Coursework prior to the Math GRE

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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Posts: 27
Joined: Sun Sep 05, 2010 11:11 am

Coursework prior to the Math GRE

Post by mdornbos » Sun Oct 10, 2010 1:24 pm

I was just wondering what kind of upper level math classes everyone have had before taking the Subject Test.
And what kind of people take this test. Is it mostly advanced undergraduates or do some people with masters degrees take this? I just want to ease my mind that maybe I didn't do so hot yesterday is because of my lack of exposure to some topics. I had to beg my school to offer independent study so I could learn real analysis under a professors guidance before grad school.

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Joined: Sat Oct 09, 2010 6:34 pm

Re: Coursework prior to the Math GRE

Post by MattW » Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:13 pm

Hi mdornbos,

I feel that this test is not a very good indicator of success at the graduate level because it tests breadth of knowledge rather than depth. The format of the test is evidence of this (66 multiple choice questions, 2.5 minutes per question). I found that on the test that there were at least a few questions which I could not answer because I do not have a sufficient background in the subject area. I think that I'm lucky that I have as many upper level courses as I do, considering the size of my school.

I'm an undergrad and my upper-level courses are listed below (in no particular order):

Vector Calculus
Complex Variables
Modern Algebra (2 semesters)
Graph Theory
Metric Spaces
Modern Geometries

Currently Taking:
Number Theory
Advanced Linear Algebra

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Joined: Sun Sep 05, 2010 11:11 am

Re: Coursework prior to the Math GRE

Post by mdornbos » Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:21 pm

Thanks for the response. My coursework is as follows: Differential Equations, Integral Equations, Numerical Analysis, Modern Geometry, Probability & Statistics I and II. I'm currently in Abstract Algebra and next semester I'm taking Partial Differential Equations and Real Analysis.

I have some good exposure to applied math which is what I want to study in Grad school. But I will be a little behind as I lack some pre-reqs. and I don't think i have had the best coursework for preparation for this test.

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Joined: Sat Oct 09, 2010 6:34 pm

Re: Coursework prior to the Math GRE

Post by MattW » Sun Oct 10, 2010 3:20 pm

Yes, you do have a good background in applied math. Good decision about getting them to offer you real analysis. Even though you're going into applied math, I think that they'll still like you to have real analysis.

From my understanding, the math subject GRE is typically of less importance for applied math than for pure math. I wouldn't worry about your subject GRE too much unless its obscenely low, particularly if the rest of your application is strong.


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Re: Coursework prior to the Math GRE

Post by Chapel » Mon Oct 11, 2010 12:35 am

I took the test and I have a masters, but I am the minority as most people tend not to get an MA or MS before going for their PhD. That being said although my masters certainly helped me mature mathematically (I too went to an undergrad where real analysis was run as an independent study) very little of it directly applied to the GRE. Studying I had to spend most of my time recalling how to do some of the trickier multivariate calculus stuff. Once you get out of the habit of doing integrals by hand it can get pretty hairy and waste a lot of your time if you don't instantly recall how to do certain problems.

Any mathematician worth his salt will know a fair bit of real analysis, even if you are a logician or a set theorist. (I know a logician who complained quite often about the analysis text book the university uses because he disliked the symbols used.) So, it is a very good thing that you have a course in it under your belt.

Now, for the brutal honest part. As I was completing my BS which was in Math/Physics (which are lumped into one degree at my undergrad because they MOSTLY do engineering) I also took the Math GRE and did awful (don't recall the score but it was below a 400). Bad enough, in fact, that I opted not to apply to PhD programs like I was planning and instead got into a more local masters program and went part time while working. If you do as poor as I did, take it as a speed bump and not a road block. Take the general test, do well on the Quant section and apply to schools anyway, but be prepared to take some prerequisite undergrad classes or detour to a MS/MA. Some schools will take time off a PhD if you already have a MS/MA so you may not lose as much time as you think. The positive part of this is it will give you an opportunity to make some more contacts in the math world (more contacts means more letters of rec) and it will also give you an opportunity to do some serious supervised research (lacking in a lot of undergrads) and so you will be much more competitive/prepared than you currently are for doctoral work.

As some one who has been there, I wish you the best of luck and encourage you not to give up just because of a poor result on the Math GRE.

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Joined: Mon Oct 11, 2010 2:55 am

Re: Coursework prior to the Math GRE

Post by Jack » Mon Oct 11, 2010 3:00 am

I graduated last May with a BS in Math and a minor in Philosophy. I've taken:

Calculus I/II/III
Ordinary Differential Equations
Discrete Mathematics (this was basically an intro. to proofs course which involved some elementary topics in number theory)
Linear Algebra I and II
Abstract Algebra I and II
Real Analysis I and II
Graph Theory and Combinatorics I and II
Euclidean Geometry
Axiomatic Geometry
Probability and Statistics
Historical Theorems in Mathematics (this was my capstone; my final project was on Cantor and infinite sets)
Symbolic Logic and Set Theory (this was a philosophy class, technically)
Introductory Mathematical Logic (this was an independent study through the philosophy department)
I also wrote a paper in one of my philosophy classes that required studying introductory Category Theory on my own.

I've scored around the 30th percentile twice in a row, and likely did again on the Oct. 9th test. It was probably a bad idea to retake it, but I was really confident I could do better this time around after actually taking a course on group theory (my school teaches ring theory first) and studying multivariable calc like crazy. I don't feel the test represents my ability to do graduate work at all and I'm pretty disappointed in my scores.

That being said, I'm sure there are a lot of people who have taken fewer courses than me and have done way better on the math gre; I just seem to suck at that test for some reason. You seem to have sufficient background considering 75% of the test is calc, differential equations, and abstract/linear algebra.

I'm interested in studying logic, which I could do in either a math or a philosophy department. Considering my math gre scores, I probably won't get into the math programs I'm applying to, but hopefully I can still get into one of the philosophy programs. I do have some strong recommendations and plenty of teaching experience, so maybe that will save me. As Chapel said, it's a speed bump not a road block, and if everything else falls through there is always the MA/MS route. You can't let something as silly as standardized test scores get in the way of your dreams, and if you're determined enough then everything will work out. Best of luck.

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