I recently went trough the marginally pleasant experience of having to take both the general and the physics subject GRE tests in order to apply to graduate programs in the US.

I prepared exclusively using

  1. study material provided by ETS, i.e. practice books containing past exams (Ohio State University makes a total of 4 books available for download each containing 100 multiple choice questions and an answer sheet indicating the correct choice for each),
  2. online resources such as GREphysics.net and physgre for detailed answers, explanations, and helpful discussions.

While I wouldn't generally recommend this method as a great way for learning anything, least of all the often deep concepts encountered when tackling new physics, I believe it is likely the most effective way of preparing for the GREs.

However, and this leads to my question, the online resources I mentioned under 2 seem hopelessly antiquated. Just take a look at (and then flee again from) GREphysics.net to see what I mean.

There is no doubt that StackExchange could provide a vastly superior platform and forum for GRE preparation. Think about it: from MathJax support and commenting to the question-and-answer format and a large knowledgeable user base, it just seems like the perfect place for this.

Almost all of these test questions admit multiple ways to solve them. So whenever someone posts a GRE question he or she is struggling with (or one might one think about systematically adding all questions to this site), I would expect multiple answers in response. Popular vote can then identify the most concise/quick/accurate one. This rating of content, in my view, is one of the standout features of StackExchange and something none of the other GRE resources I encountered offered.

The only thing I'm unsure of is what the community thinks of this idea. Searching the site for posts mentioning GRE currently gives just 33 results and only a few of them contain actual exam questions. Is it just that there hasn't been a lot of interest from users or did the community decide for some reason to suppress any developments in this direction? In other words, what would happen if I went ahead and added a few GRE questions as a start?

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    $\begingroup$ If I understand correctly what a GRE question is (I have never taken it), all of those questions basically run afoul of our homework policy (Currently in a slow-moving revision process regarding its name and intent (see also here), so what would happen if you added them is that they would likely be closed. $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind Mod
    Nov 10, 2016 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ Whoever wrote those tests in the linked practice book should be prosecuted if only for questions 68 and 69 ;-) $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2016 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ In reference to what ACuriousMind said, I believe the questions would be off-topic here, but a couple of users are building a new site, Physics Problems Q&A that would definitely welcome these types of questions if effort was shown. Currently the site is still partly under construction (though we're getting close to done), but you are welcome to join/check it out. If you have any big questions, you can ping the moderators (myself and Mew) in the hbar or in this chat room. $\endgroup$
    – auden
    Nov 10, 2016 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind That's what I thought. It seems like such a loss to future test takers, though. To be quite honest, I don't see why adding test questions would be a problem for this site. Of course, not everyone will find them interesting but that is true for any question and the great thing is, you can pick among questions that sound interesting based on the title and tags. Adding a 'GRE' tag would allow anyone to quickly distinguish these types of questions and simply ignore them, if uninterested. $\endgroup$
    – Janosh
    Nov 11, 2016 at 8:34
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    $\begingroup$ @heather That sounds like a cool idea. May I ask what the original motivation was behind creating such a site? Was it solely due to such questions sometimes being considered off-topic on StackExchange? It seems like a lot hassle considering that one simply could have changed that policy. After all, this site is perfectly capable of supporting multiple subcommunities; not everyone has to care about everything posted here. $\endgroup$
    – Janosh
    Nov 11, 2016 at 8:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Casimir, homework-type questions are not allowed on Physics.SE and it is rather unlikely that they will ever be. We tried proposing the site on Area 51, but the proposal was closed. Mew volunteered to create the site, and so, it worked out that we were able to create it, just outside of the SE network. Thanks for your interest! $\endgroup$
    – auden
    Nov 11, 2016 at 22:07

1 Answer 1


In one of the many, many discussions of the homework policy I wrote:

As a general rule homework problems and/or worked exercises are used to reinforce something you’ve been taught. For example if you do a special relativity course you will be taught about time dilation and how to calculate it using the Lorentz transformations. Then you’ll be given endless homework problems requiring you to do basically routine calculations like finding the lifetime of atmospheric muons or whether a fast moving pole will fit in a barn.

Our view is that while the routine calculations are important this site isn’t the place for them. The problem is that (a) they are routine and (b) there are a near infinite variety of such questions, and they would swamp the site. So if you post a question that is of this type we’ll probably close it with the tag [homework-and-exercises]. That doesn’t mean we think it’s a bad question, just that this site isn’t the place for it.

I still believe this is a valid argument (though not everyone agrees) and it rules out the sort of questions you propose. However let me emphasise that doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad question, just that this site isn’t the place for it.

The obvious next question is should there be a site for precisely this sort of question, and as mentioned in the comments to your question an experiment to try this is currently underway. How well this is going to work remains unclear, but at the least the experiment will shed an interesting light on the homework policy here.


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