Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Math Students Prep for the Brutal Putnam Exam

A group of 28 Hofstra students are registered to take the 76th Annual Putnam Exam, considered the most prestigious and challenging mathematics test in the United States and Canada. The test, run by the Mathematical Association of America, will be administered on Saturday, December 5.

Just how difficult is the Putnam? It’s not unusual for the average score to be zero or 1 for the six-hour, 12-problem test, taken by college undergraduates who are gifted in math and traditionally excel overall in their studies.

The top scorer at Hofstra last year was Thomas Dickson ‘15, who received three points out of 120. “We’re told to expect to get a zero,” he explained last spring. “My goal was to get at least one point and was happy to get three.” Dickson, a mathematics major and computer science minor at Hofstra, is now pursuing a PhD in applied mathematics at Lehigh University.

According to Hofstra Math Professor Raymond Greenwell, last year “4,320 students from 557 colleges and universities took part in the competition. About 34 percent got a score of 0 out of 120. Another 346, or about 8 percent, received a score of 1 point.”

The highest Putnam Exam scorer in Hofstra’s history is Michael Cole ’89, who scored 59 points in 1988 for a national ranking of 74.5 out of 2,096 participants. Dr. Cole is now an associate professor of mathematics at Hofstra.

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