Preparing to study for the Physics GRE

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Preparing to study for the Physics GRE

Postby microacg » Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:29 pm

I am hoping to take the PGRE in a few months (not April). Although my bachelors is in physics (Maryland, College Park) I have a bit of an atypical background (I was an education track) so I need to learn some new things, as well are review the courses I took as an undergrad. Please help me put together a 'curriculum' of what to study and what resources would be best, given my needs. I already looked through many of the resources on this forum, so I have some ideas of books to get, or books to avoid.

My background:

- I graduated in 2007 so I'm obviously rusty (I got a masters in education in the meantime but that doesn't help much with this)

- As an undergrad I took the intro physics sequence (mechanics, e&m, oscillations), the intro physics lab sequence (three semesters), an intermediate theoretical methods course, upper level e&m, classical mechanics, and quantum mechanics 1

- I did not take statistical thermodynamics, quantum mechanics 2, or advanced laboratory due to my education track (I was busy with education courses and student teaching, etc)

- I did not take electives in modern physics or relativity (both were just barely touched upon in my other classes)

My thoughts on the PGRE:

Classical Mechanics (20%): I already started reviewing this from my intro textbook (tipler). I should be able to brush up on it using my classical mechanics textbook (Taylor)

Electromagnetism (18%): I already started reviewing from my intro textbook (tipler). I should be able to brush up on it using my intro to electrodynamics textbook (Griffiths)

Optics and Wave Phenomena (9%): Other than tipler I'm not sure what I should be studying for this; I may need to get another book/resource

Thermo and Statistical Mechanics (10%): I never studied this in college so I should probably get the textbook for an upper level undergraduate course. I have a list of 22 textbooks that graduate programs often use for this subject, so maybe I should choose one of them.

Quantum Mechanics (12%): I should be able to use my textbook from QM1 (Griffiths) to review this, and learn some QM2 material.

Atomic Physics (10%): I honestly don't know much atomic physics and am not sure how to best to learn/study this.

Special Relativity (6%): This is covered in both Tipler and Taylor so I should be able to study it from what I have.

Laboratory Methods (6%): From my undergrad lab classes I have "A Practical Guide to Data Analysis for Physical Science Students" by Lyons and "An Introduction to Error Analysis" by Taylor. Do I need another resource? I'm not really sure how to prepare for questions on lab methods since I haven't done college labs since approximately 2004-5. I suppose that's where practice test questions can come in handy.

Specialized Topics (9%): I have little familiarity with most of the material covered in this section, according to ETS. Are there any resources that specialize in this material?

Final Thoughts:

I have been teaching AP Physics B so my basic math and science skills should be intact (I do need to study undergraduate mathematical methods, though). In addition to books/resources to fill in the gaps in my knowledge (above) I also need general PGRE materials. Is there a particular book that stands about above the others? From what I've heard new books tend to come out late spring or early summer. Does it make sense to wait until then to get PGRE specific materials?

Thanks in advance. I'll happily answer any questions that make it easier to assist me.

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Re: Preparing to study for the Physics GRE

Postby TakeruK » Sat Mar 03, 2012 3:00 pm

I thought the PGRE is only offered in April, October, and November, so if you aren't doing it in April (too soon anyways), then you will have a lot of time to be studying.

I think the best resource to gauge the level of knowledge required is to do the old exams. The 2008 exam (which you can find on the ETS website and they will send it to you if you register) is very very similar to the Oct and Nov 2011 exams so I imagine this is the direction things are heading too.

I noticed that the 2011 exam, compared to the 2009 exam and practice exams from before that, has a lot less computation/calculations. For example, in older exams, sometimes you were given the half-life of some particle (eg. muon) and told that it is moving relativistically so that an observer in the lab frame sees it move some length before decaying and you are asked to find the speed. So, you had to basically had to solve for both the lifetime and velocity of the particle. This involved algebra where you have something like beta/sqrt(1-beta^2) factors, and you could either grind it out, or use a taylor expansion to simplify the denominator etc.

This is a bit more difficult than the question I received in the 2011 exam where we were instead giving the lifetime of the particle as seen in the lab frame. Now, you just apply the time dilation equation and solve for beta.

So, the concept tested is the same, except the newer questions appear to be much less algebraically involved so that it's more reasonable to finish them in the time limits.

As for your course background, what you have is good, except for your modern physics -- it might be helpful to study the equivalent of a "modern physics" course, especially to get the usual ~half-semester of special relativity.

QM2 is not very useful for PGRE (I don't remember any of it at all actually). Griffiths is the perfect review material for QM1 on PGRE. The only computations you really do are expectation values or probabilities. You should know qualitatively how the wave function of a particle looks in free space, when it hits a potential barrier, and in the standard potentials reviewed by Griffiths.

Stat Thermodynamics / Stat Mech is often seen as ~3 questions on the test where you should know how to use the partition function, and how to write a partition function for an ensemble. It might not be worth learning, but if you do, just learn the partition function!

For "laboratory methods", there are two types: Error analysis and "history". For error analysis, make sure you understand Poisson errors and standard deviations. You could be asked something like "how many observations needed to get an error level less than X%" or given a series of measurements and asked to find the error on the best estimate of the value. For history questions, it's either you know the experiment they are talking about, or you don't.

It's okay to not have the 4th year level courses because a lot of students who write the PGRE are actually doing in April of their 3rd year or Fall of their 4th year!

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Re: Preparing to study for the Physics GRE

Postby microacg » Sat Mar 03, 2012 3:19 pm

Thank you for the detailed reply.

Regarding Modern Physics, what would be the best way to go about studying that without actually taking a course in it? It's one of the only branches of undergraduate-level physics I don't have at least one book/resource to get started with.

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Re: Preparing to study for the Physics GRE

Postby TakeruK » Sat Mar 03, 2012 3:44 pm

Unfortunately, my modern physics course was taught out of a textbook way above our level (French) and the course itself was poorly taught -- the prof was a super genius and thought we were the same. So I learned my relativity through review sections of other courses (E&M, GR, particle physics etc.). Maybe someone else can recommend something useful!

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Re: Preparing to study for the Physics GRE

Postby microacg » Sat Mar 03, 2012 3:49 pm

I'm getting my hands on a copy of "Modern Physics Third Edition 2004" by Serway, Moses, Moyer. Is that a good resource for this?

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Re: Preparing to study for the Physics GRE

Postby Minovsky » Sat Mar 03, 2012 4:05 pm

For a book on modern physics, I would suggest Quantum Physics by Townsend. The text covers basic QM and its applications (quantum statistics, solid-state) as well as nuclear/particle physics and SR. It also reads very well and is reasonably priced (as far as textbooks go anyway). Schaum's Applied Physics outline also covers almost all of the PGRE curriculum, so you may want to look into that.

As already suggested, study the old tests. They really show you what you need to know and what you need to study.

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Re: Preparing to study for the Physics GRE

Postby subhadheer » Thu Sep 06, 2012 2:42 am

i m planning to take PGRE in november.will this 2 month period be sufficient for much time should i spend each day for PGRE,because i have to prepare for GRE General test also.This is my first attempt for both the GRE from INDIA.

i want to apply for :
virginia tech
kansas state university
boston university
university of oklahoma norman
university of wisconsin
arizona state university
university of texas-austin

how much should i score in both the GRE's in order to get admission in any one of the above universities?plz anybody guide me.

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