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Putnam Competition

What is the Putnam Competition?

The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition is the preeminent mathematics competition for undergraduate college students in the United States and Canada. The Putnam Competition takes place annually on the first Saturday of December. The competition consists of two 3-hour sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. During each session, participants work individually on 6 challenging mathematical problems.

The Putnam began in 1938 as a competition between mathematics departments at colleges and universities. Now the competition has grown to be the leading university-level mathematics examination in the world. Although participants work independently on the problems, there is a team aspect to the competition as well. Each institution with at least three participants identifies three participants who comprise its team. Prizes are awarded to the participants with the highest scores and to the departments of mathematics of the five institutions whose teams obtain the highest rankings.

Results for the 2016 William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition can be found here: http://www.maa.org/programs/maa-awards/putnam-competition-individual-and-team-winners

Registration Deadlines & Competition Date

  • Deadline for registration materials is: October 15, 2017
  • The 2017 Putnam Competition will take place on: December 2, 2017

Inquiries about registration or rules may be addressed to Daniel Ullman, Director, Putnam Competition at putnam@maa.org.

Registering for the Putnam

Undergraduate students must participate through their college or university in which they are regularly enrolled. Those who already hold a bachelor’s degree are ineligible. No individual may participate in the competition more than four times. An eligible student who has not yet received a high school diploma should be informed of this limit before participating.

Any college or university in the United States or Canada that wishes to offer the competition to their students must name a regular faculty member to serve as the local supervisor of the competition. The local supervisor registers participating students from the institution at the Putnam Competition registration website, which will be available on this page later this year. If you are a faculty member at a college or university in the US or Canada, visit this site after September 1 to register your institution as a location for the administration of the competition and to register yourself as a local supervisor.

Any institution that registers at least three students will obtain a team ranking based on the scores of three designated team members (or alternate team members, should one or more of the designated team members not participate). The deadline for institutional registration this year is October 15, 2017.

Preparing for the Putnam

The Putnam Competition covers a range of material in undergraduate mathematics, including elementary concepts from group theory, set theory, graph theory, lattice theory, and number theory. Below are some books available for purchase that may help students prepare for this exam:

FAQs for the Putnam

  1. Q. Who may participate in the Putnam?

    A. The competition is open only to regularly enrolled undergraduates, in colleges and universities of the United States and Canada, who have not yet received a college degree. No individual may participate in the competition more than four times.

  2. Q. How are the problems graded?

    A. Each problem is graded on a basis of 0 to 10 points. All the necessary work to justify an answer and all the necessary steps of a proof must be shown clearly to obtain full credit. Some partial credit may be given, but only when a contestant has shown significant and substantial progress toward a solution.

  3. Q. What awards are given for the Putnam?

    A. There are two main awards given to Putnam Participants:

    • William Lowell Putnam Prizes: Prizes will be awarded to the departments of mathematics of the institutions with the top five winning teams. The five highest ranking individuals are designated Putnam Fellows by the Mathematical Association of America. Prizes will be awarded to each of these individuals and to each of the next twenty highest ranking contestants.
    • Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Prizes: This prize will be awarded to a woman who demonstrates exemplary performance on the Putnam Competition. This will be in addition to any other prizes she wins.
    Institutions throughout the United States and Canada are encouraged to offer fellowships to high ranking contestants in the competition. For more information on scholarships and prizes, visit: http://math.scu.edu/putnam/prizecJan.html
  4. Q. How are scores announced for the Putnam?

    A. The scores and rankings of individuals at a participating institution and the team ranking (top 150 only) will be mailed in one report to the supervisor of the examination at the institution. Contestants must obtain their ranking from the supervisor. The names and addresses of the top 500 contestants and the names of the top 10 teams will be mailed to all participating institutions. The lists of the top 10 teams and the top 100 individual contestants will also be published in the American Mathematical Monthly, together with the Putnam problems and solutions.

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