Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is conducted by Educational Testing Service (ETS). It is standardized test developed for admission into graduate colleges and universities in United States and other English speaking countries. The assessment consists of a reasoning test and optional subject tests. Reasoning test is mandatory while subject tests may or may not be taken. Subject tests are offered in eight disciplines- Physics; Chemistry; Biology; Mathematics; Computer science; Biochemistry, cell and molecular biology; Psychology; and Literature in English. Colleges generally do not require candidates to take subject tests. Scores of subject tests only helps in validating academic records and qualification of candidates. The applicants in colleges are from different educational institutions having different curricula, standards, and quality of education. Subject tests serve as a medium to assess candidates on a national perspective. Candidates are also able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in particular subject areas through these tests. Physics exam like other subject tests is taken by candidates who had their undergraduate studies in related discipline or have applied in a course of related discipline.
Physics test is breakdown into nine content areas- Classical mechanics; Electromagnetism; Optics and wave phenomena; Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics; Quantum mechanics; Atomic physics; Special relativity; Laboratory methods; and Specialized topics. These areas include following content-
Classical mechanics: – Kinematics, dynamics of systems of particles, work and energy, fluid dynamics, oscillatory motion, three dimensional particle dynamics.
Electromagnetism: – Electrostatics, magnetic fields in free space, Maxwell’s equations and their applications, currents and DC circuits etc.
Optics and wave phenomena: – Waves, diffraction, polarization, interference, Doppler Effect, superposition, geometrical optics etc.
Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics: – Laws of thermodynamics, equations of state, Kinetic theory, thermal expansion, heat transfer etc.
Quantum mechanics: – Schrodinger equations, wave function symmetry, angular momentum, etc.
Atomic physics: – Bohr model, Atomic structure, black body radiations, atomic spectra, x-rays, behavior of atoms in magnetic and electric fields.
Special relativity: – theory of relativity, time dilation, velocity addition, length contraction, Lorentz transformation, etc.
Laboratory methods: – data and error analysis, radiation detection, interaction of charged particles with matter, electronics and instrumentation, lasers and optical interferometers, etc.
Specialized topics: – radioactivity, radioactive decay, nuclear reactions, fusion and fission, condensed matter, astrophysics, computer applications in physics etc.
There are 100 multiple choice questions in exam. Each multiple choice question has five answer choices. The proportion of above mentioned sections in exam is as follow: – Classical mechanics (20% of exam), Electromagnetism (18% of exam), Optics and wave phenomena (9% of exam), Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics (10% of exam), Quantum mechanics (12% of exam), Atomic physics (10% of exam), Special relativity (6% of exam), Laboratory methods (6% of exam), and Specialized topics (9% of exam). More details of content in each section can be found on official website of Educational Testing Service (ETS). The topics listed here or on official website of ETS is not an exhaustive list. The questions are designed taking into account first three years curricula of undergraduate physics courses. The questions are based on both, recall of basic concepts of subject as well as application of those concepts and principles. There can be some questions which will be numerical in nature and will require background knowledge of calculus, vector algebra, Fourier series, differential equations, functions of complex variables, boundary value problems, and partial differential equations. Some questions can be based on graphs, diagrams, or tables. Such questions appear in sets.
Physics test and other subject tests are offered in paper and pencil format. They are delivered three times in a year, in months of October, November, and April. Their fee is $140 in USA, US territories, and Puerto Rico, and is $160 in other exam locations. There are additional fees for standby testing, rescheduling, late registration, and change of exam center.
Candidates are awarded a total score for test. The total score is a scaled score in range from 200 to 990 with 10 points increments. A printed copy of scores is mailed to candidates. Test takers can also obtain their score by phone on payment of a fee of $12.