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The GRE

 
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Sage

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PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2007 11:52 am    Post subject: The GRE Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The GRE (or graduate record exam) is a standardized test for people looking to get into grad school. There is a general one that tests reading, writing, and basic math and then there are several tests for specific fields like physics, biology, math, psychology, and so on. The website says that they are used by institutions in conjunction with other factors. I don't know about others, but for physics, it's practically the only thing they look at.

I'm planning on taking the physics test this coming fall. A retired professor here used to chair the committee that oversaw all of the physics GRE test matter. That means he saw all of the questions submitted, help decided which were good or bad, and was responsible for the final product. When he retired, they booted him off the committee though. In any case, he runs a GRE prep course here for physics majors since he knows that it can be quite difficult.

The physics one (I don't know about the others) is 100 questions long and I have 270 minutes to do them. So that comes down to less than three minutes per question. The professor told us in an organizational meeting for the course that the general feeling among the physics community is that physics is for the elite and only the best and brightest should be involved. People submit questions for the test with that in mind. He tried to get the test down to 80 questions, but that never happened. He did however manage to get the average up from 25% to 35% via different means.

The test covers everything from mechanics to electricity and magnetism to quantum mechanics and even specialized areas like particle physics and astrophysics. In addition to having to memorize several pages of formulas and reviewing a lot for the test, we will go over strategies for taking the exam and even have a practice exam the weekend before the real thing. It sucks that so much importance is placed on the exam, but there's nothing I can do about it and will just have to go with it.

Do I have to do this? No, I don't. However, the professor told us a story. One of the brightest seniors the physics department had at the time took the test without any preparations, figuring that even if he did poorly, his grades and accomplishments could carry him through. Well, he got in the 11th percentile and no one would even look at his application. He had to get a job and attend night classes to earn his masters from a small college. He eventually went on to get his doctorate and such, but doing poorly on the test set him back about four years. I want to keep my options open so doing poorly on the test is not a choice for me.


I don't think I am going to take the general GRE though as that probably isn't required for anything I want to go into. I haven't actually looked yet. But even if I did take it, I heard it is very simplistic compared to what I've done in classes, according to someone in my math class that took it. If he did well enough, then I'd do better. :P


So has anyone taken one/them? Anyone else planning to take one/some in the near future?
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Sage

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 14, 2007 12:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Excuse the double post. I opted out of the physics GRE, but I took the general one recently and I thought I would share my thoughts with everyone. Here is what I posted in Highland.

Quote:
The GRE is more like the SAT on crack. And it's not always a requirement to get into graduate school, just like the SAT isn't always required, but for most schools it is these days. The verbal part was brutal. There are basically four types of questions: choosing the closest antonym, analogy, filling in blanks in a short paragraph, and replying to questions about a passage. Especially in the antonym part, they chose words I've never heard or seen before. Ever. Nothing even close. So there were quite a few where I was stumped and just guessed. And even if I knew the word itself, chances were they picked options that I've never heard as well. I probably should have read the dictionary or "Webster's List of Obscure Words never seen since 1768" before I took the test. How in the world is that a test of ability? The other parts were ok, but like with all reading comprehension, they asked some really odd questions. I can't tell you the exact question I had, but I'll give an example.

Suppose you read a passage about computers in the 1960s. Afterwards, they ask you to infer something from the passage. Your five choices are JFK was killed by the US Government, the sky is blue, birds swim backwards, I am hungry, and 167. That's what about half of the questions were like. The rest had answers that were all close, but nothing really stood out to me as the correct one. I don't think you could have inferred any of their options from the short two paragraph reading. Jerks.

I kicked ass on the quantitative part. Here, the majority was "Which quantity is greater?" questions. Of course these usually involved a back story which needed algebra, trig, and/or geometry, but there were occasional statistics questions linked to these. Like, X+Y = 5, X-Y = 4, is x bigger, is y bigger, are they the same or is it impossible to solve? There was one question where I had to look at a couple of graphs and charts and answer questions, some of which were a little off in how they asked for an estimate. Still, when one has taken several years of calculus, algebra is second nature and these questions were far from tricky.

It is scored like the SAT though, 800 for each category. The first section consists of writing two essays though, so that's an extra bit of fun there. The first is a free form response to one of two ideas they give you (you get to choose) and mine sucked. I wasn't the least bit interested in either one, so I didn't want to write about it. The second essay is a critique of a short statement/argument someone made. I enjoyed that one because it was one of the dumbest arguments I've ever seen. I made the computer cry with how I ripped that one apart. Anyway, I scored above the national average among general people as well as the averages divided up by field (natural sciences, engineering, humanities, etc.). My verbal score was only 560 though so I'm not too proud of that. Still, I was so bored with the flipping verbal part that I lost focus and that's to be expected. I rocked the quantitative (math) part though with a 730. And this is without preparing at all. I'll have to wait 3-6 weeks for my essay-writing score. That's on a 0-6 scale in 1/2 point increments. Pretty boring experience overall.

It is kind of insulting that I had to start the test with instructions like "This is a mouse, this is how you click a mouse, when you move the mouse, the arrow moves..." and so on. I'm not joking.

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