William Lowell Putnam Undergraduate Mathematics Competition

This page is for Rutgers University Undergraduates who are interested in learning more about the Putnam Exam.


General information about the Putnam Exam

The William Lowell Putnam Undergraduate Mathematics Competition is an annual prestigious mathematics contest that is open to all full-time undergraduates in the U.S. and Canada. It offers prizes for individuals and teams. The competition consists of a challenging 6 hour examination that is usually held the first Saturday of December. (Note: if you can't make this time because of religious observance, it may be possible to arrange an alternative time.) The questions are chosen to test ingenuity and insight rather than knowledge of advanced material.

Undergraduates from Rutgers University have participated in the exam for many years. Here are results of Rutgers students past exams .

Additional information including past exams can be found here. If you look at old exams, keep in mind that the exam is intended to be very difficult. Only about 1/2 of the students taking the exam get a positive score (out of 120) in the exam!

There is no cost for participating, and no penalty for participating and doing poorly.

Registration for the exam

If you want to take the exam, you need to register between September 1 and October 1. Send email to swastik.kopparty@gmail.com with subject line ``Putnam registration'' and include the following information:

  • Your name
  • Student number
  • Expected graduation year
  • Are you a full time undergraduate?
  • Do you already have a college degree?
  • How many times have you taken the Putnam exam before?
  • Do you require an alternative time because of religious observance?

Students interested in learning some of the problem solving techniques needed for the exam may wish to enroll in (or attend without credit) the Seminar in Mathematical Problem Solving this fall. If you have any questions, contact Professor Michael Beals.

Next exam

Date: Saturday, December 7, 2019

Time: 10 AM to 6 PM (with two hour lunch break 1 PM to 3 PM)

Place: Hill 705

If you register for the exam by October 1, you are guaranteed to be able to take it. (Even if you do not register by October 1, you may still be able to take the exam if some registered students do not show up.)

On the day of the exam, please arrive at Hill 705 by 9:50. You should come armed only with pencils and an eraser. You should not bring books, calculators, etc. with you.

The exam consists of two parts (morning and afternoon) with 6 problems in each part. Each problem is worth 10 points for a total of 120 points. The exam is very difficult; typically a score of 20 points (2 problems fully correct) is already good enough to be in the top 20% of exam takers. A score of 40 points will probably put you in the top 5%.

Grading is very strict. There is very little partial credit given. If your solution is not well written you may earn only 1 or 2 points.

Some tips:

  • Concentrate on getting a few problems fully correct, rather than doing a little on many problems.
  • The first problem of each session is usually much easier than the others, but this does not mean that you should expect to solve it in a few minutes. It may still take considerable time to solve and write the solution.
  • Leave some time at the end to carefully proofread and correct whatever solutions you have done.