AP Questions Type 10: Sequences and Series (BC Only)
The last BC question on the exams usually concerns sequences and series. The question may ask students to write a Taylor or Maclaurin series and to answer questions about it and its interval of convergence, or about a related series found by differentiating or integrating. The topics may appear in other free-response questions and in multiple-choice questions. Questions about the convergence of sequences may appear as multiple-choice questions. With about 8 multiple-choice questions and a full free-response question this is one of the major topics on the BC exams.
Convergence tests for series appear on both sections of the BC Calculus exam. In the multiple-choice section, students may be asked to say if a sequence or series converges or which of several series converge.
The Ratio test is used most often to determine the radius of convergence and the other tests to determine the exact interval of convergence by checking the convergence at the end points. Click here for a convergence test chart students should be familiar with; this list is also on the resource page.
Students should be familiar with and able to write a few terms and the general term of a Taylor or Maclaurin series. They may do this by finding the derivatives and constructing the coefficients from them, or they may produce the series by manipulating a known or given series. They may do this by substituting into a series, differentiating it, or integrating it.
The general form of a Taylor series is ; if a = 0, the series is called a Maclaurin series.
What Students Should be Able to Do
- Use the various convergence tests to determine if a series converges. The test to be used is rarely given so students need to know when to use each of the common tests. For a summary of the tests click: Convergence test chart. and the posts “What Convergence Test Should I use?” Part 1 and Part 2. In 2022 BC 6 (a) students were asked to state the condition (hypotheses) of the convergence test they were asked to use.
- Understand absolute and conditional convergence. If the series of the absolute values of the terms of a series converges, then the original series is said to be absolutely convergent (or converges absolutely). If a series is absolutely convergent, then it is convergent. If the series of absolute values diverges, then the original series may or may not converge; if it converges it is said to be conditionally convergent.
- Write the terms of a Taylor or Maclaurin series by calculating the derivatives and constructing the coefficients of each term.
- Distinguish between the Taylor series for a function and the function. DO NOT say that the Taylor polynomial is equal to the function (this will lose a point); say it is approximately equal.
- Determine a specific coefficient without writing all the previous coefficients.
- Write a series by substituting into a known series, by differentiating or integrating a known series, or by some other algebraic manipulation of a series.
- Know (from memory) the Maclaurin series for sin(x), cos(x), ex and and be able to find other series by substituting into one of these.
- Find the radius and interval of convergence. This is usually done by using the Ratio test to find the radius and then checking the endpoints. for a geometric series, the interval of convergences is the open interval where r is the common ration of the series.
- Be familiar with geometric series, its radius of convergence, and be able to find the number to which it converges, . Re-writing a rational expression as the sum of a geometric series and then writing the series has appeared on the exam.
- Be familiar with the harmonic and alternating harmonic series. These are often useful series for comparison.
- Use a few terms of a series to approximate the value of the function at a point in the interval of convergence.
- Determine the error bound for a convergent series (Alternating Series Error Bound or Lagrange error bound). See my posts on Error Bounds and the Lagrange Highway
- Use the coefficients (the derivatives) to determine information about the function (e.g., extreme values).
This list is quite long, but only a few of these items can be asked in any given year. The series question on the free-response section is usually quite straightforward. Topics and convergence tests may appear on the multiple-choice section. As I have suggested before, look at and work as many past exam questions to get an idea of what is asked, how it is a sked, and the difficulty of the questions. Click on Power Series in the “Posts by Topic” list on the right side of the screen to see previous posts on Power Series or any other topic you are interested in.
- 2004 BC 6 (An alternate approach, not tried by anyone, is to start with ). See Good Question 16
- 2011 BC 6 (Lagrange error bound)
- 2016 BC 6
- 2017 BC 6
- 2019 BC 6
- 2021 BC 5 (a)
- 2021 BC 6 – note that in (a) students were required to state the conditions of the convergence test they were asked to use.
- 2022 BC 6 – Ratio test, interval of conversion with endpoint analysis, Alternating series error bound, series for derivative, geometric series.
Multiple-choice questions from non-secure exams:
- 2008 BC 4, 12, 16, 20, 23, 79, 82, 84
- 2012 BC 5, 9, 13, 17, 22, 27, 79, 90
These questions come from Unit 10 of the CED.
Revised March 12, 2021, April 12, 16, and May 14, 2022