# 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.

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

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 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. Again see “Which Convergence Test Should I use?” Part 1 and Part 2.
• 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.

# 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

# 2019 CED 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.

### 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 :

Introducing Power Series 1

# Type 10: Sequences and Series Questions

The last BC question on the exams usually concerns sequences and series. The question usually asks 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 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 them.
• Find the radius and interval of convergence. This is usually done by using the Ratio test and 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 $\displaystyle \sin \left( {5x+\tfrac{\pi }{4}} \right)=\sin (5x)\cos \left( {\tfrac{\pi }{4}} \right)+\cos (5x)\sin \left( {\tfrac{\pi }{4}} \right)$)
• 2016 BC 6
• 2017 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,

The concludes the series of posts on the type questions in review for the AP Calculus exams.

# What Convergence Test Should I Use? Part 2

In last Friday’s post I really didn’t answer this question. Rather, I tried to show that there is not only one convergence test that must be used on a given series. Nevertheless, the form of a series suggests a test that is likely to work. In this post, I’ll try to give some suggestions as to what test to try first based on the form of the series.

For reference, click here for a table summarizing the common convergence tests.

The goal is for students to be able to decide which test to start with at a glance.

Start with the nth-term test for divergence. If the limit of the general term as n goes to infinity is not zero, the sequence will diverge. The $\underset{{n\to \infty }}{\mathop{{\lim }}}\,{{a}_{n}}=0$ is a necessary condition for convergence. It is not sufficient; if the limit is zero then the series may converge. Look for a convergence test.

If the series alternates plus and minus signs, it is an alternating series and if it satisfies the other hypotheses use the Alternating Series Test. If the series contains positive and negative signs that do not alternate, or one of the other hypotheses is not met, then a different test must be used.

If the series is geometric then the Geometric Series Test may be used. If the common ratio (the number multiplied by each term to get the next term) is between –1 and 1 the series converges. If the common ratio is greater than or equal to 1, or less than or equal to –1, the series diverges.

The remaining tests are for series with all positive terms. They are tests for absolute convergence. If you series has negative terms then you may ignore the signs and try one of the following tests. If your series is absolutely convergent, then it is convergent. (If not, it may still be convergent.)

If the general term (written with x’s) looks like something that you can integrate, use the Integral Test.

The Direct Comparison Test and the Limit Comparison Test are used if you can find a test to compare them with.

A p-series, $\sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{{{{n}^{p}}}}}}$ converges if $p>1$  and diverges if $p\le 1$. A p-series is often a good test to use for comparison in the next two tests. However, any series whose convergence you are sure of may be used.

The Direct Comparison Test is used with fraction expressions. “Extra” factors in the denominator can often be ignored. Some examples

•  $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{{{{5}^{n}}\sqrt{n}}}}}$ would be a geometric series except for the radical. Compare it with the geometric series $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{{{{5}^{n}}}}}}$
• $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{{{{n}^{2}}}}{{{{n}^{4}}+2n+1}}}}$ can be compared with the p-series $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{{{{n}^{2}}}}}}$. The hint here is that ignoring the lower power terms in the denominator and reducing we see that the original series looks like $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{{{{n}^{2}}}}}}$. Both series converge. But be careful $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{{{{n}^{2}}}}{{{{n}^{4}}-2n-1}}}}$ while similar, has terms greater than the terms of $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{{{{n}^{2}}}}}}$.)
• The terms of the series $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{{{{{\left( {{{n}^{2}}+2} \right)}}^{{1/3}}}}}}}$ are larger than the harmonic series $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{n}}}$ a divergent p-series, so this series diverges.

The Limit Comparison Test may be used with the same kinds of series that are messy to use with direct comparison.

• Returning to $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{{{{n}^{2}}}}{{{{n}^{4}}+2n+1}}}}$, try the limit comparison test with $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{{{{n}^{2}}}}}}$. The limit is 1, so both series converge.
• $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{{\sqrt{{{{n}^{2}}+3}}}}}}$ Series with radicals also are candidates for the limit comparison test. Since the general terms is approximately $\displaystyle {\frac{1}{n}}$ Compare this with $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{n}}}$. Both series diverge.

More complicated series, perhaps with exponential factors and/or factorials can be examined with the Ratio Test.

• $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{{{{3}^{n}}}}{{n!}}}}$ or $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\frac{{{{n}^{3}}}}{{{{5}^{n}}}}}}$ are candidates for the Ratio Test. Both Converge.
• $\displaystyle \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{{{{\left( {-1} \right)}}^{n}}\frac{{n!}}{{{{{500}}^{n}}}}}}$ appears to be a candidate for the alternating series test. However, for large values of n > 530 the terms increase in absolute vale, so the alternating series test cannot be applied. The ratio test works here, but since the terms do not approach 0 as n increases, the nth-term test for divergence also works. This series diverges.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The AP Calculus BC exams rarely, if ever, specify which test to use. Often these are multiple-choice questions. If students can see whether the series converges or diverges, that is enough. But here again the key is practice, practice, practice.

As you teach the various tests, pause to look at the form of the series in the exercises for each test that your book provides. Most books also have mixed sets of exercises where tests other than the one in that section are needed. One of the things you can do is assign these entire sets with the directions that students should determine what test they would try, and, for their comparison tests, to which series they would compare it. Discuss their opinions especially if there is more than one suggested or suggest others. Work only those those students are confused about or those for which they have divergent opinions; try to converge on a good test for each.

Revised July 18, 2021, January 29, 2023