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Testing Considering the Putnam Exam

  1. Jul 26, 2012 #1
    Could anyone Putnam veterans or Putnam coaches tell me what the real per-requisites are to succeed in the Putnam exam? Because they say the Putnam exam only requires Calculus and I think that's completely garbage.

    What courses should one have in his arsenal if he wishes to be successful in the exam? Consider the person who has never really entered any Math competition before.

    Thank you very much
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 26, 2012 #2
    Its not the courses you should worry about. Instead, you need an amazing problem solving ability. Granted, if you havent studied Abstract Algebra yet, you probably will not be able to approach those types of problems but for the rest, Calc I-III, Linear Algebra and, maybe, Number Theory will put you in position to attempt about 80% of the content. Whether the attempt is successful is another question.

    So, best suggestion is to download old exams and play around with them. If you can solve them, then good. If you cannot, but easily understand the solutions, increase problem solving ability. If you cant even understand solutions, you are probably missing some courses.
  4. Jul 26, 2012 #3


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    It sounds right to me.

    Additional knowledge of all sorts can be very helpful -- after all, what's the point of taking classes if it doesn't make it easier to solve problems? But generally not required.

    Additional knowledge isn't restricted to advanced courses: I recall one A1 problem that was very simple if you learned (and remembered) about the Euler line from plane geometry.

    In my opinion, A1 and B1 problems usually have straightforward, elementary solutions. Note I did not say "easy" or "simple". If the median score is still 0 as it was when I took the exam, being able to solve either A1 or B1 counts as being successful.
  5. Jul 26, 2012 #4
    I haven't taken the putnam but I've played around with lots of the old exams. They really do for the most part require basic math skills - calculus, LA, diff eq - but in ways that require a lot of ingenuity.
  6. Jul 27, 2012 #5
    Hey, I will also be participating in the Putnam competition this December (as an incoming freshman). I found a site with questions and their solutions for EVERY Putnam competition: http://mks.mff.cuni.cz/kalva/putnam.html.

    From what I have heard and the from the problems I've tried this is an outrageously difficult exam. The "easy questions" seem nearly impossible (even considering that you get an average of 30 minutes to write up each solution). Furthermore, the median score for the Putnam is a 0 or a 1 out of a possible 120 (depending on the year).

    However, I found a training strategy that seems to help. That is, I read a problem and a solution of an exam question and then I write down how one might have conjured up the solution. I do one of these a day and it seems to be helping (at the very least, I understand more about how mathematics is done).

    Good luck!

    EDIT: The site I gave you only had all the problems up to 2003. Newer problems (1985-2012) and solutions can be found on the official Putnam website.
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