The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition and the Polya Problem-Solving Seminars 2007


The photo on the right was taken during the 2007 Putnam by Michael Helms --- it appears with his permission. Here is a photo of much of the group before the 2006 afternoon session, thanks to Alex Flury.

The Putnam is a challenging opportunity for you to test your mathematical mettle. In the 2006 competition, 3640 individuals participated, representing 402 colleges and universities across Canada and the U.S. The Stanford team placed sixth, and many individuals did very well. (I have a text file of results that I can forward to anyone interested.) The measure I look to is the number of competitors on the list of top performers sent out with the results; in 2006, we had 41, making us one of the top three.

The competition emphasizes ingenuity rather than knowledge, so freshmen are not at much of a disadvantage compared to seniors. Interest in or experience with problem solving is a plus. Not just math majors have done well; many recent winners have come from nearby disciplines, including physics, computer science, and engineering.

Completely solving even one of the twelve problems is a significant achievement, and in almost all years would place you well above the median. (Keep in mind that the particpants are self-selected from among the best in the continent.)

George Polya was perhaps the most famous person to think about understanding mathematical problem-solving. He was a professor at Stanford. You can read about him here. (At some point I'll look up how to give him the correct Hungarian accent in html!)

Want more? Additional suggestions for others? Please let me know!

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