physics gre subject test

Physics GRE Subject Test: What’s Tested?

The Physics GRE Subject Test consists of approximately 100 multiple-choice questions covering material typically taught in the first three years of undergraduate physics courses. In addition to your overall, which is calculated by scaling the total number of correct answers on a 200-990 scale, you’ll receive subscores in the following three categories: Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, and Quantum Mechanics and Atomic Physics. Questions coinciding with these subscores will be scattered throughout the test, not grouped together. 

You’ll be provided a table including some physical constants and SI conversion factors in your test booklet.

 

Content Tested on the Physics GRE Subject Test

The topic distribution and examples of subtopics tested on the Physics GRE Subject Test, according to ETS, are as follows: 

Classical Mechanics (20%)

  • Newton’s laws
  • Central forces and celestial mechanics
  • Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formalism
  • Oscillatory motion
  • Dynamics of systems of particles

Electromagnetism (18%)

  • Electrostatics
  • Lorentz force
  • Induction
  • AC circuits
  • Electromagnetic waves

Optics and Wave Phenomena (9%)

  • Interference
  • Diffraction
  • Geometrical optics
  • Doppler effect

Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics (10%)

  • Thermodynamics processes
  • Ideal gases
  • Thermal expansion and heat transfer
  • Kinetic theory

Quantum Mechanics (12%)

  • Solutions of the Schrödinger equation
  • Angular momentum
  • Wave function symmetry
  • Elementary perturbation theory

Atomic Physics (10%)

  • Bohr model
  • Properties of electrons
  • Atomic spectra
  • Black-body radiation

Special relativity (6%)

  • Time dilation
  • Length contraction
  • Energy and momentum
  • Four-vectors and and Lorentz transformation 

Laboratory Methods (6%)

  • Data and error analysis
  • Counting statistics
  • Lasers and optical interferometers
  • Dimensional analysis

Specialized Topics (9%)

  • Nuclear and particle physics
  • Astrophysics
  • Condensed matter
  • Computer applications

 

Content Tested on the Physics GRE Subject Test

The Physics GRE Subject Test was designed to test knowledge gained over a long period of time. That means that the information you learned in your undergraduate physics classes will help you significantly more than any knowledge you gain in last-minute cramming for the exam. Use materials from your classes, such as syllabi, assignments, and textbooks, to review for the exam. 

Once you’ve reviewed for the Physics GRE Subject Test, take a practice test, like the one offered by ETS. This will help you get a feel for the structure of the exam, gain experience with the types of questions you’ll see, and help calm your nerves before test day.  

Test-Taking Tips for the Physics GRE Subject Test

  • Answer every question.

    No points are subtracted for incorrect answers, so if you don’t know the answer to a question, guess!

  • Don’t get hung up on difficult questions.

    Each question on the Physics GRE Subject Test is weighted exactly the same, so it’s not worth it to spend too much time on one particular question. If you sense that a question will take you too much time (for example, more than two or three minutes), mark it and come back to it if you have extra time at the end of the test. Some people find it easiest to work through the test quickly at first, answering all of the easy questions and marking the difficult ones, and return to the more time-consuming questions on the second go-through. This will ensure that even if you do get hung up on a question or two, you won’t leave large chunks of questions at the end of the test unanswered. 

  • Read all the directions carefully.

    Completing a practice test or two ahead of time will make it so that you’re already comfortable with the directions going into the exam.

  • Use your test booklet and your answer sheet.

    Make notes and work out problems in your test booklet, but don’t forget to mark your answers on your answer sheet. Answers marked in your test booklet will not be counted.

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