Southern students score well on Putnam test


Abby EpsteinNews Writer

Six hours, twelve questions, one day. The Putnam test is a voluntary math test that can take students up to six hours to complete.

The test is scored out of 120 points and the typical score is usually a zero.

“This year it was apparently an easy test and the median score was a two or three,” said mathematics professor Joseph Fields. “That’s not really an easy test, a 2 out of 120.”

Mathematics major David Diaz, a senior scored a 22 on the Putnam Test, the highest someone has scored at Southern.

“This was my third time taking it and first time I got a much lower score than I was expecting and the second time I got a higher score than I was expecting,” said Diaz. “It felt good and grad schools will get my name which is cool.” Students can take the Putnam Test up to four times throughout their college career – or 24 hours of their life.

“I’ve taken it twice. The first year my goal was to get the experience of taking it and this year my goal was to get a non-zero score, so I was ecstatic when I got seven,” said applied mathematics major Dani Rosenberg, a senior.

The test incorporates many different levels of math.

“There will be number theory, complex analysis, abstract algebra, topics that most people don’t study until their senior year,” said Fields.

One question on the test was factoring a trinomial “so something similar to Pythagorean theorem,” said Diaz.

Another question on the test dealt with dots in the shape of squares and the students had to see how many squares they could make out of the dots.

The answers to the Putnam exam are not about getting the correct answer but proving or explaining why that answer is correct.

“The answers on these are more like arguments. You are supposed to be proving something is true. Even if the answer was a number and you wrote down that number, it would be a zero because they want the explanation of why it’s that number,” said Fields.

The mathematics department does seminars where they work on problems that are from old Putnam test in order to help the students prepare. Fields said that it is nearly impossible to study for the test.

“The first time I did a lot of practice and preparation, I was at the Putnam seminar every single week and I was doing the problem seminars in between. This year I did less preparation because in general I was more prepared for it being a year further along in my mathematics,” said Rosenburg.

The students who decide to take the Putnam said they find it to not be as stressful as other tests they have to take.

“It’s easier than doing the SAT because there is less pressure, I think, because I’m not expecting to win so I’m hoping I just do well,” said Diaz.

The Putnam test has been around for decades.

“It has been around since the 1930s and started off as a rivalry thing between Princeton and Harvard and a few other Ivy League schools, but now it is everybody in America and Canada can participate,” said Fields.

The students said they enjoyed taking the Putnam exam because it is nothing like the tests or exams they usually take.

“The Putnam questions are uniquely cool because it’s not like this is a question like, ‘Oh, I remember learning this in calc 2, this is the formula, here’s the answer.’ It’s like ‘Here’s this pattern. Can you figure out what is going on?’” said Diaz. “It’s just very creative.”

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