Fullerton College William Lowell Putnam Exam

Photo of William Lowell Putnam
The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition is an annual mathematics competition for undergraduate college students enrolled college or university in the United States (regardless of the students' nationalities). It awards scholarships with cash prizes ranging from $250 to $2,500, plus the top ten individual scores get tuition waived at Harvard, and the top 100 individual scores have their names mentioned by rank to leading universities. It is considered by many to be the most prestigious university-level mathematics examination in the world. The competition was founded in 1927 by Elizabeth Lowell Putnam in memory of her husband William Lowell Putnam, who was an advocate of intercollegiate intellectual competition. The exam has been offered annually since 1938 and is administered by the Mathematical Association of America.

Contact Prof. Dana Clahane or Prof. Bill Cowieson if you think you might want to participate!

Next Exam

The Putnam Exam is always given on the first Saturday of December.


Aside from the chance to win thousands of dollars in scholarship money or other awards, taking this challenging, standardized test can be a valuable experience in preparation for exams that may be required later in your education. Taking this test now might help you later if you decide to take the GRE, the MSAT, the LSAT or other qualifying exams.

Test Format

The exam is very challenging -- it is unlikely that any of your math teachers could complete it in the time allotted (possibly never). But do not let this deter you from the attempt -- there are usually one or two problems that a good math student can figure out, and even a score of 1 out of a possible 120 is considered a good result. Questions are not from any standard syllabus, and many require familiarity with material beyond calculus, including linear algebra, differential equations, probability, combinatorics, set theory, and abstract algebra. In addition to a familiarity with course material, solutions usually require a "eureka" moment and some ingenuity. Each question is worth 10 points, and partial credit is possible. To earn full credit for a problem, you must not only get the correct answer, you must also show all your work and justify each step (i.e., give a complete proof).


Students are not permitted to use any scientific or graphics calculator.


No books, tables, notes, or other reference material will be permitted during the exam. Scratch paper will be supplied at the time of the exam.


Prizes will be awarded to the departments of mathematics of the institutions with the five winning teams. In recent years, the department with the first place team received $25,000. In addition, there will be prizes awarded to each of the members of these five teams. In recent years, the members of the first place team received $1,000 each. The five highest ranking individuals are designated Putnam Fellows by the Mathematical Association of America. In recent years, each of these Fellows received $2,500. Prizes are also awarded to the next 20 top individuals.

Eligibility for the Grand Prize

The competition is open only to regularly enrolled undergraduates, in colleges and universities of the United States and Canada, who have not yet received a college degree. No individual may participate in the competition more than four times. An eligible entrant who is also a high school student must be informed of this four time limit.

What to Expect

There are two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In each session, you will have three hours to complete 6 questions. In general, students are not expected to be able to completely answer all of the questions -- in fact, answering one is very good.


The best way to prepare for the exam is to study previous exams. You can obtain copies of previous exams and their solutions on Kiran Kedlaya's Putnam Archive.