News flash about flashcards: We are always in the process of making (very) small improvements and corrections to our web app. This might entail adding a new card. But the latest version, which may be changing daily, is always available even as we tweak it. The smartphone app will not have these small changes and we have not decided when we will update that app. As always, see below on getting free access to these apps. Now back to our introduction:
Through the years we have developed flashcards to help students prepare for the physics advanced GRE. The intention is to provide as best we can the background material, including those formulas you need to recall quickly because you don’t have time to derive them. Our motivation was to address the omnipresent problem of students forgetting material, even forgetting basic formulas and descriptions. By now thousands of students have benefited from our effort, most of them outside of our own Case Western Reserve community.
Before we go further, the opinion can be found, perhaps particularly in various astronomy departments, that the physics GRE scores do not correlate well with the success of their students in grad school. There are folks who believe that, while the physics GRE measures some level of preparation, it perhaps does not do the same for ability. Whether or not there is a strong correlation between the physics GRE and graduate school performance, various schools continue to rely on it, in which case we want to offer our assistance. Our flashcards are an attempt to help prepare people for the physics GRE and give them the background information they need. And while we’re in the mode of “disclaiming,” and since we are getting ready to tell you how to work with our set of flashcards (for free!), we should say we have tried very hard to eliminate errors BUT there surely remain things that need to be improved. Let us know if and when you find any glitches — see below.
The advanced physics test has always been made up of 100 multiple-choice questions (with the usual labeling of “a” through “e” for the answers) on undergraduate physics material. Guessing is no longer penalized in that your final score is simply found from the number of correct answers without any correction made from wrong answers. Thus you will always benefit from guessing. It still will help your guess if you do it smartly – like ruling out obviously wrong answers.
We have well over 250 cards with questions on one side and answers on the other. We carefully studied six of the past physics GRE exams made available for general study by the Princeton Review, plus a GRE sampler (a total of 631 problems) and developed cards to provide the necessary background for all those test questions.
We confess that a (very) few cards are more detailed and complex than might be necessary. The desire to make more complete and more general statements from time to time has been impossible to ignore. In this way, the flashcards may be useful for more than just GRE study.
To repeat ourselves, the important point we want to make about these cards is that the test-taker must remember many definitions, formulas, and phenomena. If she does not remember, for example, what the Zeeman effect is, she can only guess at a problem involving that effect. As another example, she should not take time to derive the two-slit interference formula, d sin θ = n λ for the maxima. She should just know it by heart! Indeed, there are only 1.7 minutes per problem for the 2 hour and 50 minute exam.
The subject list and approximate percentage of problems devoted to each subject according to the GRE Educational Testing Service (as of January 2016):
Classical mechanics = 20%
Electromagnetism = 18%
Quantum mechanics = 12%
Atomic Physics = 10%
Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics = 10%
Optics and wave phenomena (most waves, very little ray/geometric optics) = 9%
Special relativity = 6%
Laboratory methods = 6%
Specialized topics (nuclear and particle physics, condensed matter physics, astrophysics, mathematical methods, computer applications) = 9%
Classical mechanics = 32 cards
Electromagnetism = 29 cards
Quantum mechanics and atomic physics = 38 cards
Thermal physics = 26 cards
Relativity = 12 cards
Oscillations = 14 cards
Wave optics = 14 cards
Ray optics = 27 cards
Laboratory and electronics = 19 cards
Condensed matter physics = 14 cards
Nuclear and particle physics = 25 cards
Mathematics and statistics = 20 cards
Cosmology = 10 cards
Fluid physics = 3 cards
plus two advice cards on useful tactics for taking the test
It is seen that topics with smaller probability of appearing in the exam still have a large number of cards (especially ray optics and the subjects listed after it). This is largely due to our attempt to help the students study material to which they in fact may not even have much exposure at this time in their coursework. The cards are labeled by subject, and numbered within each subject. (i.e. the 26 Thermal Physics flashcards are labeled 1-TH to 26-TH).
In addition we’d like to use this opportunity to tell students from outside CWRU about the wonderful world of physics here (a few extra cards illustrate some relevant CWRU facts).
The GRE flashcards were immensely helpful to me. After taking one practice test and looking over the flashcards, I could immediately tell what subjects I needed to study most. The flashcards are organized by subject, so it was easy to find the flashcards that would help me most. I studied the flashcards between practice exams, and I saw my raw score improve by 20 points in a very short amount of time! I was incredibly happy with my actual GRE physics score, and I know that the flashcards contributed immensely to my success. — GKK (Gareth Kafka BS 2010)
If you would like to use an electronic set of our flashcards, either a web app or an Android smartphone app, we want to make them available to you without cost by sending to you a free URL link. To get the link, please send your email address to the following CWRU email address:
If we know your email address, we can also follow up with updates and corrections (and, we confess, hope to see if students who apply to our graduate school have also looked at these cards).
CWRU students can use the same email address to get the URL link.
New (few) corrections are being made from time to time including adding or consolidating a card once in a while.
Best luck on the physics GRE if you’re taking it, and, really, best luck in everything. (And remember to let us know if you find any card that seems to have an error or some deficiency in it!)
An old file, GREflashcardcorrectionsJuly2015.pdf, has corrections/clarifications to older versions of the web app and the printed copies, including hard copy version 5.0. And it includes the “honor roll” for folks who have sent in corrections to us for the flashcards.
Doc Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CWRU Physics Department