Sequences and Series (Type 10)

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 \displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=0}}^{\infty }{{\frac{{{{f}^{{\left( n \right)}}}\left( a \right)}}{{n!}}{{{\left( {x-a} \right)}}^{n}}}}; 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 \displaystyle \frac{1}{{1-x}}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 \displaystyle -1<r<1 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, \displaystyle {{S}_{\infty }}=\frac{{{{a}_{1}}}}{{1-r}}. 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.

Free-response questions:

  • 2004 BC 6 (An alternate approach, not tried by anyone, is to start with \displaystyle \sin \left( {5x+\tfrac{\pi }{4}} \right)=\sin \left( {5x} \right)\cos \left( {\tfrac{\pi }{4}} \right)+\cos \left( {5x} \right)\sin \left( {\tfrac{\pi }{4}} \right)). 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


Sequences

Here is a list of past posts on the topics of sequences and series that I hope you find interesting and useful. The first two are suitable for precalculus students.

The first uses sequences and series for a very practical aim that affects almost everyone sometime in their life: paying off a loan. The next gives a good, and I hope, understandable explanation of what an irrational number is.

Amortization. When you have a mortgage on your home or your car, you make the same payment every month. Part of the money pays the interest on the outstanding balance for the last month; the rest pays down the principal so there is less to pay interest on next month. How is the payment computed?

A Lesson on Sequences. What is the square root of two? Really, what is it? This post is an outline of a lesson finding a sequence of numbers that converges to a specific number known in advance and by doing so defines that number.

The next three posts deal with convergences tests and are of interest to BC students at this time of year.

Reference Chart. An outline of the various convergence tests, and their hypotheses (when you can use them).

These two posts answer the question in their titles:

Which Convergence Test Should I Use? Part 1: Pretty much anyone you want!

Which Convergence Test Should I Use? Part 2: Specific hints and a discussion of the usefulness of absolute convergence

Unit 10 – Infinite Sequences and Series

Unit 10 covers sequences and series. These are BC only topics (CED – 2019 p. 177 – 197). These topics account for about 17 – 18% of questions on the BC exam.

Topic 10.1: Defining Convergent and Divergent Series.

Topic 10. 2: Working with Geometric Series. Including the formula for the sum of a convergent geometric series.

Topics 10.3 – 10.9 Convergence Tests

The tests listed below are assessed on the BC Calculus exam. Other methods are not tested. However, teachers may include additional methods.

Topic 10.3: The nth Term Test for Divergence.

Topic 10.4: Integral Test for Convergence. See Good Question 14

Topic 10.5: Harmonic Series and p-Series. Harmonic series and alternating harmonic series, p-series.

Topic 10.6: Comparison Tests for Convergence. Comparison test and the Limit Comparison Test

Topic 10.7: Alternating Series Test for Convergence.

Topic 10.8: Ratio Test for Convergence.

Topic 10.9: Determining Absolute and Conditional Convergence. Absolute convergence implies conditional convergence.

Topics 10.10 – 10.12 Taylor Series and Error Bounds

Topic 10.10: Alternating Series Error Bound.

Topic 10.11: Finding Taylor Polynomial Approximations of a Function.

Topic 10.12: Lagrange Error Bound.

Topics 10.13 – 10.15 Power Series

Topic 10.13: Radius and Interval of Convergence of a Power Series. The Ratio Test is used almost exclusively to find the radius of convergence. Term-by-term differentiation and integration of a power series gives a series with the same center and radius of convergence. The interval may be different at the endpoints.

Topic 10.14: Finding the Taylor and Maclaurin Series of a Function. Students should memorize the Maclaurin series for \displaystyle \frac{1}{{1-x}}, sin(x), cos(x), and ex.

Topic 10.15: Representing Functions as Power Series. Finding the power series of a function by differentiation, integration, algebraic processes, substitution, or properties of geometric series.


Timing

The suggested time for Unit 9 is about 17 – 18 BC classes of 40 – 50-minutes, this includes time for testing etc.


Previous posts on these topics:

Before sequences

Amortization Using finite series to find your mortgage payment. (Suitable for pre-calculus as well as calculus)

A Lesson on Sequences.  An investigation, which could be used as early as Algebra 1, showing how irrational numbers are the limit of a sequence of approximations. Also, an introduction to the Completeness Axiom. 

Everyday Series

Convergence Tests

Reference Chart

Which Convergence Test Should I Use? Part 1: Pretty much anyone you want!

Which Convergence Test Should I Use? Part 2: Specific hints and a discussion of the usefulness of absolute convergence

Good Question 14 on the Integral Test

Sequences and Series

Graphing Taylor Polynomials.  Graphing calculator hints

Introducing Power Series 1

Introducing Power Series 2

Introducing Power Series 3

New Series from Old 1: Substitution (Be sure to look at example 3)

New Series from Old 2: Differentiation

New Series from Old 3: Series for rational functions using long division and geometric series

Geometric Series – Far Out: An instructive “mistake.”

A Curiosity: An unusual Maclaurin Series

Synthetic Summer Fun Synthetic division and calculus including finding the (finite)Taylor series of a polynomial.

Adapting 2021 BC 5

Adapting 2021 BC 6

Error Bounds

Error Bounds: Error bounds in general and the alternating Series error bound, and the Lagrange error bound

The Lagrange Highway: The Lagrange error bound. 

What’s the “Best” Error Bound?

Review Notes

Type 10: Sequences and Series Questions

Adapting 2021 BC 6

Nine of nine. We continue our look at the 2021 free-response questions. We will look at ways to adapt, expand, and explore this question to help students better understand it and look at other questions that can be asked based on a similar stem.

2021 BC 6

This is a Sequence and Series (Type 10) question. Typically the topic of the last question on the BC exam, it tests the concepts in Unit 10 of the current Calculus Course and Exam Description. This year the previous question, 2021 BC 5, asked students to write a Taylor Polynomial. This question covers other related topics: convergence tests, radius of convergence, and the error bound.

There is a nuance here. In past years students were not asked to give the conditions for a convergence test and were expected to determine the which test to use for themselves. I think the idea here, and perhaps going forward (?), is to make sure the students have considered the conditions necessary to use a test. This is in keeping with other questions where the hypotheses of the theorem students were using had to be checked (Cf. recent L’Hospital’s Rule questions).

The Convergence Test Chart  and the posts “Which Convergence Test Should I use?” Part 1 and Part 2 may be helpful.

The stem for 2021 BC 6 is:

Part (a): Students were asked to give the conditions for the integral test and use it to determine if a different series, \sum\limits_{{n=0}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{{{{e}^{n}}}}}} converges.

Discussion and ideas for adapting this question:

  • Be sure your students know the conditions necessary for each convergence test. Phrase your questions as this one is phrased – at least sometimes.
  • Ask students to state the conditions for any convergence they use.
  • Discuss which tests (often plural) can be used for each series you study.
  • Make sure students can decide for themselves which test to use in case next year’s questions do not tell them.
  • Ask what other test(s) may be used with this series (Hint: the series is geometric). This is a question to ask for any series you study.

Part (b): Students are told to use the series from part (a) with the limit comparison test to show that the given series converges absolutely when x = 1. Again, students were asked to use a specific test. Notice that even if a student could not do part (a), they were not shut out of part (b).

Discussion and ideas for adapting this question:

  • Since you cannot count on being told which test to use for comparison, be sure to discuss how to decide which test(s) can be used with each series.
  • Show students that proving absolute convergence is often a good way to eliminate the need for dealing with alternating series and other series with negative signs.

Part (c): Students were asked for the radius of convergence of the series. A standard question done by using the Ratio test.

Discussion and ideas for adapting this question:

The only extension here is to determine the interval of convergence, by checking the endpoints.

Part (d): Students were asked for the alternating series error bound using the first two terms to approximate the value of g(1). Even though there are only two error bounds students are expected to be able to compute (the other is the Lagrange error bound), students were again told which one to use. The result was not expected to be expressed as a decimal.

Discussion and ideas for adapting this question:

  • First, have students check that the conditions for using the alternating series error bound are met.
  • Increase the number of terms to be used.
  • Ask students to find the Lagrange error bound and compare the results.

This post on the series question concludes the series of posts (pun intended) considering how to expand and adapt the 2021 AP Calculus free-response questions. I hope you found them helpful.

As always, I happy to hear your ideas for other ways to use this question. Please share your thoughts and ideas.


Adapting 2021 BC 5

Eight of nine. We continue our study of the 2021 free-response questions. We will look at ways to adapt, expand, and explore this question to help students better understand it and look at other questions that can be asked based on a similar stem.

2021 BC 5

This is a Differential Equation (Type 6) with a Sequence and Series (Type 10) question included. It contains topics from Units 7 and 10 of the current Course and Exam Description (CED). It is not unusual for AP Calculus exam question to include several of the types in my classification and from several of the units from the CED (here units 7 and 10). In addition, the usual solving an initial value problem and a Euler’s Method approximation are included.

The stem for 2021 BC 5 is:

Part (a): Students were asked to write the second-degree Taylor polynomial for the function centered at x = 1 and then use it to approximate f(2). Students should stop after substituting 2 into their polynomial; no arithmetic or simplification is required, and a simplifying mistake will lose a point.

Discussion and ideas for adapting this question:

  • Ask students to find an expression for the second derivative (implicit differentiation).
  • Verify that \displaystyle {f}''\left( 1 \right)=4
  • Ask students to find the third-degree polynomial and use it to approximate f(2)

Part (b): Students were required to approximate f(2) using Euler’s method with two steps of equal size.

Discussion and ideas for adapting this question:

  • After you solve the equation in part (c), ask students to compare the approximations from parts (a) and (b) with the exact value. Neither approximation is very close to the exact value. Discuss why this is so. Consider the slope of the graph near x = 2.
  • Find a more accurate approximation using 3, 4, or more smaller steps. There are graphing calculator programs that will do the arithmetic. Do not hesitate to use them. Students have already shown they know how to do a Euler’s Method approximation; the point is to understand the situation.

Part (c): Finding the solution of the differential equation by separating the variables is expected in this kind of question. The added twist is that the method of integration by parts is necessary to find one of the antiderivatives.

 Discussion and ideas for adapting this question:

  • Be sure not to skip over removing the absolute value signs. The most efficient way is to realize that at (and near) the initial condition y > 0, so |y| = y. What do you do if y < 0?
  • There is not much you can do differently here. One thing is to change the initial condition. Try a negative value such as f(1) = –4.
  • As suggested in (b), compare, and discuss the approximations with the exact value.

Next week we will conclude this series of posts with a look at 2021 BC 6.

I would be happy to hear your ideas for other ways to use this question. Please use the reply box below to share your ideas.


Infinite Sequences and Series – Unit 10

Unit 10 covers sequences and series. These are BC only topics (CED – 2019 p. 177 – 197). These topics account for about 17 – 18% of questions on the BC exam.

Topics 10.1 – 10.2

Topic 10.1: Defining Convergent and Divergent Series.

Topic 10. 2: Working with Geometric Series. Including the formula for the sum of a convergent geometric series.

Topics 10.3 – 10.9 Convergence Tests

The tests listed below are tested on the BC Calculus exam. Other methods are not tested. However, teachers may include additional methods.

Topic 10.3: The nth Term Test for Divergence.

Topic 10.4: Integral Test for Convergence. See Good Question 14

Topic 10.5: Harmonic Series and p-Series. Harmonic series and alternating harmonic series, p-series.

Topic 10.6: Comparison Tests for Convergence. Comparison test and the Limit Comparison Test

Topic 10.7: Alternating Series Test for Convergence.

Topic 10.8: Ratio Test for Convergence.

Topic 10.9: Determining Absolute and Conditional Convergence. Absolute convergence implies conditional convergence.

Topics 10.10 – 10.12 Taylor Series and Error Bounds

Topic 10.10: Alternating Series Error Bound.

Topic 10.11: Finding Taylor Polynomial Approximations of a Function.

Topic 10.12: Lagrange Error Bound.

Topics 10.13 – 10.15 Power Series

Topic 10.13: Radius and Interval of Convergence of a Power Series. The Ratio Test is used almost exclusively to find the radius of convergence. Term-by-term differentiation and integration of a power series gives a series with the same center and radius of convergence. The interval may be different at the endpoints.

Topic 10.14: Finding the Taylor and Maclaurin Series of a Function. Students should memorize the Maclaurin series for \displaystyle \frac{1}{{1-x}}, sin(x), cos(x), and ex.

Topic 10.15: Representing Functions as Power Series. Finding the power series of a function by, differentiation, integration, algebraic processes, substitution, or properties of geometric series.


Timing

The suggested time for Unit 9 is about 17 – 18 BC classes of 40 – 50-minutes, this includes time for testing etc.


Previous posts on these topics:

Before sequences

Amortization Using finite series to find your mortgage payment. (Suitable for pre-calculus as well as calculus)

A Lesson on Sequences An investigation, which could be used as early as Algebra 1, showing how irrational numbers are the limit of a sequence of approximations. Also, an introduction to the Completeness Axiom. 

Everyday Series

Convergence Tests

Reference Chart

Which Convergence Test Should I Use? Part 1 Pretty much anyone you want!

Which Convergence Test Should I Use? Part 2 Specific hints and a discussion of the usefulness of absolute convergence

Good Question 14 on the Integral Test

Sequences and Series

Graphing Taylor Polynomials Graphing calculator hints

Introducing Power Series 1

Introducing Power Series 2

Introducing Power Series 3

New Series from Old 1 substitution (Be sure to look at example 3)

New Series from Old 2 Differentiation

New Series from Old 3 Series for rational functions using long division and geometric series

Geometric Series – Far Out An instructive “mistake.”

A Curiosity An unusual Maclaurin Series

Synthetic Summer Fun Synthetic division and calculus including finding the (finite)Taylor series of a polynomial.

Error Bounds

Error Bounds Error bounds in general and the alternating Series error bound, and the Lagrange error bound

The Lagrange Highway The Lagrange error bound. 

What’s the “Best” Error Bound?

Review Notes

Type 10: Sequences and Series Questions


 

 

 

 

 

Sequences and Series (Type 10)

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 largest 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 several 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 \displaystyle \sum\limits_{n=0}^{\infty }{\frac{{{f}^{\left( n \right)}}\left( a \right)}{n!}{{\left( x-a \right)}^{n}}}; 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
  • 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 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 \displaystyle \tfrac{1}{1-x} 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.
  • Be familiar with geometric series, its radius of convergence, and be able to find the number to which it converges, \displaystyle {{S}_{\infty }}=\frac{{{a}_{1}}}{1-r}. 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 and 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 test 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 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.

Free-response questions:

  • 2004 BC 6 (An alternate approach, not tried by anyone, is to start with \displaystyle \sin \left( {5x+\tfrac{\pi }{4}} \right)=\sin (5x)\cos \left( {\tfrac{\pi }{4}} \right)+\cos (5x)\sin \left( {\tfrac{\pi }{4}} \right))
  • 2011 BC 6 (Lagrange error bound)
  • 2016 BC 6
  • 2017 BC 6
  • 2019 BC 6

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 question come from Unit 10 of the  2019 CED.


 

 

 

 

Revised March 12, 2021