### How to Study for the Physics GRE

The physics GRE is a standardized physics test that covers the material of most of the undergraduate physics courses you take at MIT. It is a test designed to help graduate school admission committees and fellowship sponsors assess your understanding of the field. Thus, you will be required to submit physics GRE scores in most grad school and fellowship applications. Your raw score is the number of questions you answered correctly minus one-fourth of the number you answered incorrectly. Then, your raw score is converted to a scaled score ranging from 200 to 990. The conversion between the raw score and scaled score depends on the difficulty of the administered test.

## Content of the Physics GRE

The test consists of 100 five-choice questions, some of which are grouped in sets and based on such materials as diagrams, graphs, experimental data, and descriptions of physical situations. SI units are predominantly used. Below is the breakdown of the test by subtopic with a list of related material that could be on the exam:

 Topic Percentage of Questions
 CLASSICAL MECHANICS: kinematics, Newton's laws, work and energy, oscillatory motion, rotational motion about a fixed axis, dynamics of systems of particles, central forces and celestial mechanics, three-dimensional particle dynamics, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formalism, non-inertial reference frames, elementary topics in fluid dynamics 20%
 ELECTROMAGNETISM: electrostatics, currents and DC circuits, magnetic fields in free space, Lorentz force, induction, Maxwell's equations and their applications, electromagnetic waves, AC circuits, magnetic and electric fields in matter 18%
 OPTICS & WAVE PHENOMENA: wave properties, superposition, interference, diffraction, geometrical optics, polarization, Doppler effect 9%
 THERMODYNAMICS & STATISTICAL MECHANICS: laws of thermodynamics, thermodynamic processes, equations of state, ideal gases, kinetic theory, ensembles, statistical concepts, and calculation of thermodynamic quantities, thermal expansion, and heat transfer 10%
 QUANTUM MECHANICS: fundamental concepts, solutions of the Schrodinger equation (including square wells, harmonic oscillators, and hydrogenic atoms), spin, angular momentum, wave function symmetry, elementary perturbation theory 12%
 ATOMIC PHYSICS: properties of electrons, Bohr model, energy quantization, atomic structure, atomic spectra, selection rules, black-body radiation, x-rays, atomis in electric and magnetic fields 10%
 SPECIAL RELATIVITY: introductory concepts, time dilation, length contraction, simultaneity, energy and momentum, four-vectors and Lorentz transformation, velocity addition 6%
 LABORATORY METHODS: data and error analysis, electronics, instrumentation, radiation detection, counting statistics, interaction of charged particles with matter, lasers and optical interferometers, dimensional analysis, fundamental applications of probability and statistics 6%
 SPECIALIZED TOPICS: nuclear and particle physics (nuclear properties, radioactive decay, fission and fusion, reactions, fundamental properties of elementary particles), condensed matter (crystal structure, x-ray diffraction, thermal properties, electron theory of metals, semiconductors, superconductors), miscellaneous (astrophysics, mathematical methods, computer applications) 9%

Here are some tips given by graduate students in the physics department on how to prepare for the physics GRE:

• Start studying during the summer for the physics GRE in November.
• The physics GRE tests your ability to quickly solve problems. In order to go through the questions quickly, you will want to have concepts, formulas, and solutions to typical problems memorized.
• Know your units, dimensional analysis, and scaling: some problems, you can rule out two or three answer choices simply because the units or orders of magnitude do not make sense.
• The best study method is through doing practice problems. Go back and do old problem sets from physics classes you've taken.
• Study one topic at a time, starting with classical mechanics. By reviewing classical mechanics and E&M first, it will give you a good background for when you study quantum mechanics and advanced subjects.
• Only one book is currently published to help you study for the physics GRE: the book by Joseph Rea entitled "The Best Test Preparation for the GRE Physics". It has lots of practice problems, but it is not indicative of the material or difficulty of questions on the exam. The best book for studying is "GRE: Practicing to Take the Physics Test". It has three, real full length GRE physics exams. Unfortunately, it is out of print and incredibly difficult to find. The Science library has older copies of this book: one in the reference collection and two in the science library stacks, call number QC32.P73. Check Availability.
• If you have the time, take the exam twice. You will get a good feel of it the first time around, and you can then focus on your the areas which gave you problems before the second exam date.
• PhysicsGRE.com is a great independent site with lots of tips and advice on how to prepare for the exam.
• Ohio State University has a great physics GRE study site. Their site has all of the released tests. There is another site which has detailed solutions to all of the physics GRE questions.