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GRE Search Services

 

Timing is always important.

Timing is always important.

I must say this is a very poorly organized service.

I signed up for the GRE Search Services expressing in interest in physics graduate school when I took the general GRE the summer before my senior year. I did not really think much of it at the time. I went on with finishing my applications on time making sure I had everything complete ahead of time.

Now that my applications are all in am I starting to receive e-mails and brochures from graduate schools encouraging me to apply. I expected to receive this material during late summer or early fall while there was still plenty of time to fill out applications.

Now it all just seems to be too late.

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The GRE, a very relaxing subject.

The GRE, a very relaxing subject.

Two intensive steps of the application process are the GRE tests. While some parts of the application are cumulative over your academic career (GPA and experience) other aspects like test scores and personal statements can be changed the fastest if needed.

I took the general GRE over the summer prior to my senior year. I studied for about a month by working through a single GRE study book followed by memorizing vocabulary. I was not worried about the math section i just knew that I needed to work on the verbal part. In the end I found the vocabularly really did help and I ended up with 88th and 89th percentile in the verbal and math sections. The essay portion I did not practice and got a 37th percentile. I also did not like the prompts.

For the Physics GRE I should have worried more about it then I did. I decided to take it the fall of my Senior year, decided as in I did not think about it until I only had the fall option. If I thought about it ahead of time I would have taken it in the Spring of my senior year. This way I would have had more time to study and the chance to retake in the fall if needed. But I didn’t so here is what I did.

I did not have an idea of where to start so I started with my old notes. I gathered up the notesheets I had made over the past three years for my classes as well as the notes. I skimmed over the class notes writing down any derivation that looked important or diagram that seemed relevant. With a set of new notes and old notes I pulled them together into a set of master notes.

I then took my first practice test. (I got the tests from here)

My first practice test I received a 580, not what I wanted. I went over the answers I got wrong, added what I needed to my notes and started over. The second practice was a 600, with more wrongs coming from math instead of physics, I needed to slow down.

Repeating the process of going over problems and adding to my notes I jumped up to 680 on the third test and 700 on the last (and newest) practice test. Not great scores but at least they were passable.

Then the actual Physics GRE came around. I had the luck in that the test center was at my school and in a familiar physics lecture hall. This of course did not mean I was not nervous. I took the test and it is definitely going down as the most carefree experience of my life.

After the requisite eight weeks required to process a simple scantron test I received the results. A 690, placing me in the 54th percentile. At least I know now that the most recent practice exams are fairly accurate, or maybe just for me.

I did all my studying for the physics GRE over two weeks during the middle of the fall quarter. I should have given it at least a full month and more attention then I did. I am just glad that I am done with standardized tests.

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The Physics GRE

 

More Keukonhof Flowers

More Keukonhof Flowers

After a strenuous week and a half of study I took the Physics GRE this morning. It was a great use of a Saturday morning. The actual exam did not differ from the practice test in difficulty or content. 

Now there is a six week wait while this 100 question scantron test is graded. I suppose it is being graded by hand. I realize that they need to compile all of the tests together in order to compute the right percentile and to compare it to past exams but I feel that there might be a modern piece of equipment that could speed up this endeavor.

In the end six weeks is a good length of time to separate myself from the test and the results. While it was satisfactory to know my results immedietely afterwards for the general GRE a nice gap does help soften the potential disappointment.

Six weeks or in all likelihood January sometime I will find out about my Physics GRE. Until then all my graduate school dedicated time will be spent on the personal statement. Even more fun.

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I enjoy photographing flowers, more so then studying for the GRE.

I enjoy photographing flowers, more so then studying for the GRE.

I took my last and final practice test for the Physics GRE. I have read online that people tend to step up their game for the actual exam and I believe this. By the time I reached questions eighty on the practice test I was finished with it. I did not really try for the last twenty questions (as in no math was done) and ended the test with forty minutes to spare.

For this practice exam, GR8677, I received a 760. For a week an half of study I improved my practice test score from 590 to 760, 180 points. My goal was to get 800 and I feel that I can now do this. In the end I have two pages of notes for every topic to look over and memorize (mostly relativity gamma factors and atomic orbitals) before my actual exam tomorrow.

Just one more day until this part of the graduate application is complete. This weekend I will start working in depth on my personal statement and continue e-mailing professor at programs that interest me.

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Not quite a running fence.

Not quite a running fence.

I did more studying for the Physics GRE this weekend. I created a study sheet based off of the physics I missed on the first practice test, I then studied that before the first practice test I took on Saturday.

Like the first practice test (GR0177) this one (GR9677) also destroyed me, my score only went up by 10 to 600. Not quite my goal.

So I went over what I did wrong like the first test and this time I completely rewrote my notes into a clear organized format. After a day of looking it over between doing other things (like laundry and personal statements) I took a third practice test, GR9277.

This one went loads better. I think I am starting to get the hang of when to omit a question instead of guessing, how to read the questions and not screwing up on the basic math. For the third test I got 720.

I have just one more practice test between me and the actual exam this Saturday. I want to get at least another 720 for consistency or my ideal score of 800.

If only this school stuff did not keep getting in the way.

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Construction at UCSB, there is always some on campus.

Construction at UCSB, there is always some on campus.

I started studying for the Physics GRE today. My test is on November 8th, I know I should have started sooner. It sort of snuck up on me.

I don’t know how most people would start studying. Maybe looking over notes for the past years or reviewing a lower division general physics textbook. Or internet resources. I decided to go full immersion and start with a practice exam.

It destroyed me.

In the end my score came to be 590 or about 34th percentile. My goal is about 800 for the schools I want to get in to. During the test I marked problems that I felt I needed to review, sadly no correlation appeared between the problems I marked and the ones I answered correctly.

Now I need to decide on a path of study before my next practice test (probably Saturday). I can either look over the test for the right answers, look at solutions for my wrong answers online or compile a list of topics to study from notes.

I will start with solutions then move on to notes. Let us see if my score improves after my next practice exam.

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Eilean Donan Castle of Scotland.

Eilean Donan Castle of Scotland.

This morning I took the General GRE for the first and hopefully last time. To study for it I just used the Princeton Review Cracking the GRE book, the version without any CDs or DVDs included. The book really helped me get familiar with the types of questions being asked and how they are asked. Probably the most helpful section was the GRE Vocab, since without it I would have missed several more questions. To be fair I did not do any of the practice essays or any full length practice exams.

After a nervous morning I made it to the testing center well before my scheduled time. I waited in the car for a bit because I did not know if they were open (I did not want to check myself) and eventually I went in early. The center was very friendly and not as strict or stressful as I imagined (this being the Santa Rosa testing center). The essay portion went well as it was on a computer instead of being hand written so it was much easier for me to write and spell correctly. After that I had a verbal section, a math and another verbal. Overall the test took me from entering the building to leaving, three hours. I expected it to be more like four to five (assuming arriving early time). And I like that part where I got my test results, except the essay, right after I finished.

For the verbal section I got a 620 and for the quantitative I got an 770. These are out of 800, the essay part is out of 6 (I think) and the Physics GRE, which I will take in November, is out of 1000. I am glad the physics GRE is out of a 1000 since I saw some PhD programs list their average physics GRE as 800. I thought it was out of 800 so I was a bit dismayed on initially hearing that. With my scores, so far, I meet the minimums for all of the universities I want to go to.

I will keep posting about my graduate application process, including the personal statements, as I finish them.

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