GRE® Subject Matter Test in Physics

Completing the GRE® Subject Matter Test in Physics helps the prospective graduate student showcase his or her knowledge and expertise in Physics and the application of its principles while solving Physics problems.

All GRE® Subject Matter Tests are accepted at most colleges and universities and offer standardized information about the applicant’s comprehension of undergraduate Physics topics. While a GRE® Subject Matter Test may not be required for admission, an exceptional score in a certain Subject can serve to elevate the student’s admissions summary status.

The GRE® Subject Matter Test in Physics contains 100 multiple choice questions, and each will offer 5 possible answers. Only one will be correct. The student must be familiar with and knowledgeable of accepted Mathematics methods and applications normally used in Physics.

These mathematical methods may include calculus (multivariate and single), coordinate systems (cylindrical, rectangular, and spherical), boundary value problems, Fourier series, functions of complex variables, matrices and determinants, partial differential equations, vector algebra, and vector differential operators.

Specialized topic questions may utilize these Mathematical methods within the context of the question, or may be queried specifically as a purely mathematical question. Some questions may utilize items, such as diagrams, descriptions of physical situations, experimental data, or graphs that will be printed in the test booklet.

The questions may be grouped into the listed content sets, but the student may encounter questions not specifically listed by the GRE® Subject Matter Test informational practice booklet’s list of topic.

  • The largest test section is Classical Mechanics (20% of the test). This section includes questions on central forces and celestial mechanics, elementary fluid dynamics topics, dynamics of particle systems (including 3-dimensional), formalism (Hamiltonian and Lagrangian), kinematics, motion (oscillatory, rotational, and fixed axis), Newton’s laws, and noninertial reference frames.
  • The next largest section (18%) is on Electromagnetism. Questions will be on AC circuits, currents and DC circuits, electrostatics and electromagnetic waves, induction, Lorentz force, magnetic fields in free space, magnetic and electric fields in matter, and Maxwell’s equations and applications.
  • Comprising 12% of the test is the section on Quantum Mechanics. Topics include angular momentum, elementary perturbation theory, harmonic oscillators, spin, wave function symmetry, solutions of the Schrodinger equation (based on hydrogenic atoms and square wells), as well as fundamental concepts of quantum mechanics.
  • Atomic Physics (10%), Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics (10%), and Optics and Wave Phenomena (9%) comprise 1/3 of the test. Questions will be based on atomic structure and spectra, atoms in electric or magnetic fields, black body radiation, Bohr models, energy quantization, electrons, x-rays; equations of state, ensembles, heat transfer, ideal gases, kinetic theory, thermodynamic laws, processes, calculations and statistical concepts; diffraction, interference, Doppler effect, geometric optics, polarization, superposition, and wave properties.
  • Laboratory Methods and Special Relativity will each involve 6% of the test. Subjects queried will include analysis of data, dimensions and error, electronics, instrumentation, interaction of charged particles with matter, interferometers (laser and optical) probability, radiation detection, and statistics; energy and momentum, four-vectors, introductory concepts, length contraction, Lorenz transformation, simultaneity, time dilation, and velocity addition.
  • Specialized Topics (9% of the test) may include questions relating to condensed matter (crystal structure, electron theory of metals, thermal properties, semi- and superconductors, and x-ray diffraction); nuclear and particle physics (fission and fusion, nuclear properties, fundamental properties of elementary particles and reactions); or miscellaneous topics (astrophysics, computer applications, and mathematical methods).

While the test is lengthy, no student is expected to be familiar with all subject matter or be able to answer all questions correctly. The student may obtain a maximum score on the GRE® Subject Matter Test in Physics without actually answering all the questions correctly.

The GRE® Subject Matter Test is offered worldwide in October, November, and April. Registration may be completed online at To begin the registration process, create a My GRE® Account and choose a date and a testing location, making certain that the chosen test date is sufficiently early so that your test scores will be received by the educational institution in time to be considered as part of your college application. Registration and payment may also be completed by mail by downloading and completing the registration form from the GRE® Bulletin online.

Regular registration for a GRE® Subject Matter Test (United States, U.S. Territories, and Puerto Rico) is $140 US per test; all other locations, $160 US (or equivalent British pounds, Japanese yen, Euro, or Canadian dollar). Payment may be made by credit or debit card, PayPal, E-Check, money orders, certified checks, and Western Union, or by mailing a check to ETS-GRE. , Late registration can be requested online (additional fee of $25) up to one week after the regular registration deadline. Standby or change (changing test center OR changing subject test) fee is $50 per situation. Scores may be requested by phone ($12) or you may request an additional score report ($23 per recipient).

All GRE® Subject Matter Test preparation study materials are free and are sent to the registrant after registration is complete. Service Candidate Profile Listing is also free for registrants, matching your profile with fellowship sponsors.

On test day, arrive at least 30 minutes before the test begins. Late arriving test takers may not be admitted nor will fees be refunded. Bring: your admissions ticket, 2 forms of acceptable identification, 3 or 4 sharpened number 2 pencils, and a good eraser. You will mark your answers on a machine scored answer sheet separate from the test booklet. You may not bring mechanical pens or pencils, any food or drink, tobacco, weapons, cell phones, smart phones, PDAs, or any electronic devices. Personal items other than your identification are not allowed, and no personal storage is offered. Scarves, hats, jackets, etc., may be searched. Seating is assigned. The test will take 2 hours and 50 minutes; allow for up to 3 1/2 hours total time at the testing site. If you require any health-related special accommodations, these must be requested in advance. The procedures for this request are available on the GRE® ETS website.

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by Enoch Morrison | Last Updated: January 9, 2019