Exam and Physics prep after a long break

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Joined: Sat Feb 25, 2006 10:02 am

Exam and Physics prep after a long break

Post by stephen » Mon Feb 27, 2006 4:02 am

Due to events beyond my control, (I'm in the military) since graduating in Dec '04 I haven't done a whole lot of physics work. However, once my current tour ends (around Feb '07), I plan on taking the Physics GRE and going to grad school.

I have begun studying fairly serously on my own, but I'm finding that after a year I have forgotten a lot of stuff. Can anyone recommend a good way to work myself up the the right level? I should have about 2hrs a day to devote to studies and I'll have most of my old physics books available.

In case it makes a difference, the books I have are: Griffith's Intro to Electrodynamics, Quantum Mechanics and Particle Physics, Marion & Thornton Classical Dynamics, and Kittel & Kroemer's Thermal Physics book.
Not an exaustive list, but these are the ones I have used the most.

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Post by he_man » Mon Feb 27, 2006 5:26 am


I took the GRE last november. I studied a couple hours a week during summer and about 2 hours a day during the fall (should have spent more time in summer). I improved quite a bit during my studies (from around the 30th percentile to around the 80th). I'm just speaking from my own experience here:

Those books are all good, but I would spend a lot of time going through your introductory physics books as well (Serway, or Halliday & Resnick). I went through all mechanics, thermo, and optics chapters of Serway, mostly just reading and writing down key formulae, not doing too many problems. Serway covers a lot of what you'll need to know. Most of the classical mechanics on the GRE is at this level. Also, both Serway and H&R go through much of the optics and thermo you will need to know. I would also go through an intro to modern physics book. I used that blue book by Taylor (and some other authors).

As for the other books, I hardly even looked at Thornton and Marion, except for the chapter on Lagrangians (but it probably wouldn't hurt if you have time). After Serway, I went through Griffiths E&M text and then Liboff (the Quantum text my school used), but Griffiths would have probably been just as good or better. Also, pay attention to the Chapter on relativity in Griffiths E&M book as there are usually 6 questions or so on special relativity. For Griffiths particle book, I would just go through the first 6 chapters or so. Most of the Particle stuff that will be on the test can be found in Ch. 1 & 2. Chapter 3 will give you some extra review on SR, ch. 4 will help with some mathematical physics and also with quantum angular momentum. Chapter 5 is useful because there is almost always a question on something like positronium or muonic hydrogen, and ch. 6 is useful for things like the definition of a cross-section. After that, I think Griffiths goes on to QED, which shouldn't be on the test.

There is also some mathematical physics, stat. mech., solid state, atomic & nuclear physics, etc. on the test. I didn't really study for these, but you should probably go through a book that covers at least stat mech (can't really recommend a good book here) and maybe math physics (maybe glance through Boas). The rest doesn't really constitute much of the test. Other than the review, it is also advisable to do as many GRE-like, multiple choice practice problems as you can. There should be 4 practice tests online with the link posted somewhere on these forums that are a real help.

Hope this helps and best of luck.

Wanna Be Physicist
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Post by Wanna Be Physicist » Thu Mar 30, 2006 9:36 pm

You and I are in the same boat.

Where are you stationed? I'm at Ft. Lewis right now. Are you going to use your Commander for a letter of reccomendation?

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