The Free-response Questions
There are ten general types of AP Calculus free-response questions. This and the next nine posts will discuss each of them.
NOTE: The numbers I’ve assigned to each type DO NOT correspond to the CED Unit numbers. Many AP Exam questions intentionally have parts from different Units. The CED Unit numbers will be referenced in each post.
AP Questions Type 1: Rate and Accumulation
These questions are often in context with a lot of words describing a situation in which some quantities are changing. There are usually two rates acting in opposite ways (sometimes called an in-out question). Students are asked about the change that the rates produce over a time interval either separately or together.
The rates are often fairly complicated functions. If the question is on the calculator allowed section, students should store the functions in the equation editor of their calculator and use their calculator to do any graphing, integration, or differentiation that may be necessary.
The main idea is that over the time interval [a, b] the integral of a rate of change is the net amount of change
If the question asks for an amount, look around for a rate to integrate.
The final (accumulated) amount is the initial amount plus the accumulated change:
where is the initial time, and is the initial amount. Since this is one of the main interpretations of the definite integral the concept may come up in a variety of situations.
What students should be able to do:
- Be ready to read and apply; often these problems contain a lot of words which need to be carefully read and understood.
- Understand the question. It is often not necessary to do as much computation as it seems at first.
- Recognize that rate = derivative.
- Recognize a rate from the units given without the words “rate” or “derivative.”
- Find the change in an amount by integrating the rate. The integral of a rate of change gives the amount of change (FTC):
- Find the final amount by adding the initial amount to the amount found by integrating the rate. If is the initial time, and is the initial amount, then final accumulated amount is
- Write an integral expression that gives the amount at a general time. BE CAREFUL, the dt must be included in the correct place. Think of the integral sign and the dt as parentheses around the integrand.
- Find the average value of a function
- Use FTC to differentiate a function defined by an integral.
- Explain the meaning of a derivative or its value in terms of the context of the problem. The explanation should contain (1) what it represents, (2) its units, and (3) what the numerical argument means in the context of the question.
- Explain the meaning of a definite integral or its value in terms of the context of the problem. The explanation should contain (1) what it represents, (2) its units, and (3) how the limits of integration apply in the context of the question.
- Store functions in their calculator recall them to do computations on their calculator.
- If the rates are given in a table, be ready to approximate an integral using a Riemann sum or by trapezoids. Also, be ready to approximate a derivative using a quotient from the numbers in the table.
- Do a max/min or increasing/decreasing analysis.
Shorter questions on this concept appear in the multiple-choice sections. As always, look over as many questions of this kind from past exams as you can find.
The Rate – Accumulation question may cover topics primarily from Unit 4, Unit 5, Unit 6 and Unit 8 of the CED.
Typical free-response examples:
- 2013 AB1/BC1
- 2015 AB1/BC1
- 2018 AB1/BC1
- 2019 AB1/BC1
- 2022 AB1/BC1 – includes average value, inc/dec analysis, max/min analysis
- One of my favorites Good Question 6 (2002 AB 4)
Typical multiple-choice examples from non-secure exams:
- 2012 AB 8, 81, 89
- 2012 BC 8 (same as AB 8)
Updated January 31, 2019, March 12, 2021, March 11, 2022
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