How to prepare for PGRE if I haven't taken E&M or Quantum yet?

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How to prepare for PGRE if I haven't taken E&M or Quantum yet?

Post by dsilvas » Mon Nov 25, 2019 8:40 pm

My school's typical curicculum has us take E&M and Quantum in our last year of undergrad. I took an intro class to e&m but I got a C and don't remember much anything useful. One of my classes taught a bit of quantum at the end of the semester but we only needed to know it for the final exam and I was exempted from the Final due to having an A in the class, so I never really learned much Quantum either (but it would have only been about a week of intro material anyways).

I've had to work with a lot of math that apparently is related to e&m and quantum in my class on advanced math methods.

I have no idea how to prepare for these sections of the PGRE. What's the best material to prepare for them far in advance? I'm in my 3rd year now planning to spend the next few months preparing for my first test in the spring then a 2nd one next fall.

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Re: How to prepare for PGRE if I haven't taken E&M or Quantum yet?

Post by Nishikata » Mon Nov 25, 2019 9:16 pm

If your test is in Spring, it is probably best to self-study EM and QM as normal. You still have 4 months which should suffice if you study seriously with a consistent plan. This means to read Griffiths' Introduction to EM and QM book along with its solutions manual because without a teacher, being stuck in a difficult problem won't get you anywhere. All books are available online as PDF, you only need to google it.

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Re: How to prepare for PGRE if I haven't taken E&M or Quantum yet?

Post by ztruwk » Tue Nov 26, 2019 9:47 pm

There is a lot of information in Griffiths textbooks on these subjects which will be utterly superfluous in terms of just studying for the GRE! While yes, it will be helpful to work through exercises with the solution manual, 9/10 problems in textbooks will be WAY more complex than anything you will have to solve on the GRE, and I would argue, actually won't prepare you that well.

I would start by reading these topics intensely in Kahn & Anderson and getting down those basic principles really well. That will by far be the best bang for your buck in terms of time spent. If anything feels glossed over, read further in Griffiths. Focus on the problems in Kahn and Anderson, and get a good understanding of the principles involved in solving them (sometimes you literally just need an equation! When you do enough practice tests, you will come to expect certain types of questions). When you take practice tests, mark down all the ones that are quantum or E&M and go back and practice those again later. (On that note, my first step in the practice tests was always to go through every question and mark down what category they are, then go through and answer by category. This helps because your brain only needs to be in one mode at once, and, then you already have them sorted to look back on. When you grade the tests, you can also see how you're doing by subject.)

In conclusion, what I took away from the process of studying for the GRE is that it's not about knowing the subjects, it's about knowing the GRE. Study the GRE. My score ended up improving 300 points by just doing an absurd amount of practice tests, and studying the tests themselves. The questions on the GRE will be a different type of questions than those in Griffiths, so study the ones that matter! You got this :D

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Re: How to prepare for PGRE if I haven't taken E&M or Quantum yet?

Post by geekusprimus » Wed Nov 27, 2019 12:41 am

I'll second ztruwk on this one. There are a handful of topics you'll need to know from upper-level E&M and quantum, but 90% of the E&M and quantum questions should have been covered in your lower-level coursework. Kahn and Anderson give a pretty solid review, maybe even a little overkill in places. Go work through homework questions from your old textbooks (if you kept them, anyway), the practice questions in Kahn and Anderson, and the old GREs.

Also, learn test-taking strategies. There are an absurd number of questions on the physics GRE that you can answer just by being good at limiting cases, knowing general physics principles (gravitational/electric potentials fall off like 1/r, quantum harmonic oscillators have evenly spaced energy levels, etc.), and using dimensional analysis. If you can't get the answer to a question within a couple minutes, mark your best guess, put a star next to the question, and come back to it later. It's more important that you answer all the easy questions correctly and get to the end of the exam than it is to waste all your time on a problem you don't understand. Unless you're some sort of crazy kid who has taken advanced courses in particle physics, condensed matter, astronomy, and optics, it's pretty much guaranteed that there's at least one question you won't know and you'll have to answer using these kinds of tricks.

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