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


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

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


 

 

 

Power Series 1

This is a BC topic

POWER SERIES (Maclaurin series and Taylor series)

Introducing Power Series 1 (2-8-2013) Making better approximations

Introducing Power Series 2 (2-11-2013) Graphing and seeing the interval of convergence

Introducing Power Series 3 (2-13-2013) Questions pointing the way to power series

Graphing Taylor Polynomials (2-7-2017) Using a graphing calculator to graphs Taylor series

New Series from Old 1 (2-15-2013) Substituting

New Series from Old 2 (2-18-2013) Differentiating and Integrating

New Series from Old 3 (2-20-2013) Rational functions as geometric series

REVIEW NOTES Type 10: Sequence and Series Questions (4-6-2018) A summary for reviewing sequences and series.


The College Board is pleased to offer a new live online event for new and experienced AP Calculus teachers on March 5th at 7:00 PM Eastern.

I will be the presenter.

The topic will be AP Calculus: How to Review for the Exam:  In this two-hour online workshop, we will investigate techniques and hints for helping students to prepare for the AP Calculus exams. Additionally, we’ll discuss the 10 type questions that appear on the AP Calculus exams, and what students need know and to be able to do for each. Finally, we’ll examine resources for exam review.

Registration for this event is $30/members and $35/non-members. You can register for the event by following this link: http://eventreg.collegeboard.org/d/xbqbjz


 

 

 

 


 

Which Convergence Test Should I Use? Part 1

One common question from students first learning about series is how to know which convergence test to use with a given series.  The first answer is: practice, practice, practice. The second answer is that there is often more than one convergence test that can be used with a given series.

I will illustrate this point with a look at one series and the several tests that may be used to show it converges. This will serve as a review of some of the tests and how to use them. For a list of convergence tests that are required for the AP Calculus BC exam click here.

To be able to use these tests the students must know the hypotheses of each test and check that they are met for the series in question. On multiple-choice questions students do not need to how their work, but on free-response questions (such as checking the endpoints of the interval of convergence of a Taylor series) they should state them and say that the series meets them.

For our example we will look at the series \displaystyle 1-\frac{1}{3}+\frac{1}{9}-\frac{1}{{27}}+\frac{1}{{81}}-+\ldots =\sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{{{{\left( {-\frac{1}{3}} \right)}}^{{n-1}}}}}

Spoiler: Except for the first two tests to be considered, the other tests are far more work than is necessary for this series. The point is to show that several tests may be used for a given series, and to practice the other tests.

The Geometric Series Test is the obvious test to use here, since this is a geometric series. The common ratio is (–1/3) and since this is between –1 and 1 the series will converge.

The Alternating Series Test (the Leibniz Test) may be used as well. The series alternates signs, is decreasing in absolute value, and the limit of the nth term as n approaches infinity is 0, therefore the series converges.

The Ratio Test is used extensively with power series to find the radius of convergence, but it may be used to determine convergence as well. To use the test, we find

\displaystyle \underset{{n\to \infty }}{\mathop{{\lim }}}\,\frac{{\left| {{{{\left( {-\frac{1}{3}} \right)}}^{{n+1}}}} \right|}}{{\left| {{{{\left( {-\frac{1}{3}} \right)}}^{n}}} \right|}}=\frac{1}{3}  Since the limit is less than 1, we conclude the series converges.

Absolute Convergence

A series, \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{{{a}_{n}}}}, is absolutely convergent if, and only if, the series \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{\left| {{{a}_{n}}} \right|}} converges. In other words, if you make all the terms positive, and that series converges, then the original series also converges. If a series is absolutely convergent, then it is convergent. (A series that converges but is not absolutely convergent is said to be conditionally convergent.)

The advantage of going for absolute convergence is that we do not have to deal with the negative terms; this allows us to use other tests.

Applied to our example, if the series \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{{{{\left( {\frac{1}{3}} \right)}}^{{n-1}}}}} converges, then our series \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{{{{\left( {-\frac{1}{3}} \right)}}^{{n-1}}}}} will converge absolutely and converge.

The Geometric Series Test can be used again as above.

The Integral Test says if the improper integral \displaystyle {{\int_{1}^{\infty }{{\left( {\frac{1}{3}} \right)}}}^{x}}dx converges, then our original series will converge absolutely.

\displaystyle \int\limits_{1}^{\infty }{{{{{\left( {\frac{1}{3}} \right)}}^{x}}}}dx=\underset{{n\to \infty }}{\mathop{{\lim }}}\,\int\limits_{1}^{n}{{{{{\left( {\frac{1}{3}} \right)}}^{x}}}}dx=\underset{{n\to \infty }}{\mathop{{\lim }}}\,\left( {\frac{{{{{\left( {\frac{1}{3}} \right)}}^{n}}}}{{\ln \left( {1/3} \right)}}-\frac{{{{{\left( {\frac{1}{3}} \right)}}^{1}}}}{{\ln \left( {1/3} \right)}}} \right)=0-\frac{{1/3}}{{\ln \left( {1/3} \right)}}

\displaystyle =-\frac{{1/3}}{{\ln \left( {1/3} \right)}}>0 since ln(1/3) < 0.

The limit is finite, so our series converges absolutely, and therefore converges.

The Direct Comparison Test may also be used. We need to find a positive convergent series whose terms are term-by-term greater than the terms of our series. The geometric series \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{{{{\left( {\frac{1}{2}} \right)}}^{{n-1}}}}} meets these two requirements. Therefore, the original series converges absolutely and converges.

The Limit Comparison Test is another possibility. Here we need a positive series that converges; we can use \sum\limits_{{n=1}}^{\infty }{{{{{\left( {\frac{1}{2}} \right)}}^{{n-1}}}}} again. We look at

\displaystyle \underset{{n\to \infty }}{\mathop{{\lim }}}\,\frac{{{{{\left( {1/3} \right)}}^{n}}}}{{{{{\left( {1/2} \right)}}^{n}}}}=\underset{{n\to \infty }}{\mathop{{\lim }}}\,{{\left( {\frac{2}{3}} \right)}^{n}}=0  and since the series in the denominator converges, our series converges absolutely.

So, for this example all the convergences that may be tested on the AP Calculus BC exam may be used with the single exception of the p-series Test which cannot be used with this series.


Teaching suggestions

  1. While the convergence of the series used here can be done all these ways, other series lend themselves to only one. Stress the form of the series that works with each test. For example, the Limit Comparison Test is most often used for rational expressions with the numerator of lower degree than the denominator and for expressions involving radicals of polynomials. The comparison is made with a p-series of whatever degree will make the numerator and denominator the same degree allowing the limit to be found.
  2. Most textbooks, after explaining each test and giving exercises on them, include a series of mixed exercises that require all the test covered up to that point. A good way to use this set is to assign students to state which test they would try first on each series. Discuss the opinions of the class and work any questions that students are unsure of or on which several ways are suggested.
  3. Give your students the series above, or a similar one, and have them prove its convergence using each of the convergence tests as was done above.
  4. Divide your class into groups and assign each group the series and one of the convergence tests. Ask them to use the test to prove convergence and then discuss the results as a group.

Of course, I didn’t really answer the question, did I? Check What Convergence Test Should I use Part 2


Updated February 23, 2013


More on Power Series

Continuing with post on sequences and series

New Series from Old 1 Rewriting using substitution

New Series from Old 2 Finding series by differentiating and integrating

New Series from Old 3  Rewriting rational expressions as geometric series

Geometric Series – Far Out A look at doing a question the right way and the “wrong” way?

Error Bounds The Alternating Series Error Bound and the Lagrange Error Bound

The Lagrange Highway An example explaining error bounds

Synthetic Summer Fun Using synthetic division, the Remainder Theorem, the Factor Theorem and finding the terms of a Taylor Series (Probably more than you want to know, but possibly an enrichment idea.)

Graphing Taylor Polynomials

The eighth in the Graphing Calculator / Technology series

Here are some hints for graphing Taylor polynomials using technology. (The illustrations are made using a TI-8x calculator. The ideas are the same on other graphing calculators; the syntax may be slightly different.)

Each successive term of a Taylor polynomial consists of all the previous terms plus one new term. To show students how Taylor polynomials closely approximate a function (in the interval of convergence, of course), enter the function as Y1. Then enter the first term of the polynomial as Y2. Enter the next polynomial as Y3 = Y2 + the second term; enter the next as y4 = Y3 + the next term, and so on.

The example is the McLaurin series for sin(x) centered at the origin:

\displaystyle \sin \left( x \right)=x-\frac{{{x}^{3}}}{3!}+\frac{{{x}^{5}}}{5!}+\cdots +\frac{{{(-1)}^{2n-1}}{{x}^{2n-1}}}{\left( 2n-1 \right)!}=\sum\limits_{n=1}^{\infty }{{{\left( -1 \right)}^{n+1}}\frac{{{x}^{2n-1}}}{\left( 2n-1 \right)!}}

Each will graph one at a time. Watching them graph, one at a time, is instructive as well; each curve approximates the sine curve (in black) further and further away from the origin.

series-1

series-2

Another way to graph the polynomials is to enter them as a sequence of sums. The example this time is ln(x) centered at x = 2:

\displaystyle \ln \left( x \right)=\ln \left( 2 \right)+\frac{x-2}{2}-\frac{{{\left( x-2 \right)}^{2}}}{8}+\frac{{{\left( x-2 \right)}^{3}}}{24}+...=\ln \left( 2 \right)+\sum\limits_{n=1}^{\infty }{{{\left( -1 \right)}^{n+1}}\frac{{{\left( x-2 \right)}^{n}}}{{{2}^{n}}n}}

The syntax is seq( series in sigma notation, indexing variable, start value, end value [,step]). Notice from the figure that the indexing variable, K, is above the sigma.

series-4

The individual polynomials graph in the same color (blue); the function is shown in red.

series-3Comparing the two graphs (sin(x) and ln(x)) is a good way to start a discussion about the interval of convergence – ask what is different about the graphs as more polynomials are graphed on each. Notice that unlike the sin(x) series the ln(x) polynomials only come close to the function in a limited interval (0, 4) centered at x = 2.


Desmos is also a good program to use to illustrate Taylor and McLaurin polynomials (as are Geogebra and Winplot). The use of the sliders makes it possible to see the successive polynomials quickly. They also help students see the interval of convergence as higher degree polynomials hug the graph on wider intervals (sin(x)), or stay within the same interval (ln(x)). The Desmos illustration with slider for the sin(x) centered at the origin is here and for ln(x)  centered at x = 2 is here. Study the input on the left side and enter Taylor polynomials for other functions.

The fifth degree Taylor polynomial for sin(x) centered at the origin.The interval of convergence is all real numbers. Each polynomial “hugs” the graph on wider intervals.

The fifth degree Taylor polynomial for ln(x) centered at x = 2. The interval of convergence is 0 < x < 4. The polynomials all leave the graph outside of this interval.


Coming soon

Feb 14th, Geometric Series – Far Out