How to ace the GRE physics test: Expert advice and strategies

By Edvoy• Last updated: Oct 31, 2023
How to ace the GRE physics test: Expert advice and strategies
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The GRE Physics Subject Test is a challenging examination that requires a strong grasp of undergraduate-level physics concepts and problem-solving skills. To ace this test and achieve a high score, it's crucial to develop a comprehensive study plan and employ effective strategies.

In this guide, we will provide expert advice and strategies to help you prepare for and excel in the GRE Physics test.

Understanding the physics GRE curriculum

The GRE physics subject test covers a broad range of topics in undergraduate-level physics. To effectively prepare for the exam, it's important to understand the curriculum and content areas that are included.

Here is a detailed breakdown of the major subject areas covered in the physics GRE curriculum:

1. Classical Mechanics

Classical mechanics is a fundamental topic in the GRE Physics test. It includes Newtonian mechanics, kinematics, dynamics, work and energy, rotational motion, oscillations, and systems of particles.

2. Electromagnetism

Electromagnetism is another significant portion of the exam. It covers electrostatics, electric fields and potentials, Gauss's law, conductors and dielectrics, magnetic fields and forces, electromagnetic induction, Maxwell's equations, and electromagnetic waves.

3. Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics is a core subject on the GRE Physics test. It includes wave-particle duality, Schrödinger's equation, wave functions and probabilities, quantum operators, energy eigenstates, angular momentum, and the hydrogen atom.

4. Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics

Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics encompass the study of heat, temperature, entropy, energy, and the statistical behaviour of particles. Key topics include laws of thermodynamics, heat engines, phase transitions, ideal gases, kinetic theory, and statistical ensembles.

5. Atomic Physics

Atomic physics covers the structure and properties of atoms, including atomic spectra, quantum numbers, electron configurations, and atomic transitions. Additionally, it may include topics such as atomic models, fine structure, hyperfine structure, and selection rules.

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6. Special Relativity

Special relativity focuses on the relativistic behaviour of objects moving at high speeds. It includes concepts such as time dilation, length contraction, relativistic energy and momentum, and the Lorentz transformation.

7. Nuclear and Particle Physics

Nuclear and particle physics focuses on the study of the structure, properties, and interactions of atomic nuclei and subatomic particles. Key topics include nuclear decay, nuclear reactions, nuclear models, fundamental forces, elementary particles, particle accelerators, and particle detectors.

8. Condensed Matter Physics

Condensed matter physics deals with the physical properties of solids and liquids. It includes topics such as crystal structures, lattice vibrations, electronic properties of solids, superconductivity, magnetism, semiconductors, and materials science.

9. Laboratory Methods

The laboratory methods topic covers experimental techniques and methods commonly used in physics research. It includes topics such as data analysis, error analysis, electronic circuits, measurement techniques, optics, spectroscopy, and particle detection.

Also Read: GRE data interpretation

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How to prepare for the GRE physics test

Preparing for the GRE physics subject test requires a systematic and dedicated approach. Here is a detailed guide on how to effectively prepare for the exam:

1. Understand the test format and content

Start by familiarising yourself with the test format and content. The GRE physics subject test covers a wide range of topics, including classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics/statistical mechanics, atomic physics, and special relativity. Obtain the official content outline provided by ETS to understand the specific areas you need to focus on.

2. Create a study plan

Develop a study plan that suits your schedule and allows for consistent and structured preparation. Divide your study time into manageable sessions, allocating more time to challenging topics or areas where you feel less confident. Set realistic goals for each study session and track your progress regularly.

3. Gather study materials

Acquire the necessary study materials, including textbooks, review guides, and practice tests. Refer to the recommended books mentioned in this guide to select appropriate resources. Additionally, consider utilising online resources, such as video lectures, online forums, and practice questions, to supplement your studies.

4. Review undergraduate course materials

The GRE physics test covers undergraduate-level physics concepts. Review your undergraduate textbooks, lecture notes, and assignments to refresh your understanding of key principles. Pay close attention to topics you may have covered less extensively or are less familiar with.

5. Study conceptual understanding

Develop a strong conceptual understanding of the tested topics. Rather than memorising equations and formulas, focus on comprehending the underlying principles and their applications. Use textbooks, online resources, and lectures to reinforce your understanding of fundamental concepts.

6. Practice problem-solving

Problem-solving is a crucial aspect of the GRE physics test. Dedicate ample time to practising problems of varying difficulty levels. Begin with simpler problems and gradually progress to more complex ones. Focus on understanding the problem-solving strategies and techniques required for each topic.

7. Take practice tests

Take full-length practice tests under simulated exam conditions. This will help you become familiar with the test structure, time constraints, and question formats. ETS offers official practice tests that closely resemble the actual exam. Analyse your performance in each practice test, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and adjust your study plan accordingly.

8. Review mistakes and seek clarification

After completing practice tests and practice problems, thoroughly review your mistakes. Understand the reasons behind the incorrect answers and seek clarification for any concepts or topics that you find challenging. Refer back to your study materials, consult professors or knowledgeable individuals, or join online physics communities to gain additional insights.

Preparing for the GRE physics subject test requires a strong foundation in physics concepts and extensive practice with problem-solving. While there isn't a specific official recommended book list, several resources have proven to be valuable for many test takers.

Here are some highly regarded books that can help you prepare for the GRE physics test:

1. Conquering the Physics GRE by Yoni Kahn and Adam Anderson

This comprehensive book is specifically designed for the GRE physics subject test. It covers all the major topics tested on the exam, provides detailed explanations, and offers numerous practice questions to reinforce your understanding.

2. GRE Physics Subject Test (For Test Takers) by Educational Testing Service (ETS)

This official guide from ETS, the organisation that administers the GRE, is an essential resource. It includes real past test questions, allowing you to familiarise yourself with the exam format and question types. It also provides valuable insights into the test structure and scoring.

3. Introduction to Electrodynamics by David J. Griffiths

This widely used textbook is highly recommended for studying electrodynamics, a fundamental topic in the GRE physics test. It offers clear explanations, numerous examples, and a wide range of problems to practise.

4. Classical Mechanics by John R. Taylor

This book provides a comprehensive introduction to classical mechanics, another critical topic in the GRE physics test. It covers Newtonian mechanics, Lagrangian dynamics, and Hamiltonian dynamics in great detail, and it includes numerous exercises to reinforce your understanding.

5. Quantum Mechanics: Concepts and Applications by Nouredine Zettili

Quantum mechanics is an important subject on the GRE physics test, and this textbook provides a comprehensive introduction. It covers the foundational principles of quantum mechanics and includes numerous examples and problems to enhance your understanding.

6. Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics by B. K. Agarwal

This book covers the principles of statistical mechanics and thermodynamics, which are crucial topics on the GRE physics test. It presents the concepts in a clear and concise manner and includes a variety of solved examples and practice problems.

7. Modern Physics by Kenneth S. Krane

Modern physics is another significant area covered in the GRE physics test. This book introduces the key concepts of relativity, quantum mechanics, atomic physics, and nuclear physics. It also includes practice problems and summaries to reinforce your learning.

8. Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences by Mary L. Boas

This book is an excellent resource for reviewing the mathematical methods used in physics. It covers topics such as vector calculus, complex analysis, differential equations, and linear algebra, which are essential for understanding and solving physics problems.


Preparing for the GRE physics test requires a combination of diligent studying, problem-solving practice, and strategic test-taking techniques. By following the expert advice and strategies outlined in this guide, you can maximise your chances of acing the exam. Remember to thoroughly review the GRE physics curriculum, utilise high-quality study materials, and take advantage of practice tests to gauge your progress.

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Frequently asked questions

How long does it take to prepare for the GRE physics test?

The duration of preparation can vary depending on individual circumstances. It is recommended to allow several months of consistent studying, typically ranging from 3 to 6 months, to thoroughly review the curriculum and adequately practise problem-solving.

How important is it to review undergraduate physics textbooks for the exam?

Reviewing undergraduate physics textbooks can be beneficial as they provide in-depth coverage of the topics tested. These textbooks can help you reinforce your understanding of core concepts and provide additional practice problems to solve.

What is the curriculum for the GRE physics test based on?

The curriculum for the GRE physics test is based on undergraduate-level physics topics. It covers a broad range of subjects, including classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics/statistical mechanics, atomic physics, special relativity, nuclear and particle physics, condensed matter physics, and laboratory methods.

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