18.A34 Mathematical Problem Solving (Putnam Seminar)

Quick links: [Canvas]

Fall 2021, MIT (Link to the most current version of the course)

Class meetings: Mondays and Wednesdays 1–2pm, room 2-147

Instructor: Prof. Yufei Zhao

Undergraduate Assistants (UA): Dain Kim and Carl Schildkraut

Emails and Piazza

Course description and policies

This is a first-year undergraduate seminar that prepares students for the Putnam Mathematical Competition, and with a focus on developing mathematical communication and presentation skills. This seminar is fast-paced and is targeted for students with previous experience in mathematical Olympiads, though others may benefit as well. (Units: 2-0-4)

William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition: The Putnam Competition is an annual mathematics contest for undergraduates in the USA and Canada. This year it will be held Saturday, December 4, 2021

All registered students will be required to participate in the Putnam competition. See Putnam official website for registration information.

Seminar participants are selected through the First-year Advising Selection process. Unfortunately I cannot add additional students. See below for policies on lecture attendance.

Class format

Class attendance is required for registered students. Please notify me in advance if you cannot make it to class. Too many unexcused absences is cause for concern and may lead to a non-passing grade.

Non-registered MIT students are welcome to attend the lectures but not the discussion sessions and may not turn in homework.


Based on homework and participation (in class, office hours, Piazza). Homework will be graded on correctness and presentation. Illegible or extremely sloppy write-ups are unacceptable.

Students needing support should consider reaching out to Student Support Services (S3) or Student Disability Services.

Schedule and due dates

Lectures are open to all MIT students.
All other sessions are restricted to official seminar participants.

SS = Supplementary set


Each problem set contains a (sometimes long) list of problems on a specific topic. You are encouraged to work on as many as you like, but only hand in your six best solutions (do not submit more than six):

If you wish to get a head start on later problem sets, you can check out the material from previous semesters (see links at the bottom). This year’s problem sets will likely be mostly the same, although there could be minor changes and re-numbering.


Late policy


Acknowledging collaborators and sources

It is required to acknowledge your sources (even if you worked independently)

Intentional violations of the above policies may be considered academic dishonesty/misconduct.

Additional resources

You may find the following optional resources helpful for additional preparation. Some resources may be available electronically from MIT Library.

Previous Putnam problems and solutions

Additional books helpful for preparation