So I am one of those free-loaders who always read physicsgre.com (and participated in its collective obsession with the test) without posting anything. So here is my payment back to you all.
Recently, I found my scores for the April 1 test: and they were above 900. I only mention this because this was a completely unexpected score, and I hope you will listen to how I studied for it, because I think that everyone would like some confidence.
First of all, I didn't make the decision to take the April test until the beginning of the semester, which was about 6 weeks before the exam. I didn't make the full commitment until a month before.
The first two weeks were spent studying the things in my upper division courses that I found interesting. I studied approximately 1 hour a day. This utlimately, had little use, but maybe it had a subconscious effect I'm unaware of. I kept a folder with me at all times with my notes from my studying and free paper. I kept reviewing the topic breakdown that ETS offers and studied accordingly. In all honesty, though, this is just how I always study. But as the test loomed closer, and when I got a 720 on a practice exam, I knew I had to take a new approach.
For the two weeks before the test, I made notecards with all the interesting equations at the ends of my physics textbooks chapters (you know, those things you don't think they would ever test you on because they're so obscure!). This was also seemingly useless, since I never had the time to review the stupid notecards.
The last week before the test, I did sample problems like crazy. The last three days before the exam, I skipped all my classes and literally studied every waking hour, doing stupid problem after stupid problem, until I had complete confidence in all the subject breakdowns. Basically, you have to get to the point where you know you aren't going to make a stupid mistake anywhere.
These were my materials, ranked by usefullness:
1. Schaum's Outline of Modern Physics (problems not as useful as the text)
2. Schaum's 3000 Solved Problems in Physics (super-useful for the last few days before the exam)
3. Ohanian Physics Volumes 1&2 (get all the most important material in a concise and well-presented textbook)
4. Some notes from a website at Harvard on the Physics GRE
5. The four released tests on the web (also at the Harvard website)
6. All upper-division textbooks (I used these at first, then discovered their uselessness on the actual exam).
The funny thing is, however, I didn't do a single practice test until two weeks before the actual exam, and I got a 720. I took the most recent practice test two days before the exam (from 2003), and had only bumped the score up to a 790. Since I somehow jumped 160 points between then and the exam, all I can say is this: miracles do come true, and if you are confident in your study method, don't let the practice tests discourage you. (This sage advice rhymes by the way.)
Also, for all who are concerned about a previously taken test, there were several questions on the test that I simply changed to a wrong answer and beat myself up for changing a few weeks after the test. Don't let these self-deprecations bring you down! Also, several advice websites suggest studying over the summer before you take it in the fall. I completely disagree! The critical period for the Physics GRE is the week before and especially the three days before the exam. This is when you have to cram in all the practice and all the equations, or you'll lose them before the exam. Studying any earlier than a month (since it will take you a few weeks to really hone your study method) is a waste of time. I am particularly proud that there was a week during the month before the exam when I had spring break and didn't study one lick. I know this last advice is somewhat vague, but always remember to set personal goals and establish boundaries on your studying. This is the only way to be a happy and productive individual!
But now I'm signing off! I hope that this post proves useful in alleviating the worries of the Physics GRE.
Last edited by skozmedia
on Sun Jan 28, 2007 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.