An Exam Where Zero’s the Norm – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

An Exam Where Zero’s the Norm

In an exam where most people actually score a zero, Adam Giambrone ’08 and Bailey Meeker ’09, managed to be among only a third of test-takers whose score was positive. Giambrone and Meeker took part in the six-hour-long, William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition this academic year.

“Historically, the majority of students taking the exam score zero. We do not often have students at the Colleges getting into the positive scoring category, but we are building a group of math majors who get together and practice for the test which should make this happen more often. I am very pleased that Bailey and Adam reached it this year,” says John Vaughn, associate professor of mathematics and computer science. It is the oldest and most prestigious mathematics contest and is designed to test originality and technical competence in sophisticated mathematical concepts. It is administered by the Mathematical Association of America and has been given annually for the past 68 years.

This year, the competition attracted more than 3,700 undergraduates from 516 colleges and universities. Giambrone and Meeker were among 17 HWS students who took the exam. “The test was very challenging,” Bailey admitted. “Most of the problems are more like puzzles than the questions I’m used to answering for exams. Trying to figure them out in a limited period of time is both exciting and occasionally frustrating.

I felt fairly confident in the first section of the test, but not so much in the second one, which was much harder. I’m very happy to have earned a non-zero score on the exam, and hope to take it again next year.” This was Giambrone’s second and last time taking the test as it’s only offered to undergraduate students. The senior math major was not credited with any points last year.

“My success is not entirely my own. I have to thank the professors in the math department for helping me get to this point, and I also need to specifically give my thanks to Professor John Vaughn for arranging the first year of weekly practice sessions. I hope that this year’s success will have many returns and that the math department will continue to grow stronger in the years to come.”

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