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William Lowell Putnam Examination

For up to date information about the Putnam exam at UMass, read
For ancinet history, read on.
About 2500 mathematics majors from colleges in
the United States and Canada spend six hours on the first Saturday in
December wrestling with 12 hard problems in the
William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition
(http://math.scu.edu/putnam/).
A measure of
their difficulty is that the best score in the examination is usually
about 100/120. Half the students score less than 10 (meaning half get
less than one problem right).

Each year since I came to UMass Boston in 1972 I coach (if that's the
right word) undergraduates who choose to inflict this frustration on
themselves. They know that just *taking* the Putnam exam puts them in
the top 2500 math majors in the country, even if they get no problems
right. I always find at least one volunteer and have occasionally
found four. Once our three person team managed a significant national
ranking because one student got four problems right.

During the Fall semester we meet weekly to go over
old exams, learn general problem
solving techiques and some specific Putnam problem tips and
explore interesting mathematics we encounter along the
way. Sometimes we read in
George Polya's
Induction and Analogy in Mathematics.

On the day of the exam we convene at UMass along with my old friend
Paul Mason, who became my friend in 1972 when as a Freshman he was the
first UMass student
to take the Putnam exam. (When he took it for the fourth time
several years later he ranked 28^{th} in the country!) No one
from UMass has done nearly as well since, but the students always come
away with a sense of time well spent.