It is a good idea to seek multiple opinions about the Physics GRE so you can intelligently formulate your own plan to prepare for the exam. There are a number of other Web pages that offer various opinions, thoughts, and suggestions pertaining to the Physics GRE. If you read them, then you will probably notice the common theme, which is to work through practice problems. Another common theme is to spend some of your time working in study groups. Some people benefit more from study groups than others. Personally, I prefer to do the majority of my studying alone but I should mention that the time I spent studying for the Physics GRE with peers was very beneficial and enjoyable.
Perhaps the best way to begin preparing for the Physics GRE is to review the basic fundamentals of physics. You will probably want to dust off your lower division course work for this task. Another suggestion that I highly recommended is to work through some Advanced High School Multiple Choice Physics Problems. They will clean out the cobwebs, oil up the gears and slap you in the face if you need a wake up call. These problems are excellent for working on your problem solving speed, accuracy, and endurance and will also help you in the necessary task of memorizing physics equations.
Although there is overlap, the material tested on the Physics GRE is quite a bit more extensive than advance high school physics. Therefore, without too much delay, you will want to throw yourself into the "deep end"and train with actual Physics GRE style problems. I believe the best way to do this is by taking one of the ETS Physics GRE Sample Tests. I would suggest you follow our advice on Taking Sample Tests.
After taking and scoring your first sample test, you will probably realize two things. The first realization is that you will discover that there is material on the Physics GRE that you have not been exposed to yet. This is pretty common so I have written some opinions about this topic in the discussion - Unfamiliar Subject Matter. Secondly, your percentile score on the sample test will likely inform you that the competition on the Physics GRE is made up of some pretty bright students who have also worked hard to try and achieve their goal of getting into a graduate physics program. Hopefully, your experience on the first practice test will become motivation to intensify preparation efforts.
Basically my preparation advice can be summarized as follows: quickly review the fundamental principles and equations of physics, work through sample problems, review the problems, study related material, take a sample test, review the sample test, study related material, and repeat the process as much as possible. The discussion below expands upon this process.
Working through practice physics problems offers many benefits. It develops your understanding of physics and improves your problem solving speed. It also helps you to identify areas where you need further study. I am sure that the benefit of working through problems is very familiar to you. However, working through multiple choice physics problems isn''t emphasized that much in university coursework. Therefore, I offer some suggestions about Working Practice Problems from a multiple choice perspective.
In preparing for the Physics GRE, I feel that a sizeable percentage of the practice problems that you work through should be multiple choice physics problems, primarily because the Physics GRE is multiple choice. In the discussion -Testing Answers and Exploiting Answers, I explore ways to use the answer choices to your advantage. Checking the validity of answers is a major part of physics and it can also be extremely helpful on the Physics GRE, especially since every problem involves 5 answer choices.
I feel the best study material are ETS Physics GRE Sample Tests. These three previously administered exams serve to focus your studying by giving you an idea of how ETS will test you on the content of the Physics GRE test. This is why I recommend that you take one exam early in your preparation efforts. For this same reason, I also recommend that you take another one before the midway point of your efforts. The sample tests also help you work on your speed and timing for the exam which is why I suggest you save the last sample exam for a few weeks before the exam. Your preparation will be nearly complete so you will be able to work on your time management skills while at the same time have a few weeks to thoroughly review the problems and related material.
The days before the exam are an important period. You may want to take a glance at some of the many books (by Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc.) that help students prepare for the General GRE. They have many good things to say about the days before a big exam such as minimizing stress, eating well, getting sleep, not cramming, etc. Regardless of what you decide to do on exam day, I think you should try to emulate that routine with your sample tests. For example if, on the day of the exam, you plan to make a healthy meal the night before, then get nine hours sleep and then go for a run and then eat a good breakfast and then take the test at 10:00am, then I feel you should emulate these things on the day of your sample test as well.
Lastly, all of the advice above is focused on the Physics GRE. However, as side benefit that is perhaps more important, your intense preparation for the Physics GRE is going to help solidify your understanding of the fundamentals of physics.
You are welcome to participate in the Physics GRE Forums to comment on the preparation advice above or to offer some of your own preparation advice to other students.
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