Biola University mathematics students Xander Gonzaga and Sam Lopez, as well as physics student Jonan Plueger participated in the 80th annual Putnam Competition on December 7, 2019. With the assistance of professor of mathematics Joseph DiMuro and his optional review sessions, the students were well-equipped for the difficult exam — a prestigious national competition administered by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).

“Scoring even one point (out of a possible 120) is considered an accomplishment,” said DiMuro. “The median score is always at most a few points; sometimes the median is zero, as sometimes a majority of students score zero. Many Biolans have scored at least one point, so I would say many Biolans have done well.”

Biola students have been participating in the Putnam Competition since the 1980’s. The Putnam Competition consists of two sections each lasting 3 hours, of which each include 6 difficult math problems that students complete individually. Institutions are ranked based on the combination of the scores of the 3 highest-scoring participants, which added a team aspect to the competition since students are always required to register for the test under the higher education institution they primarily attend.

“Our participation in the Putnam Competition is significant because we are breaking a stereotype of what a Christian university looks like,” said DiMuro on Biola’s involvement in the competition. “The world would assume we are focused on the Bible (true) and don't really care about academic rigor (very false). We are striving for academic excellence, and our participation in the Putnam Exam reflects that.”

The exam was formatted differently this year than it was in the past. Prior to 2019, each participating institution was represented by a preselected team of three students. This year, each participant took the exam individually, and after scores are released in March 2020, institutions will be ranked according to the sum of their top three applicants.

According to DiMuro, approximately 4,000 students take the exam every year, and every 4-year higher education institution qualifies for the exam.

Both DiMuro and Jason Wilson, chair of the department of mathematics and computer science, are Biola graduates and have each participated in the Putnam Competition. 

Wilson shared that students who are intelligent, are excelling in their current mathematical studies, and invested in putting in diligent work in solving hard problems are successful in graduate school and the mathematical industry.

“Those are the main ingredients for success in math graduate school and industry. The cherry on top is that if you score, it gains prestige for you and your school, and will be regarded favorably on grad school applications,” said Wilson.

Learn more about the department of Mathematics and Computer Science and Biola's School of Science, Technology, and Health.

Written by Sarah Dougher, iBiola Reporter intern. For more information, contact Jenna Loumagne, assistant director of media relations and strategic communications, at (562) 777-4061 or