Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

Students planning to enter graduate school in Physics or related fields after receiving a baccalaureate degree may be expected to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), administed by ETS. The computer-based General Test is administered in a secure environment on a continuous basis while the Physics Subject Test is (normally) offered up to three times a year in September, October and April. A practice book for the Physics Subject test is available at ETS website (link to .pdf). Several other sample tests are made available here (OSU-Physics Department). According to ETS data between 2018-2021, Physics Majors are among the top performers in each category (Verbal Reasoning-VR, Quantitative Reasoning-QR and Analytical Writing-QW) of the GRE General Test, with mean scores of 156 in VR, 161 in QR, and 3.9 in AW. 

Content of the Physics Subject GRE Test

According to ETS Physics GRE Practice Book, the distribution of questions by content category are as follows:
I. Classical Mechanics (20%) (such as kinematics, Newton’s laws, work and energy, oscillatory motion, rotational motion about a fixed axis, dynamics of systems of particles, central forces and celestial mechanics, three-dimensional particle dynamics, Lagrangian and
Hamiltonian formalism, non-inertial reference frames, elementary topics in fluid dynamics)

II. Electromagnetism (18%) (such as electrostatics, currents and DC circuits, magnetic fields in free space, Lorentz force, induction, Maxwell’s
equations and their applications, electromagnetic waves, AC circuits, magnetic and electric fields in matter)

III. Optics and Wave Phenomena (9%) (such as wave properties, superposition, interference, diffraction, geometrical optics, polarization, Doppler effect)

IV. Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics (10%) (such as the laws of thermodynamics, thermodynamic processes, equations of state, ideal gases, kinetic theory, ensembles, statistical concepts and calculation of thermodynamic quantities, thermal expansion and heat transfer)

V. Quantum Mechanics (12%) (such as fundamental concepts, solutions of the Schrödinger equation [including square wells, harmonic oscillators
and hydrogenic atoms], spin, angular momentum, wave function symmetry, elementary perturbation theory)

VI. Atomic Physics (10%) (such as properties of electrons, Bohr model, energy quantization, atomic structure, atomic spectra, selection rules,
black-body radiation, x-rays, atoms in electric and magnetic fields)

VII. Special Relativity (6%) (such as introductory concepts, time dilation, length contraction, simultaneity, energy and momentum, four-vectors and Lorentz transformation, velocity addition)

VIII. Laboratory Methods (6%) (such as data and error analysis, electronics, instrumentation, radiation detection, counting statistics, interaction
of charged particles with matter, lasers and optical interferometers, dimensional analysis, fundamental applications of probability and statistics)

IX. Specialized Topics (9%) Nuclear and Particle physics (such as nuclear properties, radioactive decay, fission and fusion, reactions, fundamental
properties of elementary particles), Condensed Matter (such as crystal structure, x-ray diffraction, thermal properties, electron theory of metals,
semiconductors, superconductors), Miscellaneous (such as astrophysics, mathematical methods, computer applications)