the physics GRE in 1961, so presumably it existed for some time before that. Interestingly, there's no mention of "quantum mechanics" as a subject area although I suppose that could be what "wave mechanics" referred to. There's also a study of the GRE's effectiveness from 1966: Am. J. Phys. 34, 862-866 (1966).

EDIT: Also, according to a book review of a book on early ETS and SAT history, ETS started in 1948. So that's a lower bound. I may try to get that book from my school's library to see if it says anything about the GRE.

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fermiboy
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby fermiboy » Wed Feb 20, 2008 8:44 pm

Very interesting. Nice work zxcv. So people like Weinberg probably did take the physics GRE. I wonder what some of the legends of physics scored on this test? I think "wave mechanics" might refer to QM, but then again I don't think QM course were common at the undergrad level back then, so the GRE might not have covered it.

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quizivex
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby quizivex » Thu Feb 21, 2008 1:55 am

Thanks zxcv, that was very helpful. I had no idea the test went back that far. I thought since the earliest practice test was from the early 80's, the test couldn't go back much further. But it's neat to know the GRE goes back to the days of our ancient professors...

"In the beginning, there was nothing. ETS decided to create a standardized physics exam for all of the nonexistant students out there. garden then created people just to make the exam useful."

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jdhooghe
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby jdhooghe » Thu Feb 21, 2008 5:31 am

Damn it, you made me shoot brocholli through my nose...ouch it stings...Anyway, it would be very interesting to see what the greats scored on it but they are probably too embarrassed to share. Seeing how ETS knows the answer to life, the universe and everything but keeps the secret hidden so they have to opportunity to non-profitably test and subsequently shoot down all those pesky dreamers. I want to work at ETS! I love giving out zeros on homeworks...hmmm....what do you think I would have to score on the prick-o-meter to just be able to interview?

Damn it fermiboy, if you were fermigirl I'd be crushing on you right now

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twistor
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby twistor » Thu Feb 21, 2008 1:48 pm

jdhooghe wrote:Damn it, you made me shoot brocholli through my nose...ouch it stings...Anyway, it would be very interesting to see what the greats scored on it but they are probably too embarrassed to share. Seeing how ETS knows the answer to life, the universe and everything but keeps the secret hidden so they have to opportunity to non-profitably test and subsequently shoot down all those pesky dreamers. I want to work at ETS! I love giving out zeros on homeworks...hmmm....what do you think I would have to score on the prick-o-meter to just be able to interview?


I don't know what the interview is like but I bet you are deducted 1/4 of a point for every wrong answer you give.

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zxcv
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby zxcv » Fri Feb 22, 2008 2:37 am

I went down to the social sciences library at my school to do some research on the physics GRE. I talked to one of the librarians there and looked through some books.

From the "The Big Test," I found the main GRE was originally created in 1935 at the Carnegie Foundation, and only later acquired by ETS. That's the new (tentative) lower bound.

The best I came up with is a juicy reference to how bogus the physics GRE was from 1961:
A professor at a leading state university cites the cases of two students each of whom took the multiple-choice Graduate Record Examination in physics in November, 1961 and again the following January. In this brief interval one of them raised his rating from the twenty-ninth percentile to the sixty-nith, the other from the sixty-first to the ninety-fourth. The professor wryly remarks that "from these examples one can draw the conclusion either that the students greatly benefit by repeating the examinations or that the scores are quite meaningless or both.

This is from a book "The Tyranny of Testing" (1962) by Banesh Hoffmann, a physicist. Unfortunately he neglected to include citations in that book. But he's written more, and searching for his name has turned up few relevant articles, including a Physics Today article from October, 1961 that I will look up tomorrow.

I also found a citation to an article from ETS's College Board Review that I will look up in hard copy:
Frederick L. Ferris, Jr., and Doris A. Lane. "Test Year for New Physics Course," College Board Review (Fall, 1958), 26-28.

Finally, it appears that the ETS was writing multiple-choice physics test questions at least as far back as 1954, with a question "approved by the College Board Physics committee for tryout and inclusion in its bulletin on science achievement tests." (source)

If there's interest when I finish up this project I'll write it up in a more formal article.

P.S. I also wrote the ETS and the author of "The Big Test" (the dean of the graduate school in journalism at Columbia). We'll see if I hear anything back.

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twistor
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby twistor » Fri Feb 22, 2008 11:11 am

Great research! I'm definately going to check out those two books.

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jdhooghe
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby jdhooghe » Fri Feb 22, 2008 1:44 pm

Ahahaha, the tyranny of tests

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zxcv
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby zxcv » Fri Feb 22, 2008 2:24 pm

Unfortunately, twister, pretty much everything in those books about the GRE I posted in this thread.

Also unfortunately my school's library only has the College Board Review dating to 1964, and I can't find online access. If anyone has access to earlier editions, it would be great if they could find this article:

Frederick L. Ferris, Jr., and Doris A. Lane. "Test Year for New Physics Course," College Board Review (Fall, 1958), 26-28.

doom
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby doom » Fri Feb 22, 2008 5:13 pm

I don't know what the interview is like but I bet you are deducted 1/4 of a point for every wrong answer you give.


So then do they allow you to not answer some of the questions so as to not hurt your score?

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zxcv
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby zxcv » Fri Feb 22, 2008 5:26 pm

I spoke with one of my professors who enrolled in Cornell's physics PhD program in 1960. He said he never took the physics GRE and had never heard of it.

Apparently admissions to physics grad school in those days was just about personal connections even more than it is now. A professor of his at his undergrad school called up a friend at Cornell, and the Cornell prof asked my professor if he wanted to go to Cornell. He said yes, and that was it. He still had to filled out an application, but it was a mere formality.

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zxcv
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Re: In the beginning...

Postby zxcv » Wed Feb 27, 2008 12:08 pm

Official word from ETS:

The GRE Physics Subject Test has remained relatively unchanged since
1952, the beginning of the national testing program. The Subject Tests
were called the Advanced Tests until 1982. Each of the Subject tests is
designed to provide a balanced coverage of the main topics of a
particular academic discipline. To fulfill this requirement, committees
of professors work with ETS staff members in shaping these tests and in
setting and maintaining specifications for each test.


1952, damn!

The author of "The Big Test" recommended that I go to the ETS archives in Princeton, NJ. That's actually not too far away from me, but I do think I have bigger priorities than making the several hour journey.




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