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MIT Team Garners Seventh Place In Annual Putnam Math Contest

By May K. Tse
Associate News Editor

MIT placed seventh in the 57th annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition held in December, according to results released over the weekend.

"Although the MITteam of three students didn't do as well as last year's third place, the individuals as a whole did better than they have in 10 or 12 years,"said Professor of Mathematics Hartley Rogers Jr., the team adviser. Rogers also runs Mathematical Problem Solving (18S34), a math seminar which helps students practice for the competition.

The test was taken by 2,407 students from 408 colleges and universities across North America and Canada. Each student who took the test was ranked for individual prizes. Teams are ranked based on the scores of three students colleges designate before the test begins, although more than three people from each school may participate.

Duke University captured top honors, followed by Princeton University, Harvard University, Washington University, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of Chicago.

Harvard had the most top individuals with six students in the highest 25. Five MIT students were in this group, and Duke had three of the spots.

"However, Duke's top three individuals were also their three team members,"Rogers said.

A total of 71 students from MIT took the test. Federico Ardila '98 placed seventh, winning a $500 prize, and Adam W. Meyerson '97 placed 15th, earning a $250 prize.

Pramod N. Achar '97, Amit Khetan '99, and Constantin Chiscanu '00 also placed in the top 25, and Aleksey Zinger '97 made honorable mention.

Median score was two out of 120

The exam took place in two three-hour, six-question sessions. Each question was worth 10 points, for a maximum of 120 points,Rogers said. "This year, if you scored 55 or more, you were in the top 25 students."

The median score was two out of 120, which shows how tough the exam was, Rogers said. "Those who got two points got a little partial credit but not a whole question right."

"This test lasts for six hours - a grueling exam. It tests problem solving ability and how well you write your proofs. Very little partial credit is awarded,"said Eric H. Kuo '99, who represented MITin the team portion, along with Ardila and Meyerson. "Deciding which problems to work on and writing up solutions were the hard part. None of the questions are simple."

"With these types of problems, the hardest part is to get started. Once you make one intuitive leap, the solution often comes out, but this might be after a long time of staring at the problem and getting nowhere," Khetan said.

"The questions are very challenging in that you're not just tested on your knowledge of math but on how to be creative with that knowledge. The questions usually don't require much knowledge, they require ingenuity with limited tools,"Ardila said.

Team experienced in test taking

A number of the students who participated in the exam took Rogers' seminar and looked at practice tests. Many have also participated in other math competitions. "Ihave competed in math contests since Iwas in 7th grade. The Putnam adds to that long list,"Kuo said.

"The Putnam is a lot like the U.S.A.Math Olympiad test that Itook in high school. They are both proof-based, extremely challenging exams,"Khetan said.

"It's hard to prepare for it since you don't really know what's going to be on the test. Ithink one of the most important things is not to stress too much about it, just go there and do the best you can,"Ardila said.