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inside the Physics GRE

Via Aurelie's blog, I found a post I found very interesting that dissects the Physics GRE. The post and the comments cover several issues that I have written about extensively here, such as how one finds out the right way to prepare for a given test. A somewhat sad commentary on the Physics GRE (and other GREs, I imagine) is that in order to save time and money, all of the questions are multiple-choice, whereas on the AP Physics test, there are both multiple-choice and problem-solving sections. (The latter requires that the individual sitting the exam show work.) There is a common complaint that the Physics GRE does not test much that is considered useful for doing physics research. In fact, most of the test covers freshman physics, and requires formula regurgitation, so those sitting the exam must go back and review topics they have not used or seen in two or more years.

Another complaint (one that I've also had) is that points are deducted for wrong answers. Not "not credited" – you lose points you have earned (from your correct answers). The logic (ahem) behind this is that it discourages guessing. I've never liked this type of testing. I just don't think it's fair (but I'm biased). Thinking back to the first year of grad school, there was a CS181a (finite automata, grammars, etc.) midterm that was graded that way (granted, only 20% of it), but still. The professor (who later became part of my research committee) said the reason he designed that part of the test like that was because the CS GRE was designed that way, so he thought it was his responsibility to prepare his students for it. (CS181a was officially an undergraduate class, but it fulfilled graduate CS requirements.)


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