putnam competition

The William Lowell Putnam Competition is an annual mathematics competition for regularly enrolled undergraduates in colleges or universities of the United States and Canada, who have not yet received a college degree. Prizes are awarded to individual participants and institutions.

The Putnam examination tests originality, technical competence and familiarity with the formal theories embodied in undergraduate mathematics. Questions cut across the bounds of various disciplines, and include self-contained questions that do not fit into any of the usual categories. These self-contained questions can involve elementary concepts from group theory, set theory, graph theory, lattice theory, number theory or cardinal arithmetic.

For Fall 2020, the competition has been delayed due to COVID; it is tentatively scheduled for February 20, 2021 (this is subject to change as the COVID situation evolves; see the official website.

The UCLA Mathematics Department coordinates the UCLA Putnam team and runs activities such as

  • A “Problem solving” course (Math 100) is offered each fall. This is an excellent preparation for the Putnam competition. In Fall 2020 the course is taught by Professor Sarkar and meets MWF 10:00-10:50.
  • An introductory preparation session, open to all students (whether or not enrolled in Math 100), will take place on October 2, 5:00-6:30pm (by Zoom). The Zoom ID for the Oct 2 meeting will be posted on the CCLE website for Math 101 under Zoom links 1 hour before the meeting.
  • We will have a practice exam on October 5, 4:00-6:50pm (take-home). This take-home exam will be emailed to only those students who register using the registration link provided here (and below in the registration section).
  • The top scorers on the practice test are invited to be part of the extended UCLA Putnam team, which receives intensive weekly preparation in the Advanced Problem Solving Seminar (Math 101, Mondays 4:00-6:50pm).  
  • Year round consulting for students who want to learn more about the Putnam competition, for example study old exam questions. Professor Sucharit Sarkar, sucharit@math.ucla.edu, is available to help.
  • Free pizza for lunch on the day of the competition.

Participation: All enrolled UCLA undergraduate students which do not have a college degree may participate in the Putnam exam. There is a four time limit for any participant. The top three scorers from UCLA form the UCLA team, and their total score is the UCLA team score. In addition, they and all the other participants compete for individual scores.

Prizes: The top performing UCLA student will receive the Basil Gordon Prize, valued at $1,000.  All the UCLA students placing in the top 100 nationwide will receive a Putnam Performance Prize where the amount will depend on the nationwide rank.

Reasons to participate: Students taking part in and preparing for the competition learn a lot about general mathematical skills such as solving problems and proving statements. Graduate schools and other employers can be impressed by high Putnam scores.

Preparation: Check here for more resources and information about how to prepare for the exam.

Time and Location: The Putnam usually takes place on the first Saturday in December, but due to COVID, the exam has been postponed, and has been tentatively scheduled on 2021-02-20 (this is subject to change as the COVID situation evolves). There are two sessions, a morning session from 8 am to 11 am and an afternoon session from 1 pm to 4 pm. There are 6 problems in the morning session and 6 problems in the afternoon session. Each contestant works independently with no collaboration. Results of the competition become known around March of the following year.

Registration: Participants should register prior to the competition: this year the registration deadline is Sunday, October 4, 2020. However, most years there are spots available for late registration because some registered students drop out. If you want to register, click here. 

Contact: For general enquiries contact Professor Sarkar at sucharit[at]math.ucla.edu.

Past results:  In the 2019 Putnam Mathematical Competition, the UCLA team (Ciprian Bonciocat, Jacob Zhang, Kaiqi Zhu) was ranked #4 out of 570 institutions. 

A total of 4,229 students from 570 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada participated in the competition.  Among them were 36 UCLA students. Five of them were in the top 100 overall and received Prizes or Honorable Mentions:  Jacob Zhang (rank #23, score 82), Kaiqi Zhu (rank #34.5, score 72), Ciprian Bonciocat (rank #56.5, score 61), Runze Yu (rank #90.5, score 51), and Baiqing Zhu (rank #101, score 50). Fourteen other UCLA students were ranked in the top 500 nationwide (in alphabetical order):  Bryan Hu, Arihant Jain, Chenfei Li, Isaac Li, Justin Li, Yuhan Liu, Tang Mohan, Alexandru Pascadi, Tachin Ruangkriengsin, Glenn Sun, Yan Tao, Ken Willyard, Alexander Wong, and Hongyu Zhu.

The Basil Gordon Prize, for the top scorer among UCLA students, will be awarded to Jacob Zhang. The Putnam Performance Prizes for UCLA student(s) who placed g in the top 100 nationwide will be awarded to: Jacob Zhang, Kaiqi Zhu, Ciprian Bonciocat, Runze Yu, and Baiqing Zhu.

Other recent results:

  • 2018, Team Rank: 3; Basil Gordon Prize: Xiaoyu Huang (83 points, ranked #18);
  • 2017, Team Rank: 5; Basil Gordon Prize: Emre Girgin (61 points, ranked #34);
  • 2016, Team Rank: 7; Basil Gordon Prize: Xiaoyu Huang (87 points, ranked #13);
  • 2015: Team rank: 6; Basil Gordon Prize: Dillon Zhi (49 points, ranked #68);
  • 2014: Team rank: 10; Basil Gordon Prize: Tudor Padurariu (63 points, ranked #30);
  • 2013: Team rank: 12; Basil Gordon Prize: Peihao Sun (40 points, ranked #136)
  • 2012: Team rank:  3; Basil Gordon Prize: Tudor Padurariu (66 points, ranked #11);
  • 2011: Team rank: 12; Basil Gordon Prize: Tudor Padurariu (43 points, ranked #40);
  • 2010: Team rank: 32; Basil Gordon Prize: Francisc Bozgan (56 points, ranked #128);
  • 2009: Team rank: 58; Basil Gordon Prize: Junchao Zhang (37.2 points).