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Math Contests at Illinois

The UI Math Contest Program is one of the most extensive and most visible in the country. Activities include weekly training sessions and practice contests; several local math contests with substantial prize purses; and the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, a math problems contest for undergraduates at colleges in the U.S. and Canada that has been called the "world's toughest math test".

To receive news and announcements about contest activities at Illinois, sign up for the UI Putnam Mailinglist, by sending an email to ajh@illinois.edu with your email address (i.e., NetID) at illinois.edu. Put "Putnam Mailinglist" in the subject line.

2013/2014 Activities and Events

News and Announcements

The William Lowell Putnam Competition

The William Lowell Putnam Competition is an annual student math competition sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America. 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. The University of Illinois team has not made it into the money ranks in recent history (the highest rank for the UIUC team was 8th in 1975), but in 2009 one of U of I contestants, Yi-Wei Chan, placed 25th in the individual competition, good for a $250 prize.

The UI Mock Putnam Exam

The UI Mock Putnam Exam is a local version of the Putnam Exam, held each year in early fall. It is similar in format and content to the Putnam competition, but the problems are somewhat easier. The Mock Putnam Exam serves as a practice test for the Putnam Exam, and a key tool in the selection of the U of I Putnam Team. Prizes of up to $300 are available to the top scorer(s).

The UI Freshman Math Contest

A new addition to the local math contest offerings, the UI Freshman Math Contest is held in early fall in conjunction with the UI Mock Putnam Exam. Somewhat easier than the Mock Putnam Exam and restricted to Freshmen, the UI Freshman Contest provides incoming students an opportunity to show their problem solving skills in direct competition against their peers.

The UI Undergraduate Math Contest

Formerly known as the "Orange and Blue Contest", the UI Undergraduate Math Contest is a long-running, locally organized problems contest, held in the latter part of the spring semester. Prizes of up to $300 await the top scorer(s).

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 ajh@illinois.edu with your email address (i.e., NetID) at illinois.edu. Put "Putnam Mailinglist" 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 illinois.edu address is required.

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Last modified: Fri 04 Apr 2014 11:33:46 AM CDT A.J. Hildebrand