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Math students brave world’s toughest test

It takes a brave student to write the annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, says math and stats professor Myron Hlynka.

“The questions are extremely difficult and grading is strict,” he says. “The total number of points possible is 120. Typically, the median score is zero.”

A courageous group of 17 UWindsor undergraduate students—most, but not all, math majors—gathered Saturday to join an estimated 4,000 competitors across North America in writing the test, offered annually since 1938 by the Mathematical Association of America.

Dr. Hlynka calls the test, which poses six questions in each of two sessions through the day, “infamous.”

“The questions are taken from calculus, geometry, algebra, analysis, number theory, functions, but they never look like anything standard,” he says.

Hlynka and his colleague Wai Ling Yee have held weekly practice sessions through the fall term, as they have for many years. Although this year’s results will not be available until the end of March 2013, Hlynka says, the students have already proven they can face a challenge.

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