The purpose of this thread is to list the mathematical competitions where math.SE based cheating is relevant. This is useful for two purposes: (1) To understand the scope of the problem and (2) To aid us users in identifying these questions when they appear. (Almost everyone in these discussions has supported at minimum identifying these questions.)

Here are how I see the appropriate guidelines for which competitions are relevant:

  1. Competitions should take place over an extended period of time, in a non-proctored environment. While it is possible to sneak a smartphone into the ARML and post questions onto math.SE, I don't view it as a likely enough scenario to be relevant.

  2. Competitions should have a definite ending point, so that problems are not forever locked away as competition problems. There is a complicated argument to be had about whether there are questions that should be eternally unanswered in public, but I don't want to have that argument.

  3. Competitions should have a reasonably large scale. I'm not sure where I'd place the dividing line, but a single school's contest is too small to worry about, and a national contest is definitely ontopic.

  4. Competitions should use original questions. Obviously, if organizers reuse classic problems, they can't suddenly expect people to stop talking about them.

  5. Problems should be available online. We can't patrol for questions if they won't tell us what questions to patrol for.

I thought about adding a condition 6, competitions should primarily involves college age or younger competitors, because I don't think anyone takes the Monthly's problem section seriously enough to matter. But, on the other hand, if someone was posting problems from the WPC qualifying test, I would certainly be upset, and that is mostly older people (it also violates condition 5, but suppose it didn't). So I guess I'll phrase this more nebulously as "focus on contests where people would care".

My hope is that, in the future, part of organizing a major competition would be dropping by to add an answer to this question.

How are big contests special as compared to take-home exams, homework, smaller contests, problems in print journals, or many other categories. It's not enough to say that ranking is the sole output of the contests; there are larger educational and promotional goals that are consistent with answering questions online (and OMO just became much more famous than it was last week, with all this brouhaha, so the original case at hand may have done a favor to its ostensible victims). If an offline contest requested problem deletion, the same controversy would develop. – zyx Oct 1 '12 at 21:58
@zyx Item #3 indicates that the post focuses on large-scale events (with more than one institution involved). These do not include take-home exams and homework. – user31373 Oct 1 '12 at 22:05
@LVK, I can read OK, thank you. I was asking, in part, why conditions 3 and 5 are reasonable for the purposes of the question (what are they, by the way?). Given the degree of non-originality in, let us say, 90 percent of superficially original contest problems, it is also hard to understand 4 from the point of view of protecting the contests. – zyx Oct 1 '12 at 22:06
Why do you think that this post is on-topic for MSE? – Bill Dubuque Oct 1 '12 at 22:15
Questions like "what is the worldwide list of journals with problem columns" (respectively, problem-of-the-week websites, unsupervised mathematics competitions) are on-topic in but I don't think the meta is the place to gather the data, and fewer users will see it. Objective information from MSE threads could be a useful input to any meta questions. – zyx Oct 1 '12 at 22:19
@BillDubuque Because it is a question directly relevant to our activities as users of math.SE. – David Speyer Oct 1 '12 at 23:41
Offline contests may want to request deletion, and we can talk about how to do that, but there is no reasonable way for us to provide it proactively since we don't have access to their questions. The criteria are designed to focus on competitions where it is plausible and worthwhile that we can mark the questions as they appear. – David Speyer Oct 1 '12 at 23:44
Similarly for question 4. If a contest asks a nonoriginal question, there is no way we can reasonably stop it from being asked here. Fortunately, good contests work very hard to provide original questions. – David Speyer Oct 1 '12 at 23:45
The "proactive preventability" constraint is orthogonal to the stated subject matter, which is the juncture of a list of competitions (on topic for the main site, not here) and potential for SE based cheating. The many ongoing current discussions have been primarily about reportable cheating, not only preventable cheating. It fogs the issues that arose (e.g., is the number of contests with SE concerns in the hundreds?) to not make clear in title & question that you are raising a new matter of interest mainly for a new, active-prevention agenda that goes beyond earlier concerns. – zyx Oct 2 '12 at 0:00
In thread after thread, the minimum that everyone can agree on is such problems should be marked. But cheaters do not disclose that they are cheating. This needs us users and moderators to do it. Not every part of the problem is solvable, but this part is, if we gather the resources to do it effectively. – David Speyer Oct 2 '12 at 0:03
That may be, but the title is a poll about "where math.SE could be used to cheat" while the question and the very artificial constraints pertain only to "math.SE could be used to cheat, but proactive deletion of cheating questions is possible (according to somewhat arbitrary criteria of what makes it possible)". – zyx Oct 2 '12 at 0:10
@David I don't agree. What are these "activities as users of MSE" that have anything to do with questions posed on external sites? If my vote were not binding, I would vote to close this post as off-topic. I encourage others to vote to close. These matters have absolutely nothing to do with MSE. Forcing them here will only create unneeded tension, reopening the same can of worms that led to much earlier tension on homework-related issues (which probably led to more tension than all other meta matters combined). – Bill Dubuque Oct 2 '12 at 2:12
"In thread after thread, the minimum that everyone can agree on is such problems should be marked" ---- no, what is widely agreed is only that such problems can be marked as from a particular contest that runs until a particular date, without causing harm. There was never the same level of support for launching a campaign to detect and label contest questions. – zyx Oct 2 '12 at 6:02
@Phira Such hyperbole is not constructive. This is meta, where everyone is encouraged to state their opinions on matters, including their opinions on topicality of matters. But comments like your penultimate comment may discourage other users from posting their opinions - for fear that their opinions may be similarly unfairly attacked. Please argue fairly. – Bill Dubuque Nov 6 '12 at 5:26
On the one hand, it is not a stated goal of Math.SE to police contests (or homework). On the other hand, if some members of Math.SE believe (as I do) that it is a good turn and supportive of the greater mathematical community, including those administering and competing in contests, to do what can be done to prevent abuse of this resource, then what's the problem? I don't see anyone saying that the policy should be that every Math.SE member must participate in policing, so those who choose not to could just allow others to proceed without campaigning against their efforts. – Todd Wilcox Nov 23 '12 at 5:08

Math.SE can be used to "cheat" in any mathematical activity that is both unsupervised and evaluated:

  • the problem section of any journal that has one. There are dozens of these in English, and one or more in most countries that participate in the IMO (usually distinct journals for high school and university or beyond), so I would guess this number is in the low hundreds. Requests for a list should go in the main site. Sometimes these columns are listed as puzzles or recreational mathematics rather than problems, and there are periodicals on those subjects too.

  • printed or online puzzle-of-the-month (or other time period) problems where there is a list of solvers, a set of prizes, or publication of clever solutions under the names of their submitters. IBM's Ponder This site is well known and ranks the answerers in time order of email submission. There are problem-of-the-week contests at many universities and some of these are used to help select the school team for the Putnam competition, or as homework in graded problem solving classes. Requests for a list belong in the main site, not the meta.

  • graded homework, take home exams, some graduate school qualifying exams, and other unsupervised settings in academia

  • individual research assignments in academia, including doctoral programs but also competitive entry programs such as RSI for high school students or the many undergraduate research summer programs. Somebody given a project could certainly take a short cut by anonymously crowdsourcing it to math.SE. There are pre-collected online lists of research programs at the AMS web site, and further request should go to MSE (main site).

  • individual research competitions such as the Young Scientists competition in Europe or Intel (Siemens) contest in the United States. Math projects are fairly often on the winners list.

  • entry tests for summer programs, mostly high school and some pre-high school. Lists of these programs are available at the AMS web site or by request at MSE.

  • research competitions such as the Schweitzer contest, mathematical modeling tournaments, and many of the items listed at Wikipedia as team or online competitions ( ). Requests for a list should go in the main site.

  • correspondence programs used by some nations, including several of the English speaking countries at various times, and not only English-speaking countries, as part of the national IMO team training and selection. Requests for a list should go in the main site.

I don't understand or agree with many of the premises of the question, but instead of a prolonged debate on details maybe the above items can add some clarity about the facts. As stated earlier, the count of journals and overt competitions is probably somewhere in the hundreds, and homework/exam/research assignments in the thousands at any time. The job of policing this type of material is potentially rather large, and there is no clear indication that it is necessary. Marking postings as coming from particular contests or journals is an addition of references to the questions, so is not a problem, but having a crew of self-appointed monitors patrolling the site for contest transgressions would be a significant negative for the math.SE environment, in my opinion.

I want to also make clear that the word cheat appears here only in a value-neutral sense to indicate hacking, circumventing rules, or exploiting weak security. There is no assumption that posting exam or contest questions in math.SE is (or is not) a moral problem.

The accumulation of false laurels by cheating via MSE or anything else is ultimately a burden for the cheater. – daniel Oct 4 '12 at 15:43
@daniel I am not worrying so much about the cheater, I am thinking about the people who lose an opportunity. Success at an informal preselection is often one of the few opportunities to gain access to quality mathematics instruction. The fact that the cheater cannot understand anything there will not ameliorate the fact that they took away the place from someone else who could have. – Phira Oct 9 '12 at 17:47
@Phira: I wasn't taking a stand against any particular way of addressing the problem, since I have no idea of the opportunities these contests actually represent. I do think MSE will have its work cut out for it simply maintaining over time its current level of service, which I consider extraordinarily good and (therefore almost certainly) perishable. – daniel Oct 16 '12 at 20:12
I'm not sure if you're asserting this, but I don't think that just because a problem does not admit to a 100% solution does not mean that nothing at all should be attempted to at least minimize it. Math.SE members patrolling for cheating could be a negative for the environment, but so could Math.SE gaining a reputation as being a place where you can easily get answers to your contest or homework questions without repercussions. Of course the cheater is the responsible person. Still, just because it's not your mess doesn't make cleaning it up less helpful. – Todd Wilcox Nov 23 '12 at 5:17
modeling competitions for sure. +1 for reading my mind. – AlanH Mar 26 '13 at 8:49

The problems for the current USAMTS.

Round 2 has deadline: November 26, 2012.


Canada/USA Mathcamp selects students using an application with original problems which change every year. The 2013 application is not yet available, but will presumably be listed here when it is.


The OMO is not currently taking place. The next one will be held in January 2013, and will presumably be available here.


Correspondence problems sent to students as part of their training and selection for the International Mathematical Olympiad.

Are these available online? Are there few enough of them that we can identify them? – David Speyer Oct 2 '12 at 13:21
Online? If you propose a cheating detection program, and you view larger national scale competitions as a higher priority than local ones, then all it takes is to establish contact once with the organizers, and they can send updates on their problem sets when they want. I don't think you have considered the scale of the project or the places that it leads, such as having automated blacklists behind, subscription to off-site cheating detection servers, and other filtering tools that are disturbingly far from the current paradigm. – zyx Oct 2 '12 at 15:28
Well, in case of India, there are only 24 problems posted in 4 months or so.Those problems are easily detected by others. They are not usually available during a particular year(they are later made public) but there are enough users(Indian) to identify them and send a pdf of the problems to the moderators if necessary. I do not wish to make stackexchange for detecting them,rather others should point that out.But I am not sure there are no grey areas there. – user41685 Oct 2 '12 at 16:55
user41685, thanks for the confirmation that correspondence selection is practiced in some countries. The "online" comment was directed at the OP, as another indication of how the restriction to online sources is arbitrary given the premises of the question. – zyx Oct 2 '12 at 21:44
This is an example of an offline, unproctored contest.It is contests like these that are mostly likely to be cheated on. – user34522 Oct 3 '12 at 2:41
Certainly cheating on Olympiad prep problems is unfortunate, but if the camp organizers aren't willing to put the problems online then there is no way for users here to flag them. I am absolutely opposed to anything which would lead to an automatic system for flagging cheaters -- look at the disaster of the DMCA to see where that leads. I think that every flagging needs to be produced by a real live math.SE user personally reading the question, identifying the problem, and linking to public evidence of the problem for the moderators and the community to verify. – David Speyer Oct 6 '12 at 21:24
@xyz: Automated blacklists and so on are so disturbingly far from the current paradigm that I seriously doubt they would ever be implemented. Even David is opposed to those kinds of measures. The great thing about community run sites is that different members can bring their different talents and interests to bear. Those interested in mitigating cheating could easily do so without affecting the ability for other members to contribute their way. – Todd Wilcox Nov 23 '12 at 5:25

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