Planning ahead for my GRE this next fall

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Joined: Wed Jan 09, 2013 10:18 pm

Planning ahead for my GRE this next fall

Postby ozone » Thu Jan 10, 2013 2:22 pm

Hello all,

I plan to take the GRE in October this year. I know its extremely early to start planning for this but I want to make sure I'm taking the right steps now to make my life less hellish down the line. I feel a bit under-prepared as I have missed some important physics classes. Also I will have a lot riding on the GRE since I haven't done any research yet (I'll be lucky to find a summer REU this year)

Without further adieu listed below are all the GRE subjects and how prepared I feel for them. I could mostly use insight on what to do with the first 3-4. Thank you very much!

OPTICS AND WAVE PHENOMENA -- I'm going to need some patchwork here but I don't know exactly where to start.

QUANTUM MECHANICS -- I'm somewhat worried here. I have never taken a quantum class but I am for the recommended junior year one at my university. I have heard from some of the seniors though that our quantum skills might not be sufficient after taking this class. We will be working out of Eisenberg & Resnick. I plan to supplement with Griffiths so that I can prepare better for the GRE.

ATOMIC PHYSIC -- After working out of the first chapter in Eisenberg & Resnick over break, I get the feeling that this book will prepare me for this subject somewhat adequatly. I may need to supplement an bit.

LABORATORY METHODS -- I have never taken a course with labs(transferred to my major uni after pathetic CC physics classes). I don't know what to do here.

SPECIALIZED TOPICS -- I will probably just use the old GRE exams to study for this and fill in the blanks I can come up with... It seems like there is to much physics here to devote time to trying to gain mastery.

SPECIAL RELATIVITY -- I have taken a course in GR so no worries here.

CLASSICAL MECHANICS -- Just finished a very intensive course in this where I worked out of Taylor, Marion & Thornton and my teachers lecture notes. (not to worried here)

ELECTROMAGNETISM -- Will be taking my 3rd undergraduate course in E&M this semester. We work out of Griffiths. (not to worried here)

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Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2012 1:12 pm

Re: Planning ahead for my GRE this next fall

Postby goingnuclear » Thu Jan 10, 2013 6:07 pm

Hey ozone,

My undergraduate education was a little lackluster compared to what was required by the PGRE (went to a small liberal arts school), so I too prepared heavily for the test. Here is what I studied:

Optics - I used "Optics" by Hecht. Optics was my toughest subject because i actually didn't take a course on it, so I knew embarrassingly little about it (I never even learned geometrical optics). You can pick and choose the chapters that address what's on the PGRE (there's a chapter on wave properties, one on diffraction, one on geometrical optics, etc), so you don't have to read the entire book to learn what you need.

Quantum - I used Griffiths, and felt very strong in my quantum abilities. Know the solutions to the 1-D Schrodinger Equation inside and out, for common potentials such as the infinite and finite square well, harmonic oscillator, dirac-delta, free particle, etc. These can all be solved with a competent grasp of differential equations. Be familiar with the wave functions, energy levels, and expectation values of observables for all these potentials.

Arguably even more important, know the solution to the hydrogen atom. This is essentially the coulomb potential (1/r) applied to the 3-D Schrodinger Equation. The full derivation is extremely lengthy but the math is completely within the understanding of a bright undergraduate, so I recommend taking the time to solve the solution yourself. Know the equation for energy levels of the hydrogen atom, the three “variables” of the wave function (n, l, and m), the properties of angular momentum inside an atom, and spin (especially for spin-1/2 particles such as electrons).

Know the bra-ket mathematics of formal quantum (it’s the notation that looks like <a|a>, etc). Several laws arise out of this, such as the uncertainty principle, which you should know. Know the basics of perturbation theory and multi-particle systems, and how the latter implies the Pauli Exclusion Principle for fermions.

Atomic – Atomic is really just applied quantum, if you thoroughly read up on quantum you should pick up all the atomic knowledge you’ll need. Things such as energy levels of the atom, the structure of the periodic table (and how it relates to the n,l,m values of the wave function), emission spectrum, etc.

Specialized Topics – Read the first chapter of “Elementary Particles” by Griffiths. This will be all the particle physics knowledge you need. I never learned solid state, but you should gain some basic knowledge on this topic as well. It’s mostly factual stuff, such as “what is a cooper pair?”, etc.

Laboratory Methods – use this link: ... part2.html to learn about how to add errors/uncertainty. Also, sometimes I think they clump knowledge of circuits into “lab methods,” so know the properties of more advanced circuit elements such as op-amps, transformers (there was a transformer question on the Nov 2012 test), diodes, etc. Also, learn about basic logic gates (link: ... gates.html). Other than that, there’s sometimes questions on how to read oscilloscopes and log-log graphs, but I assume you know how to do that (read up if you don’t).

Right after graduating from undergrad, I knew enough to maybe score a 650-700 on the PGRE. After some heavy studying of the following books/topics listed above, I ended up scoring a 960 this past November. Hope this helps!

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Joined: Wed May 30, 2012 7:59 pm

Re: Planning ahead for my GRE this next fall

Postby tweetie_brid » Thu Jan 10, 2013 6:35 pm

Good luck with your studies,

Just for your information, there is a new GRE PHYSICS prep book.

You can get it on amazon. It is called "Conquering the Physics GRE"

It supposedly lists every topic for the PGRE. Here are some links.

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Joined: Wed Jan 09, 2013 10:18 pm

Re: Planning ahead for my GRE this next fall

Postby ozone » Thu Jan 10, 2013 7:08 pm

Thank you very much goingnuclear.. that will pretty much cover all I need to know then apart from the pre-test cramming.

Much appreciated and congratulations on your great score. I am sure you will be going to an excellent grad program now.

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Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2012 1:12 pm

Re: Planning ahead for my GRE this next fall

Postby goingnuclear » Thu Jan 10, 2013 7:35 pm

Glad I could help, and good luck to you. I'm crossing my fingers for a good grad program, unfortunately a couple other parts of my application (cumulative GPA, undergraduate school, etc) were a bit weaker than I would have liked so I'm not holding my berath.

The book tweetie_bird linked is a phenomenal book that I also used (forgot to mention that). I don't recommend relying on it as your ONLY test prep, since a single book can't possibly cover everything on the PGRE, but it does an excellent job at condensing down all the topics found on the test, as well as addressing the key things to know from each subject.

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Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2012 1:04 pm

Re: Planning ahead for my GRE this next fall

Postby rahulsd91 » Fri Jan 11, 2013 3:24 pm

The single most useful book for me was Halliday, Resnick, Walker (extended edition). It probably covers most of the classical mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, particle physics, optics, nuclear physics and relativity that you will ever need for the PGRE, and it starts from the very basics. It even has a bit of Quantum Mechanics, but Griffiths is way better. Apart from that, you only need basic knowledge of the important concepts in Classical Mechanics and Statistical Physics like Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations, Partition function, etc.

Keep the last week or two aside for solving the old papers , so that you can adjust to the pace required to solve as many questions as possible. That is often the more challenging part of the PGRE than the physics itself, at least for a Physics major.

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Joined: Fri Jan 11, 2013 5:47 pm

Re: Planning ahead for my GRE this next fall

Postby walczyk » Thu Jan 17, 2013 9:19 pm

Wowww, I wish I knew about that book. It came out right when I started studying :(

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