Every monic, degree n polynomial in Fq[x;] is the characteristic polynomial of at least one n × n matrix (with entries in the finite field Fq), but they do not appear with equal frequency. There is no a priori reason that the characteristic polynomial of a typical matrix should resemble a typical monic degree n polynomial. Nevertheless, we prove a precise version of the following heuristic statement: ‘Excepting its small factors, the characteristic polynomial of a random matrix is random.’
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