International students view of the PGRE

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WhoaNonstop
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International students view of the PGRE

Postby WhoaNonstop » Mon Dec 09, 2013 4:54 pm

Alright so I answer a lot of questions and I was curious about something else...

Everyone notices that international students usually have higher PGRE scores and I was wondering why this is the case.

Any international students want to comment on if they believe this is because they feel they are more academically qualified than domestics or because you know you have to get a high end score to even have a chance in the US (because of the competition between internationals), so your preparation is of extreme importance in comparison to a domestic students?

-Riley

Dwy
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby Dwy » Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:13 pm

I'll start by saying that my score isn't good, 880(83%), but I might know why other int students may have highers scores.

1. MSc. Most internationals apply for the PhD while taking the MSc, so they had classes in every or most subjects on the test.
2. Competition. We know that we need a higher score.
3. Time. Usually we have more time to prepare because of the gap between finishing the MSc coursework and defending.
4. Education. I think undergrad is a lot underrated in many countries. I have friends from lesser known universities from my country (not EU, India or China), that have taken courses at MIT and so on and thought it was pretty level with our education.
5. Investment. It's a pretty big decision to apply for a PhD abroad, so we take it more seriously.

Now... I have a theory as to why research around here isn't comparable with research at the US, but I do believe our undergrad education is pretty much at the same level (at least for the top universities around here).

Arbitrary
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby Arbitrary » Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:27 pm

Dwy wrote:1. MSc. Most internationals apply for the PhD while taking the MSc, so they had classes in every or most subjects on the test.
2. Competition. We know that we need a higher score.
3. Time. Usually we have more time to prepare because of the gap between finishing the MSc coursework and defending.
4. Education. I think undergrad is a lot underrated in many countries. I have friends from lesser known universities from my country (not EU, India or China), that have taken courses at MIT and so on and thought it was pretty level with our education.
5. Investment. It's a pretty big decision to apply for a PhD abroad, so we take it more seriously.

Now... I have a theory as to why research around here isn't comparable with research at the US, but I do believe our undergrad education is pretty much at the same level (at least for the top universities around here).


I pretty much agree with Dwy, but wish to add a few points:
1. My undergraduate degree spanned only 3 years (compared to the usual 4 years in the US), but still covered quite a bit more material than what physics students study in the US. In particular, we spent very little time on subjects outside our majors, allowing us to quickly cover many advanced topics.
2. International students often take the PGRE during or after the M.Sc., but the PGRE material is almost exclusively B.Sc. material. This means that for those students, the material has a few years to "sink in". For example: during my B.Sc. I horribly struggled with angular moments and inertia, but during the practice for the PGRE I found it considerably easier than I remembered.
3. Not certain if this applies to other countries, but here we are encouraged to use all those PGRE tricks (rough estimates, dimensional analysis, limiting cases) whenever possible, even when an exact solution is required. This style of thinking is particularly suited for the PGRE, and helps speed up its solution a great deal. It helped me pretty much finish the test in about two hours.
4. As mentioned, competition, competition, competition.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby WhoaNonstop » Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:42 pm

Arbitrary wrote:4. As mentioned, competition, competition, competition.


Yeah, I'm not saying you guys aren't capable by any means, but I've come to believe that a huge motivator is the competition and that if the competition was that fierce for domestic students getting spots our PGRE "might" be higher. So perhaps the PGRE isn't a good way to compare international students vs domestic students.

And yes, we do waste a lot of time on other subjects that are not related to our degree. Sometimes I see that as a strength and sometimes I see that as a weakness. Thanks for the comments so far.

-Riley

blighter
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby blighter » Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:59 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:Alright so I answer a lot of questions and I was curious about something else...

Everyone notices that international students usually have higher PGRE scores and I was wondering why this is the case.

Any international students want to comment on if they believe this is because they feel they are more academically qualified than domestics or because you know you have to get a high end score to even have a chance in the US (because of the competition between internationals), so your preparation is of extreme importance in comparison to a domestic students?

-Riley


I can speak for India here. Most of the physics majors here come from the elite institutes like the IITs, IISERs etc. which already are selective in their own right. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that they do well. I'm sure if you look at the average PGRE scores of the undergrads from the Ivies, it'll be higher. It's probably not as high as it should be because they look at the holistic picture when they admit people for undergrad unlike the IITs which actually test you on physics.

It's also important that I mention here that the entire education system here is based on exam taking. So people tend to be better at that than their US counterparts.

I also read this in an article in the Science Magazine although maybe a little obsolete now.

One factor in the high scores, they say, has to be the huge pool of highly motivated, well-trained students in the PRC. But physics faculty also say that Chinese students' overwhelming advantage on the test doesn't seem to be reflected in other measures of physics ability. An educational system focused on exam-taking and the existence of poorly regulated "coaching" classes for the physics GRE may have inflated the PRC scores, say some observers. And Science has learned of another factor that may have played some role in the past: widespread security breaches, which culminated in October 1992, when exam booklets were widely leaked to students in the PRC before the physics exam was given.

PeterH1
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby PeterH1 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 6:08 pm

I think I'd also agree that it's primarily a competition thing. My score's pretty bad (790), but I only took it this year on the ridiculous off-chance that I get a DAAD (best to be prepared regardless, right?). I know for sure that if I wind up applying to the States in the future, I'll definitely be re-taking it.

The MSc thing sounds right too. If I take the test again, it'll be after I've had a full year to let those "Special Topics" sink in, so that could be a factor as well.

It's tough to say just what that level of competition would do to the domestic applicants though. I get the feeling that it could raise the average score, but then correspondingly raise the window of accepted scores at each institution. I dunno. It's especially tough to guess without an idea of what could cause that kind of increase in competition.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby WhoaNonstop » Mon Dec 09, 2013 6:13 pm

PeterH1 wrote:I think I'd also agree that it's primarily a competition thing. My score's pretty bad (790), but I only took it this year on the ridiculous off-chance that I get a DAAD (best to be prepared regardless, right?). I know for sure that if I wind up applying to the States in the future, I'll definitely be re-taking it.

The MSc thing sounds right too. If I take the test again, it'll be after I've had a full year to let those "Special Topics" sink in, so that could be a factor as well.

It's tough to say just what that level of competition would do to the domestic applicants though. I get the feeling that it could raise the average score, but then correspondingly raise the window of accepted scores at each institution. I dunno. It's especially tough to guess without an idea of what could cause that kind of increase in competition.


Well my reasoning for making this thread was someone was claiming that international students were automatically smarter because their PGRE was higher and I told them, they may be smarter, but I don't think you can truly compare international vs domestic students straight across the board with a PGRE score because there are some inherent differences to how the two pools view the exam.

If there wasn't such an importance placed on the test, I still believe international students would score higher than domestic students, it just wouldn't be such a large difference.

-Riley

Dwy
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby Dwy » Mon Dec 09, 2013 6:16 pm

Arbitrary wrote:I pretty much agree with Dwy, but wish to add a few points:
1. My undergraduate degree spanned only 3 years (compared to the usual 4 years in the US), but still covered quite a bit more material than what physics students study in the US. In particular, we spent very little time on subjects outside our majors, allowing us to quickly cover many advanced topics.

4 years here, but we also spend little to no time outside our majors.
Arbitrary wrote:2. International students often take the PGRE during or after the M.Sc., but the PGRE material is almost exclusively B.Sc. material. This means that for those students, the material has a few years to "sink in". For example: during my B.Sc. I horribly struggled with angular moments and inertia, but during the practice for the PGRE I found it considerably easier than I remembered.

Exactly. For my case it was exclusively BSc material.
Arbitrary wrote:3. Not certain if this applies to other countries, but here we are encouraged to use all those PGRE tricks (rough estimates, dimensional analysis, limiting cases) whenever possible, even when an exact solution is required. This style of thinking is particularly suited for the PGRE, and helps speed up its solution a great deal. It helped me pretty much finish the test in about two hours.


Now that's really different from my country.
Here, from the start of the BSc, we are encouraged to work on discursive, often long, well written answers. Not once during my MSc or BSc I had taken a test with the approach required by the PGRE. Actually, I blame my low score on this, because time management was a pain in the ass for me. I was pretty comfortable with the content though.
I actually think this kind of approach is very interesting and I believe it was useful to practice this while studying for the test. I'm not sure, but I think I'm quicker now in problem solving.

bfollinprm
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Dec 09, 2013 6:18 pm

I'm not an international student obviously, but I'll second the whole Masters thing. I took the recently released exam in June of last summer just before starting to study for my preliminary exams, and answered all but one question correctly in a little under 2 hours. Before grad school, I took the PGRE twice, and only managed a 790.

PeterH1
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby PeterH1 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 6:43 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:
Well my reasoning for making this thread was someone was claiming that international students were automatically smarter because their PGRE was higher and I told them, they may be smarter, but I don't think you can truly compare international vs domestic students straight across the board with a PGRE score because there are some inherent differences to how the two pools view the exam.

If there wasn't such an importance placed on the test, I still believe international students would score higher than domestic students, it just wouldn't be such a large difference.

-Riley


Oh I see. I myself would be highly skeptical of any claim that the PGRE can be a significant factor in determining intelligence. As with any standardized test, it ultimately only ever measures 1 part intelligence to 5 parts test-taking skills. (Haha, although I might just be trying to excuse my own score here eh?).

I'm sure in the end it's fair to say that international students as a whole will tend to be brighter than domestics, strictly because of the fact that they're more expensive to host, so there will always be fewer of them. I guess along that line of thinking, it'd be more fair to compare the top X% of domestic students with international students, since it's as if the lower portion of international students is absent from the data.

Dwy wrote:Now that's really different from my country.
Here, from the start of the BSc, we are encouraged to work on discursive, often long, well written answers. Not once during my MSc or BSc I had taken a test with the approach required by the PGRE. Actually, I blame my low score on this, because time management was a pain in the ass for me. I was pretty comfortable with the content though.
I actually think this kind of approach is very interesting and I believe it was useful to practice this while studying for the test. I'm not sure, but I think I'm quicker now in problem solving.


I think time-management was my major blunder too. While I admit I did learn a thing or two while studying for this beast, I can't say I like the approach you have to take at all. I'm very much of the opinion that it's vastly more important that you think in such a way as to be able to fully work through a problem, rather than simply be able to take a good guess.

Dwy
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby Dwy » Mon Dec 09, 2013 7:05 pm

I think time-management was my major blunder too. While I admit I did learn a thing or two while studying for this beast, I can't say I like the approach you have to take at all. I'm very much of the opinion that it's vastly more important that you think in such a way as to be able to fully work through a problem, rather than simply be able to take a good guess.


Ohh I agree with you. But still, I think it's a nice skill to have :)

bfollinprm
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Dec 09, 2013 7:18 pm

I'm very much of the opinion that it's vastly more important that you think in such a way as to be able to fully work through a problem, rather than simply be able to take a good guess.


I don't think I agree. At least as a phenomenologist, I find that being able to quickly intuit the answer to (relatively) simple questions is my most useful skill. Scaling arguments, dimensional analysis, and even just working out what direction (up or down) an effect will have on a number are something I use every day, while rigorously working out the details of a model is something I can only afford to do a very small subset of the time.

What I do agree with is it's ludicrous to think that the average undergrad is exposed to the sort of physical intuition-building that allows for accurate determinations in the above manner. Mostly, this intuition comes from having 'fully worked out' similar problems in the past.

PeterH1
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby PeterH1 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 8:38 pm

bfollinprm wrote:I don't think I agree. At least as a phenomenologist, I find that being able to quickly intuit the answer to (relatively) simple questions is my most useful skill. Scaling arguments, dimensional analysis, and even just working out what direction (up or down) an effect will have on a number are something I use every day, while rigorously working out the details of a model is something I can only afford to do a very small subset of the time.

What I do agree with is it's ludicrous to think that the average undergrad is exposed to the sort of physical intuition-building that allows for accurate determinations in the above manner. Mostly, this intuition comes from having 'fully worked out' similar problems in the past.


Ah, yes of course, for more phenomenological and experimental fields it is indeed very important to be able to roughly solve things quickly. I also don't mean to diminish the importance of intuition either. In thoroughly solving a problem, having an idea of the most useful techniques and approaches is key.

In my personal journey in Physics, though, I feel it's more important for me to have as deep an understanding of the logical and mathematical arguments as possible (without losing sight of things, of course). At the moment, anyway, I feel that's crucial to understanding the validity and potential of a theory.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby WhoaNonstop » Mon Dec 09, 2013 8:59 pm

Yay I started a thread where I don't have to be mean to people and tell them they can't get into schools...

-Riley

piyushag
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby piyushag » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:43 pm

I could only comment of how PGRE is easier for the Indian students....
We have already gone through a similar test(which is even more rigorous and extremely competitive as compared to PGRE) while preparing for their undergraduate admission test........
so, for PGRE we just have to brush up those skill and cover the newer topics which doesnot take more than 2 months at max to complete........

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quizivex
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby quizivex » Fri Dec 13, 2013 5:25 am

(might have been brought up before)

Part of the reason might also be that the internationals know they need a higher score, and therefore only those with higher scores will bother applying...

What I mean is that there could be a selection bias in that the average score difference of domestic and international test takers might not be as large as the score difference of domestic and international applicants.

(Avg intl test taker score) - (Avg domestic test taker score) < (Avg intl applicant score) - (Avg domestic applicant score)

??

Arbitrary
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby Arbitrary » Fri Dec 13, 2013 11:58 am

quizivex wrote:(might have been brought up before)

Part of the reason might also be that the internationals know they need a higher score, and therefore only those with higher scores will bother applying...

What I mean is that there could be a selection bias in that the average score difference of domestic and international test takers might not be as large as the score difference of domestic and international applicants.

(Avg intl test taker score) - (Avg domestic test taker score) < (Avg intl applicant score) - (Avg domestic applicant score)

??


This may be true, but keep in mind that the demand to take the PGRE is not too common outside the US. If I wished to apply to a PhD program in my country I would not have needed to take the PGRE.
However, it might be that only top students wish to apply to a PhD program in the US, and they tend to score higher than average on the PGRE. This sort of argument is more likely for countries who don't offer very good PhD programs in physics.

Catria
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Re: International students view of the PGRE

Postby Catria » Wed Mar 05, 2014 11:49 pm

IIRC Rob Knop (when he still worked at Vanderbilt) said that some schools practice PGRE different standards depending on the country of origin of the student: some schools, including Vanderbilt when Knop was still working at Vanderbilt (don't know if it still does today), expected more from East Asians (including, but not limited to, Chinese and Indian students) than from other internationals, themselves being expected more than domestics.

Edit: Here's an excerpt from an email I wrote to Mrs. Larrondo (a postdoc at Stanford; translation is my own) regarding why East Asian kids (at least at Stanford) are held to higher PGRE standards:

The reason why different standards are applied to East Asian students is that they have highly selective cram schools for the GRE, i.e. 1-2-year schools that train you solely for the GRE, hence it's normal to ask for higher scores when one has access to such training.


So essentially, East Asian kids are taking this to the extreme...




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