Feedback on compiling a Physics GRE "review course"

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B-80
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Jan 19, 2012 1:27 am

Feedback on compiling a Physics GRE "review course"

Postby B-80 » Thu Jan 19, 2012 2:07 am

I took the test in the fall and was underwhelmed by the amount of study material available. I don't think there can be a replacement to actually sitting down and taking the study exams, but I had some credits to fill in my final semester and I believe I would like to teach as a career, so I'm doing independent study trying to make a review guide/course for the test (which I obviously plan to make freely available).

I am still in the planning stages and feel myself going in circles as to how to start this thing. When I go back and look at problems, I have a lot of trouble remembering what I didn't understand/remember 6 months ago. So I was hoping to get some feedback on some of my ideas:

Format: I am sort of torn between three possible formats.

The first is a straight forward "Review of GRE Physics." This would be essentially me rewriting/summarizing my freshman/sophomore level physics textbook with emphasis on what I remember being important on the GRE. The real question with this method is "how deep do I go?" If someone wants a very detailed discussion of a topic, they should probably turn to their textbooks; but what do you cut out, derivations, less covered topics (I would like to strive towards comprehensiveness)?

The second is a collection of X (lets say 60, 30, 10) days until Physics GRE "program." I like this because I think time management is a huge problem many students have. Those who I know that did rather poorly on the PGRE did so mainly because they didn't use their time efficiently. I also like the idea of putting something out there for those people who end up taking the test on a whim because they can't read their textbooks in full in 10 days while taking several practice exams. I would prepare 3 different review guides of varying depth and schedule practice exams for the reader. The same question applies here: How much do I teach (as in explain deeply, like the audience has never seen the topic before)?

The final idea, and the one I am leaning towards, is "A manual for solving GRE physics problems." I would basically come up with problems (or use freely available ones if good ones exist) and solve them while explaining the physics behind each step. This format instantly answers "How much do I teach," which is only state the laws/equations it takes the solve the problem. However, it will be difficult to come up with a comprehensive set of problems without taking anything from the sample tests which I believe should be left as practice.

Medium There are basically two choices for media. I'll probably end up with a combination of both a pdf file and a series of videos. I think videos would be nice because I find it far easier to watch someone teach/lecture for 15 minutes than I do to read 10 pages in a book. However, I understand that not everyone feels as I do, and videos would add a good bit of extra work to the cause.

I have a list of content (i.e. what problem types should be covered/test taking strats/etc...) as well, but I'm getting a little tired of typing, so I will add to this later. For now, I'll be happy to take any opinions or feedback you guys have on those topics and any general advice you may have. I really just want to make something that will be helpful to the community, and I'm willing to put as much effort and time into this as necessary to achieve that.

TakeruK
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Feedback on compiling a Physics GRE "review course"

Postby TakeruK » Thu Jan 19, 2012 11:09 am

This is a tough question to answer, since everyone has their own methods and preferences for studying. But if I had to study for the GRE or similar test again, this is what I'd find useful for myself:

Format: I think the third option, a how-to guide to solve questions, would be the least useful. There are already a lot of solutions out there for the five released PGREs. Some might say that means there are "only" 500 questions (and some are repeated or very similar) but 500 is a lot of questions. I did not get a stellar score (690/53rd%) from practicing only from ~300 questions but most people I knew just studied these questions extensively and did really well (850+). I wish I had known the 2008 exam was released though (when I registered, the practice booklet provided by ETS was the 2001 exam. Anyways, there are at least 2 sources of free, fully worked out online solutions sets, and they include hints on how to do some questions faster (e.g. note that this one can be done by dimensional analysis, checking units, etc.).

I think the second option, basically a training regimen for the PGRE, may be too restrictive, or too difficult to write generally enough that it will fit everyone's study style. It would be really useful for those who have the same study techniques though. For depth, I think you should assume your audience has the first 3 years of undergrad physics completed, but assume that was 5 years ago. In other words, the reader knows all of the concepts already, but does not remember the details, so you just need to decide what is necessary for the PGRE, based on the 5 official tests, and then summarize it all up. I think, if, for example, you are covering the shape of the wave function in different potentials, you should just go ahead and show diagrams of what they look like, with some descriptive words, for cases like: V=0 (sines/cosines), E < V (decaying exp.), etc. but you don't have to go ahead and solve the equations/derive them. I don't think we generally had to do this in the GRE?

I think the first option is the best choice. The ideal way to study for the PGRE is to re-read your freshman physics text, make summary notes of each chapter etc. and learn it all again. But that takes a lot of time and is very tedious. People who do this and get a great score totally deserve it though. So the first format you suggest would basically do this summarizing work for readers so that we just need to study your summaries of GRE physics instead of reading the textbook. Obviously, readers would benefit a great deal more if they read and summarized themselves, but your work would still be more helpful than being overwhelmed at all the physics and giving up.

Depth: I decided to address this slightly separately. In addition to my notes above about depth of explanations, I think you should also set a target audience for your work. Are you helping the reader score a 990? 850? 700? etc. Not everyone has the same goals -- I knew from the start it was not realistic for me to aim for 990. If someone simply wants to score a 850, they don't need to be distracted by the smaller details in their studying and you don't have to go as deep. On the test, if they get to a question deeper than they studied and they don't know it, they can just skip.

Medium: If you do videos, then only cover stuff like test taking strategies, etc. You might want to walk the audience through exactly what to expect when they arrive at the testing centre. Maybe you can even get some helpers and re-enact it but that might not be super useful. I would avoid solving physics problems on video though.

Mr Magnetic Monopole
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Jan 03, 2012 3:51 pm

Re: Feedback on compiling a Physics GRE "review course"

Postby Mr Magnetic Monopole » Thu Jan 19, 2012 3:03 pm

Feel free to completely ignore this suggestion, but I've been through this wringer in a couple of ways. I'm prepping for the PGRE now, so I feel the pain. Along with that, I'm going back to school... I'm a physics/math undergrad who eventually went to Law School (long story)... and I've gone through the LSAT/GRE/Bar Exam/Patent Bar Exam prep stuff...

Anyway, a Bar Exam is a lot like the PGRE. You're trying to cram several years' worth of information into a test. I took the Barbri Review for my Bar Exam and I liked their organization (some folks didn't, but then again, everyone learns slightly differently).

Barbri used an approach that touched on all relevant topics and pointed out the specifics of what you MUST know, just to pass. For example, we're guaranteed to see something on the PGRE related to simple circuits (computing equivalent capacitance, resistance, etc.- but certainly something...). So they would cover the topic broadly. Then the lecture would then digress to something that you were likely, but maybe not guaranteed, to see (maybe a Wheatstone Bridge or a delta-to-wye conversion- they're fair game, but I wouldn't say common). From there the lecture would mention topics that have been covered in the past, but sparingly. So these items aren't likely to be on the PGRE, but if you're looking for the nuances (the things that separate the top percentiles), then you should know them. These topics were left to the student to weed out.

So the overall goal was (1) to ensure the test preparation gave enough information to pass (and I know "pass" has a different meaning in this context); (2) to guide the preparation so as to enable the test taker to score well; and (3) point out nuances to assist the test taker in separating themselves from others (who didn't prepare in as much detail).

So my suggestion would be- as an example- a general review topic on Classical Mechanics, with lectures/reviews on Linear Motion, Rotational Motion... maybe pick a couple of other broad topics... you can dig deeper from there. Add the Lagrangian in as a next layer...

Like I said, feel free to completely ignore this suggestion, but this approach has worked for me on multiple "entrance type" exams... maybe it will work here as well. I think it's extremely important to point out to the test taker what the "must know" items are, versus the "should know" and the "it's nice to know" (because there are differences).

Just my two cents...

B-80
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Jan 19, 2012 1:27 am

Re: Feedback on compiling a Physics GRE "review course"

Postby B-80 » Mon Jan 23, 2012 12:53 am

First, thank you both for your replies.

TakeruK wrote:This is a tough question to answer, since everyone has their own methods and preferences for studying. But if I had to study for the GRE or similar test again, this is what I'd find useful for myself:

Format: I think the third option, a how-to guide to solve questions, would be the least useful. There are already a lot of solutions out there for the five released PGREs. Some might say that means there are "only" 500 questions (and some are repeated or very similar) but 500 is a lot of questions. I did not get a stellar score (690/53rd%) from practicing only from ~300 questions but most people I knew just studied these questions extensively and did really well (850+). I wish I had known the 2008 exam was released though (when I registered, the practice booklet provided by ETS was the 2001 exam. Anyways, there are at least 2 sources of free, fully worked out online solutions sets, and they include hints on how to do some questions faster (e.g. note that this one can be done by dimensional analysis, checking units, etc.).

I think the second option, basically a training regimen for the PGRE, may be too restrictive, or too difficult to write generally enough that it will fit everyone's study style. It would be really useful for those who have the same study techniques though. For depth, I think you should assume your audience has the first 3 years of undergrad physics completed, but assume that was 5 years ago. In other words, the reader knows all of the concepts already, but does not remember the details, so you just need to decide what is necessary for the PGRE, based on the 5 official tests, and then summarize it all up. I think, if, for example, you are covering the shape of the wave function in different potentials, you should just go ahead and show diagrams of what they look like, with some descriptive words, for cases like: V=0 (sines/cosines), E < V (decaying exp.), etc. but you don't have to go ahead and solve the equations/derive them. I don't think we generally had to do this in the GRE?

I think the first option is the best choice. The ideal way to study for the PGRE is to re-read your freshman physics text, make summary notes of each chapter etc. and learn it all again. But that takes a lot of time and is very tedious. People who do this and get a great score totally deserve it though. So the first format you suggest would basically do this summarizing work for readers so that we just need to study your summaries of GRE physics instead of reading the textbook. Obviously, readers would benefit a great deal more if they read and summarized themselves, but your work would still be more helpful than being overwhelmed at all the physics and giving up.

Depth: I decided to address this slightly separately. In addition to my notes above about depth of explanations, I think you should also set a target audience for your work. Are you helping the reader score a 990? 850? 700? etc. Not everyone has the same goals -- I knew from the start it was not realistic for me to aim for 990. If someone simply wants to score a 850, they don't need to be distracted by the smaller details in their studying and you don't have to go as deep. On the test, if they get to a question deeper than they studied and they don't know it, they can just skip.

Medium: If you do videos, then only cover stuff like test taking strategies, etc. You might want to walk the audience through exactly what to expect when they arrive at the testing centre. Maybe you can even get some helpers and re-enact it but that might not be super useful. I would avoid solving physics problems on video though.


I am actually rather surprised that someone feels the manual would be the least useful. However, I had not thought about the idea that this is out there already (though I don't know about in a very pure form). The other problem I have with a pure review is that the test, at least for me, was about balancing physics knowledge and test taking strategies. No review would be complete without a discussion on how to solve problems. Obviously, if I do solve problems, I will make up my own. I am going to do my best to not give the reader any specific information about a specific test problem, because I hope to leave them with the ability to study the sample tests after they completed the review. I think it's a bold goal, and I may realize I am unable to achieve perfect decoupling. But I will strive to do so because I think that would be the strongest contribution to a students studies.

As far as depth, I had a 70th percentile score in my mind. I think that the amount of material to cover for points above that mark is far more than below it. I think if the reader hopes to score in the 90s they will need to review their older texts; however, I am aiming for my review to be a good starting point for anyone. One thing I am still unsure of is the use of derivations vs statements of laws.

For instance, I could derive orbital motion using the Lagrangian and then combine the effective potential, etc... Or I could simply state the possible orbits and when they occur.


Do you dislike Khan academy's videos? Because that is what I was hoping for if I use video. Otherwise, I think a verbal explanation of the test-taking process would suffice.




Mr Magnetic Monopole wrote:Feel free to completely ignore this suggestion, but I've been through this wringer in a couple of ways. I'm prepping for the PGRE now, so I feel the pain. Along with that, I'm going back to school... I'm a physics/math undergrad who eventually went to Law School (long story)... and I've gone through the LSAT/GRE/Bar Exam/Patent Bar Exam prep stuff...

Anyway, a Bar Exam is a lot like the PGRE. You're trying to cram several years' worth of information into a test. I took the Barbri Review for my Bar Exam and I liked their organization (some folks didn't, but then again, everyone learns slightly differently).

Barbri used an approach that touched on all relevant topics and pointed out the specifics of what you MUST know, just to pass. For example, we're guaranteed to see something on the PGRE related to simple circuits (computing equivalent capacitance, resistance, etc.- but certainly something...). So they would cover the topic broadly. Then the lecture would then digress to something that you were likely, but maybe not guaranteed, to see (maybe a Wheatstone Bridge or a delta-to-wye conversion- they're fair game, but I wouldn't say common). From there the lecture would mention topics that have been covered in the past, but sparingly. So these items aren't likely to be on the PGRE, but if you're looking for the nuances (the things that separate the top percentiles), then you should know them. These topics were left to the student to weed out.

So the overall goal was (1) to ensure the test preparation gave enough information to pass (and I know "pass" has a different meaning in this context); (2) to guide the preparation so as to enable the test taker to score well; and (3) point out nuances to assist the test taker in separating themselves from others (who didn't prepare in as much detail).

So my suggestion would be- as an example- a general review topic on Classical Mechanics, with lectures/reviews on Linear Motion, Rotational Motion... maybe pick a couple of other broad topics... you can dig deeper from there. Add the Lagrangian in as a next layer...

Like I said, feel free to completely ignore this suggestion, but this approach has worked for me on multiple "entrance type" exams... maybe it will work here as well. I think it's extremely important to point out to the test taker what the "must know" items are, versus the "should know" and the "it's nice to know" (because there are differences).

Just my two cents...


I very much like the idea of a sort of "knowledge pyramid," and I may even try and use that as a vehicle for review guides. I think I'm going to post a separate topic once I have the content well hashed out, a (2 to 4)-level weighting system may be a really nice way to go about this. The major question I still have, which is posted above as well, is about derivations. The example I used above:

I could derive orbital motion using the Lagrangian and then combine the effective potential, etc... Or I could simply state the possible orbits and when they occur.
or
I could derive the case of UCM or simply state "in uniform circular motion a=v^2 / r"

Do you recall how your review course went about this?




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