Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

PathIntegrals92
Posts: 190
Joined: Tue Oct 07, 2014 12:42 pm

Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Tue Oct 28, 2014 10:31 pm

Hey Everyone,
I apologize for making soo many threads! However, I think I am obsessing over the pgres a bit too much. I am already taking a year off to improve my exam scores and all I got was a 700 52%. ( last year I had 42%)

I am actually considering taking another year off just to do it all over again. Do you think it's worth it at this point?

I answered exactly 70 questions and I feel like it was graded like Form A 2008 exam where a raw score of 57 = 700. I could be wrong though, but I was confident with the questions I answered. I am guessing I made around 10-12 careless mistakes. If I am wrong about the scaling/grading than I made even more mistakes :/.

I definitely had time to look at the 30 questions I did not answer. The thing is, I noticed in the 5 practice exams that whenever I had three or two choices left ( one of which is the correct answer) I always guessed the wrong one! So I lost confident in guessing, so I didn't with the real one.

In fact most of my mistakes were due to guessing for practice exams and not so much for careless mistakes.

I feel like my score would have been higher if I did attempt guessing, but it also could have been MUCH lower.

Is it worth doing this all over again? No, I don't want to go to a Top 10 but I am interested in HEP-th. It's just ultra competitive everywhere :/.

I am strongly aware of which fields in the pgre I need to improve (Optics being the main one).
Thank you for any advice or suggestions.

wompwomp
Posts: 38
Joined: Fri Sep 26, 2014 10:00 pm

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby wompwomp » Tue Oct 28, 2014 11:39 pm

To be a little blunt, if you're guessing the answers for *30* questions, then you just aren't prepared enough for the test. That is a LOT of guessing! If you've eliminated all the obviously wrong answers (dimensional analysis or whatever), then there's not much you can do any more. Down to two or three answers is usually the best case scenario.

When I took the test the last year (after a year off), I too got a 700. Screwed up my time management, ended up having to guess/skip about 30 questions. Not good. I applied to a few programs anyway, was probably waitlisted at one or two, but ended up with all rejections. Very disheartening. My gpa was similar to yours too. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for this year!

Unless you have financial constraints, I think you should apply this year anyway. Just steel yourself in case you end up with all rejections. Register for the April PGRE. Keep studying/practicing. You absolutely do not want to be guessing 30 answers.

PathIntegrals92
Posts: 190
Joined: Tue Oct 07, 2014 12:42 pm

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Wed Oct 29, 2014 12:02 am

Thank you for the response and advice!

I did feel more prepared for this exam, but I guess I was not. :/
Although I had the time too read them, I had to answer 30 by guessing because I couldn't solve the problems fast enough. I have to improve time management as well.

Ugh i don't get why I can sit down and do qft problems, but not do well on the pgre. That really bugs me.

I guess it's not really worth it taking it again...it is what it is. I'll include other fields and apply for Masters too.

djh101
Posts: 97
Joined: Tue Jul 15, 2014 4:08 pm

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby djh101 » Wed Oct 29, 2014 12:24 am

A years is a long time, especially when one year turns into consecutive years. I would say don't waste your life waiting around in pre-grad school limbo (especially considering that you'll also eventually be going through grad school limbo and postdoc limbo) and apply. Get some safety schools, apply to some less competitive fields (so long as you would be fine pursuing those fields instead of HEP, of course), hope for the best. You can take another year off as a backup plan if you don't get in anywhere, but don't make it your main plan. Ruts are things you don't want to be stuck in (and going through school, there are quite a lot of ruts). I think I've seen people on here getting into schools with scores in the 600s, although not so much to HEP.

Explorer33
Posts: 30
Joined: Mon Oct 20, 2014 9:28 am

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby Explorer33 » Wed Oct 29, 2014 12:41 am

Not a good idea to me. If however you can do some research work as well a prepare for the next GRE and hopefully get a great score then maybe it might be worth it. But if you are gonna spend time only studying with no work-ex or research experience I think it wont help.

wompwomp
Posts: 38
Joined: Fri Sep 26, 2014 10:00 pm

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby wompwomp » Wed Oct 29, 2014 12:51 am

What helped my time management this time around - for the last few practice tests, I timed myself very carefully. Had a timer set to go off every 1.5 mins. If I wasn't done at that point, I would just move on ( with only a few exceptions). It didn't work out as well during the actual test, but it worked out well enough.

After I did badly in the PGRE last year, I asked my recommendors what I should do. I was ready to apply to safeties and just move on with my life. ALL of them told me to retake the PGRE again, and that a year wasn't that long a time. They told me that where I go to grad school could determine my entire life thereon. In the past year, I have been working on more research. Even though the year hasn't gone as well as I had hoped, I still have an additional third author paper, and am hoping to have submitted two papers (first author and second author) by the time I send in my applications. If nothing else, given that I am not a US citizen, these publications should eventually help me when I apply to become a permanent resident here (if things go to plan).

When you (and I) have a mediocre GPA, a mediocre PGRE score on top adds to an image of overall mediocrity. You have to have an excellent publication record, an excellent SOP, as well as excellent recommendations to overcome that limitation.

Of course it is very important to not get stuck in a rut - you SHOULD be involved in research, be always trying to strengthen your application in more ways than one (just the PGRE). However, if you aren't confident that you can improve your PGRE, then you run the chance that your year off becomes a complete wash.

Again, I would apply this year anyway. Just try not to settle down too much. But keep in mind that a year off is not a complete loss. Talk to your recommendors.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Oct 29, 2014 1:56 am

A year off with a plan can be a great thing. I have several friends who significantly improved their application in that year span.

If you're in a rush to get to the end of this grad school path and into an academic job with tenure, you're in for a disappointment. An extra year is really nothing in the grand scheme of things--the path to faculty positions moves at a snails pace, even by life standards.

djh101
Posts: 97
Joined: Tue Jul 15, 2014 4:08 pm

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby djh101 » Wed Oct 29, 2014 2:20 am

After I did badly in the PGRE last year, I asked my recommendors what I should do. I was ready to apply to safeties and just move on with my life. ALL of them told me to retake the PGRE again, and that a year wasn't that long a time. They told me that where I go to grad school could determine my entire life thereon.


Of course it is very important to not get stuck in a rut - you SHOULD be involved in research, be always trying to strengthen your application in more ways than one (just the PGRE). However, if you aren't confident that you can improve your PGRE, then you run the chance that your year off becomes a complete wash.


Yes, where you go to school could determine your life path, but don't let that consume your life. Keep in mind that lower ranked schools according to US News aren't necessarily mediocre schools. USC, one of my top choices, is ranked 60 and seems to be not too hard to get into, but they have a stellar quantum computing department. A year by itself is fine (I'm taking a year off myself), but this will now be two years for PathIntegrals. I just graduated from UCLA after two years and have friends from community college that are still at community college, gradually approaching their mid/late 20s. Waiting is certainly fine, but don't let it become a rut. Getting an entry level job with career potential would be an excellent option, as it would keep your life moving during your year off and also give you a head start on an alternate life path, should applications not work out next time around.

A big misconception that a lot of people seem to hold is that education and applications have infinite value. Sacrificing two years of your life to add a little more padding to an application is one example (if you can get a 700 up to an 800 and given the rest of your application, how much stronger will your application really be?). My girlfriend, back when she thought she wanted to pursue a PhD, devoted an entire summer to volunteering in a lab full time (a lab that she had already devoted the previous year to) in an attempt to acquire a good letter of recommendation (which she most certainly could have gotten anyway). Point being, if another year off will only marginally increase the strength of your application, consider very carefully whether or not that year off is worth it (and don't forget to propagate the probability- you have a certain percent chance to increase the strength of your application by a certain percent which will increase your chances by a certain percent of getting into a school that is a certain percent better than the schools you have a certain percent chance of getting into this year).

And one more point that certainly needs to be considered is whether your goals are realistic (I'm not stating this is judgement based on the information given, just as a piece of advice that everyone should consider). I've met people and seen people on this forum that dreamed of going to graduate school but, given their performance in undergrad, would most likely not make it through. They were grasping at straws, trying to scrape together whatever they could to build an acceptable application. Does your current application accurately reflect your potential? If so, artificially inflating it might not even benefit you in the long run (I've seen plenty of people get crushed by UCLA because they were admitted due to artificial application inflaters like transfer student status or community college credits from high school). Just be sure that you are capable of succeeding in your pursuit.

Summary:
-Make sure an extra year off will be worth while (high chance of improving your application enough to get into a substantially better school).
-Make sure that the quality of the schools you are hoping to get into after this extra year are really worth it. Don't go by US News alone, do some serious research.
-Don't waste the year off. I would advise finding an entry level job that you enjoy with possible career track should your plan not work out.
-Avoid ruts at all cost. Two years should be your absolute maximum. Don't let the PGRE eat away your life.
-Evaluate yourself. If your current application accurately reflects your potential, be wary of artificially inflating it.

Summary (Written in Poker Analogies):
-Don't bet if you aren't getting sufficient pot odds
-Analyze the situation carefully and be sure you aren't drawing dead
-This applies mainly to Omaha, but make sure your cards are capable of making multiple hands. A high straight with a flush draw will still be playable even if you don't make the flush.
-Be able to recognize you're on the tilt and stop playing immediately. Do not dig yourself into an even deeper hole trying to recoup your losses.
-Don't bluff yourself. Sometimes life deals you terrible hands. Know when to fold.

wompwomp
Posts: 38
Joined: Fri Sep 26, 2014 10:00 pm

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby wompwomp » Wed Oct 29, 2014 3:07 am

djh101 wrote:
After I did badly in the PGRE last year, I asked my recommendors what I should do. I was ready to apply to safeties and just move on with my life. ALL of them told me to retake the PGRE again, and that a year wasn't that long a time. They told me that where I go to grad school could determine my entire life thereon.


Of course it is very important to not get stuck in a rut - you SHOULD be involved in research, be always trying to strengthen your application in more ways than one (just the PGRE). However, if you aren't confident that you can improve your PGRE, then you run the chance that your year off becomes a complete wash.


Yes, where you go to school could determine your life path, but don't let that consume your life. Keep in mind that lower ranked schools according to US News aren't necessarily mediocre schools. USC, one of my top choices, is ranked 60 and seems to be not too hard to get into, but they have a stellar quantum computing department. A year by itself is fine (I'm taking a year off myself), but this will now be two years for PathIntegrals. I just graduated from UCLA after two years and have friends from community college that are still at community college, gradually approaching their mid/late 20s. Waiting is certainly fine, but don't let it become a rut. Getting an entry level job with career potential would be an excellent option, as it would keep your life moving during your year off and also give you a head start on an alternate life path, should applications not work out next time around.

A big misconception that a lot of people seem to hold is that education and applications have infinite value. Sacrificing two years of your life to add a little more padding to an application is one example (if you can get a 700 up to an 800 and given the rest of your application, how much stronger will your application really be?). My girlfriend, back when she thought she wanted to pursue a PhD, devoted an entire summer to volunteering in a lab full time (a lab that she had already devoted the previous year to) in an attempt to acquire a good letter of recommendation (which she most certainly could have gotten anyway). Point being, if another year off will only marginally increase the strength of your application, consider very carefully whether or not that year off is worth it (and don't forget to propagate the probability- you have a certain percent chance to increase the strength of your application by a certain percent which will increase your chances by a certain percent of getting into a school that is a certain percent better than the schools you have a certain percent chance of getting into this year).

And one more point that certainly needs to be considered is whether your goals are realistic (I'm not stating this is judgement based on the information given, just as a piece of advice that everyone should consider). I've met people and seen people on this forum that dreamed of going to graduate school but, given their performance in undergrad, would most likely not make it through. They were grasping at straws, trying to scrape together whatever they could to build an acceptable application. Does your current application accurately reflect your potential? If so, artificially inflating it might not even benefit you in the long run (I've seen plenty of people get crushed by UCLA because they were admitted due to artificial application inflaters like transfer student status or community college credits from high school). Just be sure that you are capable of succeeding in your pursuit.

Summary:
-Make sure an extra year off will be worth while (high chance of improving your application enough to get into a substantially better school).
-Make sure that the quality of the schools you are hoping to get into after this extra year are really worth it. Don't go by US News alone, do some serious research.
-Don't waste the year off. I would advise finding an entry level job that you enjoy with possible career track should your plan not work out.
-Avoid ruts at all cost. Two years should be your absolute maximum. Don't let the PGRE eat away your life.
-Evaluate yourself. If your current application accurately reflects your potential, be wary of artificially inflating it.

Summary (Written in Poker Analogies):
-Don't bet if you aren't getting sufficient pot odds
-Analyze the situation carefully and be sure you aren't drawing dead
-This applies mainly to Omaha, but make sure your cards are capable of making multiple hands. A high straight with a flush draw will still be playable even if you don't make the flush.
-Be able to recognize you're on the tilt and stop playing immediately. Do not dig yourself into an even deeper hole trying to recoup your losses.
-Don't bluff yourself. Sometimes life deals you terrible hands. Know when to fold.


I don't think we disagree on anything here - we just have slightly differing perspectives.

A personal anecdote - taking a few years off before graduate school has turned out a pretty great decision for me. It has been an incredibly tough two years sometimes, but it has also been incredibly revealing in so many ways. I have seen post-docs come and go, watched plenty of them burn out. I have seen how much of paper-pushing and politics a life in academia necessitates. I no longer hold any illusions about life in academia, and have realized that the academic vocation is probably not for me. Even with all this, I am actually *less* jaded that my friends who went straight to graduate school after their undergrads. I enjoy research enough to want to spend the next five years in a graduate school, but I also understand that I need to also pick up skills that will make me employable right afterwards. Graduate school (assuming I get in somewhere) is going to be a pretty strange dance between academics and employability...

djh101
Posts: 97
Joined: Tue Jul 15, 2014 4:08 pm

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby djh101 » Wed Oct 29, 2014 4:11 am

I don't think we disagree on anything here - we just have slightly differing perspectives.


That was my intention. I'm not really taking a particular stance, just giving a different perspective so that an informed decision can be made. Although I suppose I am very afraid of ruts, having seen so many people fall into them (I can probably name more people I know personally in ruts right now than not in ruts).

PathIntegrals92
Posts: 190
Joined: Tue Oct 07, 2014 12:42 pm

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Wed Oct 29, 2014 10:02 am

Thank you all for taking the time to respond! I am responding to all your questions/comments, so I apologize in advance for the long response.

wompwomp wrote:What helped my time management this time around - for the last few practice tests, I timed myself very carefully. Had a timer set to go off every 1.5 mins. If I wasn't done at that point, I would just move on ( with only a few exceptions). It didn't work out as well during the actual test, but it worked out well enough.


WompWomp, I did something similar to you! With the two oldest exams, I set a timer to 17 minutes for 10 problems. My average for 10 problems ranged from 9/10 to 4/10 ( I graded it like they would, by subtracting 1/4 wrong from correct). I know 4/10 is bad, so I looked over these problems and their solutions from grephysics.net Anyways to make sure I truly under the concepts I made study guides, my own flash cards, and spent time working on textbook problems/online problem sets. I used Irodov's Problems in General Physics and Halliday and Resnick. I really enjoyed studying, haha and now I terribly miss the summer. Anyways, doing ALOT of problems helped me because I understood concepts deeper and found short cuts for physics gre problems on my own, without having to look at other people's study guides. My practice exam scores were in the upper 700s, so I was hoping I would get at least that :/. Yes, I worked on making it higher too. I also re-took an exam after doing really badly on it the first time and got a 990 second time ( but that doesn't count). Anyways, I am obsessed with this exam. Once I have my life figured out (and more money), I am going to work on it until I get a 990.

Seriously, what more can I do? I was confident during the real test and especially confident with the problems I attempted, but I screwed up :/. If the physicsgre indicates my potential to do physics, then I would never make it.

wompwomp wrote:When you (and I) have a mediocre GPA, a mediocre PGRE score on top adds to an image of overall mediocrity. You have to have an excellent publication record, an excellent SOP, as well as excellent recommendations to overcome that limitation.


I don't have publications, but I will have excellent rec letters. Both my research experiences were in HEP-th as well! One of my research advisor liked my SOP and said it was great, so hopefully it can only get better. It's general now since I dont have a list yet :/.

I agree with all of you that being in a rut is not a good situation, and taking another year off ( making it two years) just to improve my PGRE probably wouldn't be too helpful. I was doing well with job applications and interviews this year, but you know what answer I gave when they asked " Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years?" I said I see myself in graduate school because I love research. I had a completely different answer prepared ALL the time, but this one always came out. Anyways, I didn't end up getting the jobs despite being really close to getting them for a few of the companies. So now I work for a tutoring company. I am also auditing QFT at a local university. I did spend the summer, in addition to working on job applications, emailing profs and asking if they would take students to volunteer in their labs. I wanted experimental experience, but most of them had full labs and the others never responded. I should have tried getting additional theory experience, but I just wanted to become more well rounded.

dhj101, I loved your poker summary! Haha

djh101 wrote:And one more point that certainly needs to be considered is whether your goals are realistic (I'm not stating this is judgement based on the information given, just as a piece of advice that everyone should consider). I've met people and seen people on this forum that dreamed of going to graduate school but, given their performance in undergrad, would most likely not make it through. They were grasping at straws, trying to scrape together whatever they could to build an acceptable application. Does your current application accurately reflect your potential? If so, artificially inflating it might not even benefit you in the long run (I've seen plenty of people get crushed by UCLA because they were admitted due to artificial application inflaters like transfer student status or community college credits from high school). Just be sure that you are capable of succeeding in your pursuit.


Despite my mediocre GPA, both my research advisors and all of other professors believe that I can succeed in graduate school and beyond in whatever I choose to do. All of them tell me how self-motivated I am, that I challenged myself with courses, and told me that I was the student that took the most advanced courses. Unfortunately, I don't do well on time-pressured exams. I can do well and have done well on timed exam, but the amount of time given for these didnt make taking the exam stressful (if that makes sense).

My research advisors were happy with my performance when I worked with them. To be honest, in the beginning when I first started physics I never wanted to be a theoretical physicist. I even said to people "I never wanted to ...", but look where I am now. Soo desperate! Anyways my research experiences ( both in HEP-th) motivate and inspire me to go to graduate school, I did not actively seek out research experience because I wanted to go to graduate school. I will admit, in the beginning I doubted my ability to do physics and never even considered grad school. But, I have had the most amazing advisors and I have met some of the most amazing professors along the way, who have always encouraged me ( not just from my institution), challenged me, and pushed me beyond my comfort zone.

I don't care about top 10 or whatever. I want to find a place that I am happy at, that challenges me, and one I can contribute back to as well. I just hope I do, eventually.

Good luck to everyone applying this year and hope you all get in somewhere where you will be happy!

djh101
Posts: 97
Joined: Tue Jul 15, 2014 4:08 pm

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby djh101 » Wed Oct 29, 2014 3:26 pm

Despite my mediocre GPA, both my research advisors and all of other professors believe that I can succeed in graduate school and beyond in whatever I choose to do. All of them tell me how self-motivated I am, that I challenged myself with courses, and told me that I was the student that took the most advanced courses. Unfortunately, I don't do well on time-pressured exams. I can do well and have done well on timed exam, but the amount of time given for these didnt make taking the exam stressful (if that makes sense).


Strong letters will definitely help. As will a strong statement of intent, and tutoring I imagine will also add at least a little bit (so long as your GPA and GRE make it past the weeding threshold). I guess my final advice is to apply, hope for the best, and work on doing some padding until April. You could also talk to your counselor or contact some admissions departments to get some feedback on your application.

I don't care about top 10 or whatever. I want to find a place that I am happy at, that challenges me, and one I can contribute back to as well. I just hope I do, eventually.

Good luck to everyone applying this year and hope you all get in somewhere where you will be happy!


Thanks. Fortunately my field of study (quantum computing and/or atomic/molecular) isn't quite as competitive as HEP and a lot of lower ranked schools seem to have pretty decent programs. I'll be applying to USC, U. New Mexico, U. Oregon, and Colorado State (and was previously going to apply to Merced). I'm not sure if any of them are strong in your field, but maybe check them out.

PathIntegrals92
Posts: 190
Joined: Tue Oct 07, 2014 12:42 pm

Re: Re-Take Physics Gre? How to improve guessing?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Thu Oct 30, 2014 12:57 pm

PathIntegrals92 wrote:Thanks. Fortunately my field of study (quantum computing and/or atomic/molecular) isn't quite as competitive as HEP and a lot of lower ranked schools seem to have pretty decent programs. I'll be applying to USC, U. New Mexico, U. Oregon, and Colorado State (and was previously going to apply to Merced). I'm not sure if any of them are strong in your field, but maybe check them out.


USC is a great school! I heard a lot of good things about their quantum computing program and they have the Lockheed- Martin Quantum Computation Center! I'm not too familiar with the rest, but to me it looks like you have a great list!

I'm waiting for my advisors to reply regarding my grad list, and I also decided to re-take the general gre to raise my Q score. I don't know how much that will help. My list does not contain anything from top 10-20, but I think one from top 30? Of the schools you are applying to, USC has a strong and well known HEP-Th group (especially in string theory). I don't think I will apply though, it's very competitive and I don't really want to do string theory.

I started job applications (again) and I'm in the process of carving out another career path. This would be my back up option. I also concluded that I would rather invest in Masters in Engineering than a Masters in Physics.




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