Definite integrals – Exam Considerations

The sixth in the Graphing Calculator / Technology Series

Both graphing calculators and CAS calculators allow students to evaluate definite integrals. In the sections of the AP Calculus that allow calculator use students are expected to use their calculator to evaluate definite integrals. On the free-response section, students should write the integral on their paper, including the limits of integration, and then find its value on their calculator. There is no need to show the antiderivative; in fact, the antiderivative may be too difficult to find.

There are a few things students should be aware of. A question typically is worth three points: one point for the limits of integration and any constant (such as \pi in a volume problem), one point for the integrand, and one point for the numerical answer. An answer alone, with no integral, may not earn any points even if it is correct.

The “Instructions” on the cover of the free-response sections read “Show your work. … Your work will be scored on the correctness and completeness of your methods as well as your answers. Answers without supporting work will usually not receive credit.” [Emphasis added] The work must be on the paper, not just on the calculator.

Another consideration is accuracy. The general directions also say, “If you use decimal approximations in calculations, your work will be scored on accuracy. Unless otherwise specified, your final answers should be accurate to three places after the decimal point.”

Let’s see how all this works in an example.

Find the area of the region between the graphs of f\left( x \right)=x+3\cos (x) and g\left( x \right)={{\left( x-2 \right)}^{2}}. Begin by graphing the functions and finding their points of intersections on your graphing calculator.


The values are A = 0.22532 and B = 2.41524 (or 2.41525). Students should also store these values in their calculator and recall them for the computation, as explained in a previous post. Students should write these on their paper just as shown here. Notice that a few extra decimal places should be included.  The student should then show the integral and limits along with the answer on their paper:

\displaystyle \int_{A}^{B}{\left( x-3\cos \left( x \right)-{{\left( x-2 \right)}^{2}} \right)dx=2.32651}

Notice: Students may write A and B as the limits of integration, provided they have stated their values on the paper. This is best, but they may also write:

\displaystyle \int_{0.22532}^{2.41525}{\left( x-3\cos \left( x \right)-{{\left( x-2 \right)}^{2}} \right)dx=2.32651}

or even \displaystyle  \int_{0.225}^{2,415}{\left( x-3\cos \left( x \right)-{{\left( x-2 \right)}^{2}} \right)dx=2.32651}

But be careful!!! The unrounded values should be used to do the computation. Since the limits are answers they may be rounded, but if the rounding causes the final answer to not be accurate to three places past the decimal point, then the final answer is wrong, and the answer point will not be awarded. This has happened in the past. The safest thing is to use 5 or more decimal places in your computations.

Notice also that the final answer need not be rounded as long as the first three decimal places are correct.



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