Looking back on my Physics GRE experience

Although many a student who takes subject GRE tests are, in fact, taking them today, in hopes of getting admitted to the graduate program of their choice, and prepared for weeks, if not months, for that one test that will, right or wrong, decide their future in their chosen field, if their field requires a subject GRE to be taken, that is, if one is an aspiring biochemist, chemist, biologist, physicist, literature scholar, mathematician or psychologist. For just about any field with a subject test, the subject test score holds more weight than the general GRE scores.

But, since I took it in April, at a test center located about 3 hours away from home, I was to drive my mother’s car, especially the closer to the test center I got, since I was the one who knew the directions to the test center. My mother and my sister both wondered why I was taking this test and what constitutes success or failure on this test. Last practice test I took, I scored somewhere between the 85th and 90th percentile; if the general GRE was any indication, back then, I would expect to do about as well on the real test vs. the last full-length practice one.

Security was a little less stringent than airport security but, since I do not have the dexterity to use a mechanical pencil for cheating, I found it a little suspicious that I couldn’t have a mechanical pencil on hand. And… man I felt alone during the test. The room I was placed in was a room that was normally used to train dental assistants, hence all the mentions to dentistry on the walls. There were two more test-takers, both of which were there for the psychology test. One was an undergraduate at Queen’s and the other was an undergraduate at McGill. We were placed on different rows, and even columns, for test security. The very room that was used for the LSAT a few months earlier, and the proctors said that there were 20 LSAT takers last time.

In fact, it was normal for the test center to look this empty, especially since it was the “low season” of GRE testing. Man, the test felt like I spent three hours in dental school; it was exhausting but well worth it. I skipped about 10-15 questions and wasn’t confident about ~8-10 more so I could reasonably expect my score to fall within the range of what I got on the practice tests. Because it was a scantron-based test I expected the scores to be released within one or two weeks (I had to take in account that the mail could take a couple of days to receive all the scantrons from all around the world) and, after two weeks have passed, I started checking MyGRE 3-4 times a day until the happy news came at midnight on May 5th.

9-1-0. 910. This is what I got.

Now I could double-check whether my list was realistic. Fantastic! Especially given the nerve-wracking general relativity final, I felt that my hopes for the Center for Particle Cosmology at UPenn were still alive.


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