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Putnam General Information


This is informally worded information for interested students and shall not be construed as "official". The precise rules and definitions set by the organizers of the competition take precedence. This page is supplied in good faith as a convenience for students contemplating to participate, but WITH NO LIABILITY for correctness.

What is the Putnam Competition?

It is a highly prestigious competition on undergraduate math, available to undergraduate students enrolled at US and Canadian universities and colleges. It consists of two written exams of 3 hours each, taken on the first Saturday in December, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. (Accomodations for religious reasons can be made, but are not trivial and must be initiated at registration time.) Registration deadline is typically mid-October, and if you're interested in registering, you must let us know a week ahead of this deadline.

Students can participate up to 4 times, as long as they are undergraduates.

How does it work in practice?

Students must be registered in advance by their institution, because an appropriate number of exam forms has to be sent to each university. Overregistration (registering students who end up not participating) is possible, but not meant to be used in a way that deforests the country for redundant forms. So we appreciate precise information on whether you will or will not participate, but if you are still wavering, we'd rather register you.

The exam questions are sent to all participating institutions in a sealed envelope that may be opened only 10 min before each exam. Each university proctors the exam locally and sends the completed exams to a central address. Precise times for the exam depend on the time zone such as to ensure that exams in different time zones are still sufficiently close to simultaneous. Students will be informed of their scores through mail to their University, approximately in March.

What's in it for participating students?

If you're really among the very few best individuals nationwide, significant money and possibly a grad student stipend. Such material benefits are however limited to a very small number of individuals. On the other hand, even a good score short of the very top, something like among the top 200 or top 500 nationwide, will be a strong adornment on your CV. We have repeatedly had students in these ranks.

Putnam participants learn a lot of good math skills on the way, in particular during the training session. The logical reasoning skills that you train with Putnam problems, and in Putnam training sessions, will come in handy in courses like 300, 341, 351 and those that build on them. You may also learn some "cute" math tricks and interesting material that fall on the wayside in the standardized courses. Your primary reason to participate should be that it is interesting and has honors.

What training is available?

For the moment, we have informal training sessions during the fall semester. You determine the extent of your participation and the time you invest. Participants are encouraged to use the training, but we will gladly register you, even if you cannot attend the training sessions. Adaptations can be made for support with individualized questions. Pending the due decisionmaking processes, a more formal framework for training may be offered in the future.


last updated: December 2013

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