The Putnam (with numbers!)


When I was in high school, I went to math camp. And, of the math camp people, only the super-hardcore kids considered taking the Putnam exam. Hopefully this gives you an idea of what kind of exam it is. It’s a twelve hour test (two sittings) for college students (although high schoolers can take it), of “self-contained questions involving elementary concepts from group theory, set theory, graph theory, lattice theory, number theory, and cardinal arithmetic” (( If you score in the top five in any year, you become a “Putnam Fellow“. MIT student Richard P. Feynman became a fellow in 1939 ((

I don’t think about the Putnam much (really!). But today I read this article in The Tech (the MIT newspaper), and felt a wee bit of nerd pride:

MIT Sweeps Putnam, Team Takes Third Place

Half of the 26 monetary prize winners and 26 of the top 78 highest scoring participants… were MIT students this year, Rogers said. “We dominated the competition in a way that we never have before,” Rogers said. A total of 129 MIT students took the test this year… Of the top 200 scorers, according to Rogers, 49 were from MIT and 28 from Harvard.

The median score for this year’s competitors was zero out of a possible 120 points… MIT’s median was around 20 points out of the possible 120.

Competition Results

If you’re curious what the problems look like, previous tests (and solutions) can be found here.

April 4, 2007. academics, MIT. 3 Comments.


  1. jenny replied:

    oh yeah??? well, i went to THE NATIONALS for DECA.
    oh god, i’m so not cool.
    i got a letter jacket my freshman year though.

    April 4th, 2007 at 2:10 pm. Permalink.

  2. ibar replied:

    Jenny- At least you didn’t get a number jacket.

    April 5th, 2007 at 12:39 am. Permalink.

  3. mrs. nerd replied:

    scooter took the putnam! i think they wrote things in roman numerals back in those days, but he got somewhere in the ballpark of XXVIII.

    April 5th, 2007 at 5:06 pm. Permalink.

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