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.

The Putnam mathematical competition takes place on the first Saturday in December. The examination consists of a morning session 8-11AM (08:00-11:00) and an afternoon session 1-4PM (13:00-16:00) with a 2 hour break in between.  For Putnam 2022, the exam will take place on Saturday, December 3, 2022 from 8AM – 4 PM on campus (location TBD).

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 2022, the course is taught by Professor Sakar and meets MWF (time TBD).
  • An introductory preparation session, open to all students (whether or not enrolled in Math 100), will take place at the beginning of the Fall Quarter in 2022 (date and time TBD).
  • We will have a practice exam at the beginning of Fall Quarter in 2022 (date and time TBD).
  • On some years, an Advanced Problem Solving seminar (Math 101) is held in Fall Quarter for intensive weekly Putnam preparation, and the top scorers of the practice test are invited to participate. The next Math 101 seminar will be held in Fall 2023.
  • 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 mathematical competition takes place on the first Saturday in December. For Putnam 2022, the exam will take place on Saturday, December 3, 2022 from 8 AM – 4 PM on campus (location TBD). 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 have to register directly with the Putnam organizing committee prior to the exam.

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

Past results: In Putnam 2021, the UCLA team (Ciprian Bonciocat, Runze Yu, Jacob Zhang) was ranked #4 out of 427 institutions. 

A total of 2957 students from 427 institutions participated, including 47 students from UCLA. Three of them were in the top 100 nationwide (in alphabetical order): Ciprian Bonciocat, Runze Yu, and Jacob Zhang. Eleven other UCLA students were in the top 500 nationwide (in alphabetical order): Duc M Hoang, Issac Li, John J. Li, Alvin Liu, Curtis Liu, Sumith R. Nalabolu, Sachin Sahay, Zachary Tu, Eric Wu, Chujun Xu, 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 in the top 100 nationwide will be awarded to: Ciprian Bonciocat, Runze Yu, Jacob Zhang.

Other recent results:

  • 2021, Team Rank 4; Basil Gordon Prize: Jacob Zhang (66 points, ranked #30);
  • 2019, Team Rank 4; Basil Gordon Prize: Jacob Zhang (82 points, ranked #23);
  • 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).