In a battle of problem-solving and numerical prowess, a group of seven mathematics majors from The College of New Jersey held their own at the 70th annual William Lowell Putnam Competition, scoring in the top 10% alongside the Ivy Leagues.
Dubbed “the world’s toughest math test” by Time Magazine, the prestigious collegiate contest consists of twelve challenging problems to be solved over a grueling six hours. Held on December 5, 2009, it attracted nearly 4,000 students from over 500 colleges throughout North America.
The spectacular performance of Tom Sznigir, Christel Wohlafka, and Calvin Woo earned TCNJ 54th place out of 439 three-person teams, including all the Ivy League schools. It is the first time that TCNJ has ever placed in the top 100, superseding a previous best rank of 115th.
Individually, Tom Sznigir and Calvin Woo both received 21 points, the highest individual score ever obtained by a TCNJ student.
According to Dr. Aigli Papantonopoulou, chair of the Mathematics and Statistics Department at TCNJ, our team performed extremely well up against heavyweights like MIT and Harvard. The department has participated in the competition for the past ten years. Students prepare throughout the fall semester, attending weekly training sessions under the guidance of Dr. Qifu Zheng.
Founded in 1938 as a way to stimulate healthy rivalry in mathematical studies among colleges in the United States and Canada, the Putnam Competition serves as a rite of passage for brilliant young mathematicians. The day is composed of two three-hour sessions, with a two-hour break in between. Calculators and notes are banned, and the exam is extremely difficult, with the median score on last year’s test only 1 point, out of a possible 120.
All 7 TCNJ students earned some points, with five scoring in the double digits.
The results of the competition were released in late March, with MIT, Harvard, Caltech, Stanford, and Princeton ranking as the top five teams respectively.
TCNJ Student Participants in the Putnam Competition:
Meng Qing Liu