MA 444H, Problem Solving Strategies for competitions,

Dar math enthusiasts,

Each year on the first Saturday in December, a group of undergraduates at North Carolina State University participate in a national mathematics competition known as the William Lowell Putnam Competition. We believe that you might have the ability and interest in mathematics to consider participating in this competition. This letter will inform you about the competition and invite you to join a special class that meets once a week to help students prepare for the competition.

The Putnam Competition has a long history. Began in 1938, this year (2020) will be the 81th annual competition. Sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America, it is the most prestigious math competition in North America.

In 2019, N. C. State was ranked 61 out of 488 institutions in Canada and the United States participated in the Competition.  N. C. State students have done quite well in the Putnam Competition for several years.  Our top students are often ranked in the top 200 individually, and our team has ranked among the top 30 teams in the nation three times (1986, 1987 and 1993, team ranking was 38 in year 2001 and 2011).  Undergraduate students can participate in the Putnam competition each year up to four times, and I encourage you to start participating as a freshman.  The competition questions are extremely challenging: most require knowledge of material covered in the basic undergraduate mathematics courses, but some of the questions are more or less self-contained and require only ingenuity and perhaps a few tricks of the type you would learn in our Putnam course.  A bright freshman can score well in the Putnam, but in general, you can expect to do a little better each time you participate as you learn more mathematics.

In the special course for Putnam competitions, you will see problems of the type that appear in the actual competition.  You will probably enjoy joining and competing with the best mathematics students on campus.  You can win cash prizes, such as the prestigious Levine-Anderson award, which goes to the top 3 NCSU participant in the Putnam Competition each year.  In addition, the winner’s name will appear on our website and will be inscribed on a plaque permanently on display in the Math Department building.

You are invited to register for the one-credit course MA 444H, Problem Solving Strategies for competitions, which is scheduled to meet from 4:30 to 5:20 Wednesdays. The course is taught by professors of mathematics department who have some experience with math competitions. Among them are some silver and bronze medallists from International Mathematics Olympiad. The course is graded as F and S so it will not lower your GPA.  If you would like to know more about the Putnam Competition you can contact us by email ( or


Drs. Bojko Bakalov and Tien Khai Nguyen

Undergraduate Math Competitions Committee