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Math Contests at Illinois

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About the UI Math Contest Program

The UI Math Contest Program is one of the most extensive and most visible in the country. It has been considerably expanded in recent years with additional contest opportunities and an enhanced training program, and participation in our events is at record levels. Our students have produced outstanding results in national competitions, culminating in an Honorable Mention for the UI Putnam Team in 2015.

Activities offered include training sessions and practice contests in the fall; several local math contests with attractive prize purses; and opportunities to participate in prestigious national and international competitions, including the William Lowell Putnam Competition., the Virginia Tech Regional Math Contest, and the Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM).

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2016/2017 Activities and Events

The William Lowell Putnam Competition

The William Lowell Putnam Competition is an annual math contest for undergraduates sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America. It has been called the "world's toughest math test", and is widely considered as the most prestigious contest of its kind. More than 4000 students from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada participate in this contest each year. The Putnam competition is held simultaneously at participating universities, usually on the first Saturday of December.

The Putnam competition consists of a morning session and an afternoon session of three hours each. In each session, six problems are to be solved. The problems are graded on a 0 - 10 point scale, for a maximal score of 120 points. The problems are challenging and require considerable ingenuity and insight, but little technical knowledge beyond high school mathematics. It is extremely rare that a contestant solves all 12 problems. For example, in the 1996 Putnam competition, the highest score was 98 points, and a score of 10 (the equivalent of a single problem solved correctly) would have placed a contestant among the top third of all 2400 participants! The highest ranking participants from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in recent years have earned scores in the 40 - 60 point range and ranked in the top 100.

The Putnam competition is open to all regularly enrolled undergraduate students; for details on how to enter click on the link below. In addition to the individual competition, there is also a team competition among participating colleges. The team rank of a college is determined by the scores of three participants from that college who have to be named in advance. The team members will, of course, still be ranked as individual contestants. The 25 highest scoring individuals and the five highest scoring teams receive monetary awards. While the University of Illinois team has not made it into the money ranks in recent history (the closest we got were an 8th place in 1975 and a 9th place in 2015), during the past ten years two of our students (Yi-Wei Chan in 2009 and Haidong Gong in 2015) placed in the top 25 in the individual competition and earned $250.

Local contests

Results of these contests are available at the following link: History of local contests. For problems and solutions see the UI Math Contest Problem Archive.

The UI Putnam Newsletter

The UI Putnam Newsletter is an email newsletter containing announcements about the Putnam competition and other contest-related activities at the U of I. The mailing list for the newsletter is maintained by Professor Hildebrand; to be put on this mailing list, send an email to with your email address (i.e., NetID) at Put "Putnam Mailing List" in the subject line.

Note: This is a local newsletter, with announcements of local events and activities that would be of little interest to those not at the U of I. To keep the mailing list manageable, it is restricted to U of I students and faculty, and an address is required.

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Last modified: Wed 28 Sep 2016 03:37:20 PM CDT A.J. Hildebrand