Interpreting Graphs

AP Type Questions 1

The long name is “Here’s the graph of the derivative, tell me things about the function.”

Most often students are given the graph identified as the derivative of a function. There is no equation given and it is not expected that students will write the equation (although this may be possible); rather, students are expected to determine important features of the function directly from the graph of the derivative. They may be asked for the location of extreme values, intervals where the function is increasing or decreasing, concavity, etc. They may be asked for function values at points.

The graph may be given in context and student will be asked about that context. The graph may be identified as the velocity of a moving object and questions will be asked about the motion and position. (Motion problems will be discussed as a separate type in a later post.)

Less often the function’s graph may be given and students will be asked about its derivatives.

What students should be able to do:

  • Read information about the function from the graph of the derivative. This may be approached as a derivative techniques or antiderivative techniques.
  • Find where the function is increasing or decreasing.
  • Find and justify extreme values (1st  and 2nd derivative tests, Closed interval test, aka.  Candidates’ test).
  • Find and justify points of inflection.
  • Find slopes (second derivatives, acceleration) from the graph.
  • Write an equation of a tangent line.
  • Evaluate Riemann sums from geometry of the graph only.
  • FTC: Evaluate integral from the area of regions on the graph.
  • FTC: The function, g(x), maybe defined by an integral where the given graph is the graph of  the integrand, f(t), so students should know that if,  \displaystyle g\left( x \right)=g\left( a \right)+\int_{a}^{t}{f\left( t \right)dt} then  {g}'\left( x \right)=f\left( x \right)  and  {{g}'}'\left( x \right)={f}'\left( x \right).

The ideas and concepts that can be tested with this type question are numerous. The type appears on the multiple-choice exams as well as the free-response. They have accounted for almost 25% of the points available on recent test. It is very important that students are familiar with all of the ins and outs of this situation.

As with other questions, the topics tested come from the entire year’s work, not just a single unit. In my opinion many textbooks do not do a good job with these topics.

Study past exams; look them over and see the different things that can be asked.

For some previous posts on this subject see October 151719, 24, 26, 2012 January 25, 28, 2013

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