YU Students Compete in Putnam Mathematical Competition
Eight students from Yeshiva University competed in the 2023 William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition Saturday night.
The annual Putnam Competition, begun in 1938, is the leading undergraduate mathematics competition in the U.S. and Canada and is known for its difficulty of questions. The competition, which over 4,000 students participate in annually, takes place on the first Saturday of December each year. YU students have participated in the competition in the past.
The test consists of two three-hour sections with a break in between. Each section consists of twelve questions, with the first being the easiest and the last the hardest. The questions are scored out of ten, with the test having a maximum score of 120 points. “The questions range from pretty hard to brutally difficult,” YU Math Club Co-President Yonatan Beer (YC ‘25) told The Commentator.
The Putnam awards scholarships and cash prizes ranging from $250 to $2,500 to the top students, and $5,000 to $25,000 to the top schools. Additionally, one of the top five highest scorers is awarded a scholarship for up to $12,000. The top 100 individual scorers have their names mentioned in the mathematical journal, American Mathematical Monthly, and the names and addresses of the top 500 contestants are mailed to all participating institutions. According to Beer, the results are usually only released a month or two after the test date.
To prepare for the competition, the students participated in weekly two-hour study sessions on Zoom with Professor Miodrag Iovanov, who teaches mathematics at YU’s Katz School of Science and Health. Some also studied problems from past competitions.
“It’s important for everyone competing to remember that contest math is first and foremost about having fun and stretching your problem solving muscles,” Beer explained to The Commentator.
Since YU students were given a special religious exemption to only start competing Saturday night, they were required to be proctored all of Shabbat to make sure no cheating was taking place. Students were required to remain in Washington Heights with friends and family, and eat meals with Dean of Undergraduate Torah Studies (UTS) Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky and Associate Dean of UTS Rabbi Daniel Rapp.
“I’m glad the competition included that,” Naomi Rose (SCW ‘25), co-president of the YU Math Club told The Commentator. “It was basically a math Shabbaton, where the participants hung out all day.”
The students started the competition just around 6:00 p.m., shortly after Shabbos ended. The first section took three hours, and during the break, the contestants went to Lake Como Pizza and had an hour to decompress together before the next section began. Following the break was another three hour section.
Despite the long hours, both Beer and Rose expressed satisfaction at having been able to participate.
“It was a very hard competition but it was a great experience.” Rose shared. “I hope YU can get involved in other math competitions as well. I would definitely do this again next year”
“No matter how well you score in the competition, if you had fun, you did well,” said Beer.
Editor's Note: This article was updated Dec. 11 to reflect that this is not the first time students participated in the Putnam Competition, and that they have participated in previous years.
Photo Caption: Eight YU students competed in the prestigious Putnam Mathematical Competition Saturday night.
Photo Credit: Jeswin Thomas/ Unsplash