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.


2019 CED Unit 6: Integration and Accumulation of Change

Unit 6 develops the ideas behind integration, the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, and Accumulation. (CED – 2019 p. 109 – 128 ). These topics account for about 17 – 20% of questions on the AB exam and 17 – 20% of the BC questions.

Topics 6.1 – 6.4 Working up to the FTC

Topic 6.1 Exploring Accumulations of Change Accumulation is introduced through finding the area between the graph of a function and the x-axis. Positive and negative rates of change, unit analysis.

Topic 6.2 Approximating Areas with Riemann Sums Left-, right-, midpoint Riemann sums, and Trapezoidal sums, with uniform partitions are developed. Approximating with numerical methods, including use of technology are considered. Determining if the approximation is an over- or under-approximation.

Topic 6.3 Riemann Sums, Summation Notation and the Definite Integral. The definition integral is defined as the limit of a Riemann sum.

Topic 6.4 The Fundamental Theorem of Calculus (FTC) and Accumulation Functions Functions defined by definite integrals and the FTC.

Topic 6.5 Interpreting the Behavior of Accumulation Functions Involving Area Graphical, numerical, analytical, and verbal representations.

Topic 6.6 Applying Properties of Definite Integrals Using the properties to ease evaluation, evaluating by geometry and dealing with discontinuities.

Topic 6.7 The Fundamental Theorem of Calculus and Definite Integrals Antiderivatives. (Note: I suggest writing the FTC in this form \displaystyle \int_{a}^{b}{{{f}'\left( x \right)}}dx=f\left( b \right)-f\left( a \right) because it seems more efficient than using upper case and lower-case f.)

Topics 6.5 – 6.14 Techniques of Integration

Topic 6.8 Finding Antiderivatives and Indefinite Integrals: Basic Rules and Notation. Using basic differentiation formulas to find antiderivatives. Some functions do not have closed-form antiderivatives. (Note: While textbooks often consider antidifferentiation before any work with integration, this seems like the place to introduce them. After learning the FTC students have a reason to find antiderivatives. See Integration Itinerary

Topic 6.9 Integration Using Substitution The u-substitution method. Changing the limits of integration when substituting.

Topic 6.10 Integrating Functions Using Long Division and Completing the Square 

Topic 6.11 Integrating Using Integration by Parts (BC ONLY)

Topic 6.12 Integrating Using Linear Partial Fractions (BC ONLY)

Topic 6.13 Evaluating Improper Integrals (BC ONLY) Showing the work requires students to show correct limit notation.

Topic 6.14 Selecting Techniques for Antidifferentiation This means practice, practice, practice.


The suggested time for Unit 6 is  18 – 20 classes for AB and 15 – 16 for BC of 40 – 50-minute class periods, this includes time for testing etc.

Previous posts on these topics include:

Introducing the Derivative

Integration Itinerary

The Old Pump and Flying to Integrationland   Two introductory explorations

Working Towards Riemann Sums

Riemann Sums

The Definition of the Definite Integral

Foreshadowing the FTC 

The Fundamental Theorem of Calculus

More About the FTC

Y the FTC?

Area Between Curves

Under is a Long Way Down 

Properties of Integrals 

Trapezoids – Ancient and Modern  On Trapezoid sums

Good Question 9 – Riemann Reversed   Given a Riemann sum can you find the Integral it converges to?  A common and difficult AP Exam problem


Accumulation: Need an Amount?

Good Question 7 – 2009 AB 3

Good Question 8 – or Not?  Unit analysis

AP Exams Accumulation Question    A summary of accumulation ideas.

Graphing with Accumulation 1

Graphing with Accumulation 2

Accumulation and Differential Equations 

Painting a Point

Techniques of Integrations (AB and BC)


Why Muss with the “+C”?

Good Question 13  More than one way to skin a cat.

Integration by Parts – a BC Topic

Integration by Parts 1

Integration by Part 2

Parts and More Parts

Good Question 12 – Parts with a Constant?

Modified Tabular Integration 

Improper Integrals and Proper Areas

Math vs the Real World Why \displaystyle \int_{{-\infty }}^{\infty }{{\frac{1}{x}}}dx does not converge.

Here are links to the full list of posts discussing the ten units in the 2019 Course and Exam Description.

2019 CED – Unit 1: Limits and Continuity

2019 CED – Unit 2: Differentiation: Definition and Fundamental Properties.

2019 CED – Unit 3: Differentiation: Composite , Implicit, and Inverse Functions

2019 CED – Unit 4 Contextual Applications of the Derivative  Consider teaching Unit 5 before Unit 4

2019 – CED Unit 5 Analytical Applications of Differentiation  Consider teaching Unit 5 before Unit 4

2019 – CED Unit 6 Integration and Accumulation of Change

2019 – CED Unit 7 Differential Equations  Consider teaching after Unit 8

2019 – CED Unit 8 Applications of Integration   Consider teaching after Unit 6, before Unit 7

2019 – CED Unit 9 Parametric Equations, Polar Coordinates, and Vector-Values Functions 

2019 CED Unit 10 Infinite Sequences and Series


Integration – DON’T PANIC

As I’ve mentioned before, I try to stay a few weeks ahead of where I figure you are in the curriculum. So here. early in November, I start with integration. You probably don’t start integration until after Thanksgiving in early December. That’s about the midpoint of the year. Don’t wait too much longer. True, your kids are not differentiation experts (yet); there will be plenty of differentiation work while your teaching and learning integration. Spending too much time on differentiation will give you less time for integration and there is as much integration on the test as differentiation.

The first thing to decide is when to teach antidifferentiation (finding the function whose derivative you are given). Many books do this at the end of the last differentiation chapter or the first thing in the first integration chapter. Some teachers, myself included, prefer to wait until after presenting the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus (FTC). Still others wait until after teaching all the applications. The reasons  for this are discussed in more detail in the first post below, Integration Itinerary.

Integration itinerary – a discussion of when to teach antidifferentiation.

The following posts are on different antidifferentiation techniques.

Antidifferentiation u-substitution

Why Muss with the “+C”?

Good Question 12 – Parts with a Constant?

Arbitrary Ranges  Integrating inverse trigonometric functions.

Integration by Parts I (BC only)

Good Question 12 – Parts with a Constant  How come you don’t need the “+C”?

The next three posts discuss the tabular method in more detail. This is used when integration by parts must be used more than once. If memory serves, using integration by parts twice on the same function has never shown up on the AP exams. Just sayin’.

Integration by Parts II (BC only) The Tabular method.

Parts and More Parts   (BC only) More on the tabular method and on reduction formulas

Modified Tabular Integration  (BC only) With this you don’t need to make a table; it’s quicker than the tabular method and just as easy.





Revised and updated November 4, 2018

Good Question 13

Let’s end the year with this problem that I came across a while ago in a review book:

Integrate \int{x\sqrt{x+1}dx}

It was a multiple-choice question and had four choices for the answer. The author intended it to be done with a u-substitution but being a bit rusty I tried integration by parts. I got the correct answer, but it was not among the choices. So I thought it would make a good challenge to work on over the holidays.

    1. Find the antiderivative using a u-substitution.
    2. Find the antiderivative using integration by parts.
    3. Find the antiderivative using a different u-substitution.
    4. Find the antiderivative by adding zero in a convenient form.

Your answers for 1, 3, and 4 should be the same, but look different from your answer to 2. The difference is NOT due to the constant of integration which is the same for all four answers. Show that the two forms are the same by

  1. “Simplifying” your answer to 2 and get a third form of the answer.
  2. “Simplifying” your answer to 1, 3, 4 and get that third form again.

Give it a try before reading on. The solutions are below the picture.

Method 1: u-substitution

Integrate \int{x\sqrt{x+1}dx}


\int{x\sqrt{x+1}dx=}\int{\left( u-1 \right)\sqrt{u}}du=\int{{{u}^{3/2}}-{{u}^{1/2}}}du=\tfrac{5}{2}{{u}^{5/2}}-\tfrac{3}{2}{{u}^{3/2}}

\tfrac{2}{5}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{5/2}}-\tfrac{2}{3}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}+C

Method 2: By Parts

Integrate \int{x\sqrt{x+1}dx}


dv=\sqrt{x+1}dx,v=\tfrac{2}{3}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}

\int{x\sqrt{x+1}dx}=\tfrac{2}{3}x{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}-\int{\tfrac{2}{3}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}dx}=

\tfrac{2}{3}x{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}-\tfrac{4}{15}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{5/2}}+C

Method 3: A different u-substitution

Integrate \int{x\sqrt{x+1}dx}


du=\tfrac{1}{2}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{-1/2}}dx,dx=2udu

2{{\int{\left( {{u}^{2}}-1 \right){{u}^{2}}}}^{{}}}du=2\int{{{u}^{4}}-{{u}^{2}}}du=\tfrac{2}{5}{{u}^{5}}-\tfrac{2}{3}{{u}^{3}}=

\tfrac{2}{5}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{5/2}}-\tfrac{2}{3}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}+C

This gives the same answer as Method 1.

Method 4: Add zero in a convenient form.

Integrate \int{x\sqrt{x+1}dx}

\int{x\sqrt{x+1}}dx=\int{x\sqrt{x+1}+\sqrt{x+1}-\sqrt{x+1} dx=}

\int{\left( x+1 \right)\sqrt{x+1}-\sqrt{x+1}}dx=

\int{{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}-{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{1/2}}dx}=

\tfrac{2}{5}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{5/2}}-\tfrac{2}{3}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}+C

This, also, gives the same answer as Methods 1 and 3.

So, by a vote of three to one Method 2 must be wrong. Yes, no, maybe?

No, all four answers are the same. Often when you get two forms for the same antiderivative, the problem is with the constant of integration. That is not the case here. We can show that the answers are the same by factoring out a common factor of {{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}. (Factoring the term with the lowest fractional exponent often is the key to simplifying expressions of this kind.)

Simplify the answer for Method 2:

\tfrac{2}{3}x{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}-\tfrac{4}{15}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{5/2}}+C=

\tfrac{2}{3}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}\left( x-\tfrac{2}{5}\left( x+1 \right) \right)+C=

\displaystyle \tfrac{2}{3}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}\left( \frac{5x-2x-2}{5} \right)+C=

\tfrac{2}{15}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}\left( 3x-2 \right)+C

Simplify the answer for Methods 1, 3, and 4:

\tfrac{2}{5}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{5/2}}-\tfrac{2}{3}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}+C=

\tfrac{2}{15}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}\left( 3\left( x+1 \right)-5 \right)+C=

\tfrac{2}{15}{{\left( x+1 \right)}^{3/2}}\left( 3x-2 \right)+C

So, same answer and same constant.

Is this a good question? No and yes.

As a multiple-choice question, no, this is not a good question. It is reasonable that a student may use the method of integration by parts. His or her answer is not among the choices, but they have done nothing wrong. Obviously, you cannot include both answers, since then there will be two correct choices. Moral: writing a multiple-choice question is not as simple as it seems.

From another point of view, yes, this is a good question, but not for multiple-choice. You can use it in your class to widen your students’ perspective. Give the class a hint on where to start. Even better, ask the class to suggest methods; if necessary, suggest methods until you have all four (… maybe there is even a fifth). Assign one-quarter of your class to do the problem by each method. Then have them compare their results. Finally, have them do the simplification to show that the answers are the same.

My next post will be after the holidays.

Happy Holidays to Everyone!



We now turn to integration. The first thing to decide is when to teach antidifferentiation. Many books do this at the end of the last differentiation chapter or the first thing in the first integration chapter. Some teachers, myself included, prefer to wait until after presenting the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. Still others wait until after teaching all the applications. The reasons  for this are discussed in more detail in the first post below, Integration Itinerary.

If you teach this later, come back and look at it then.

Integration itinerary – a discussion of when to teach antidifferentiation.

The following posts are on different antidifferentiation techniques.

Antidifferentiation u-substitution

Why Muss with the “+C”?

Good Question 12 – Parts with a Constant?

Integration by Parts I (BC only)

Integration by Parts II (BC only)

Parts and More Parts   (BC only) More on the tabular method and on reduction formulas

Modified Tabular Integration  (BC only) With this you don’t need to make a table.






Is this going to be on the exam?

confused-teacherRecently there was a discussion on the AP Calculus Community bulletin board regarding whether it was necessary or desirable to have students do curve sketching starting with the equation and ending with a graph with all the appropriate features – increasing/decreasing, concavity, extreme values etc., etc. – included. As this is kind of question that has not been asked on the AP Calculus exam, should the teacher have his students do problems like these?

The teacher correctly observed that while all the individual features of a graph are tested, students are rarely, if ever, expected to put it all together. He observed that making up such questions is difficult because getting “nice” numbers is difficult.

Replies ran from No, curve sketching should go the way of log and trig tables, to Yes, because it helps connect f. f ‘ and f ‘’, and to skip the messy ones and concentrate on the connections and why things work the way they do. Most people seemed to settle on that last idea; as I did. As for finding questions with “nice” numbers, look in other textbooks and steal borrow their examples.

But there is another consideration with this and other topics. Folks are always asking why such-and-such a topic is not tested on the AP Calculus exam and why not.

The AP Calculus program is not the arbiter of what students need to know about first-year calculus or what you may include in your course. That said, if you’re teaching an AP course you should do your best to have your students learn everything listed in the 2019 Course and Exam Description book and be aware of how those topics are tested – the style and format of the questions. This does not limit you in what else you may think important and want your students to know. You are free to include other topics as time permits.

Other considerations go into choosing items for the exams. A big consideration is writing questions that can be scored fairly.  Here are some thoughts on this by topic.

Curve Sketching

If a question consisted of just an equation and the directions that the student should draw a graph, how do you score it? How accurate does the graph need to be? Exactly what needs to be included?

An even bigger concern is what do you do if a student makes a small mistake, maybe just miscopies the equation? The problem may have become easier (say, an asymptote goes missing in the miscopied equation and if there is a point or two for dealing with asymptotes – what becomes of those points?) Is it fair to the student to lose points for something his small mistake made it unnecessary for him to consider? Or if the mistake makes the question so difficult it cannot be solved by hand, what happens then? Either way, the student knows what to do, yet cannot show that to the reader.

To overcome problems like these, the questions include several parts usually unrelated to each other, so that a mistake in one part does not make it impossible to earn any subsequent points. All the main ideas related to derivatives and graphing are tested somewhere on the exam, if not in the free-response section, then as a multiple-choice question.

(Where the parts are related, a wrong answer from one part, usually just a number, imported into the next part is considered correct for the second part and the reader then can determine if the student knows the concept and procedure for that part.)


A big topic in derivative applications is optimization. Questions on optimization typically present a “real life” situation such as something must be built for the lowest cost or using the least material. The last question of this type was in 1982 (1982 AB 6, BC 3 same question). The question is 3.5 lines long and has no parts – just “find the cost of the least expensive tank.”

The problem here is the same as with curve sketching. The first thing the student must do is write the equation to be optimized. If the student does that incorrectly, there is no way to survive, and no way to grade the problem. While it is fair to not to award points for not writing the correct equation, it is not fair to deduct other points that the student could earn had he written the correct equation.

The main tool for optimizing is to find the extreme value of the function; that is tested on every exam. So here is a topic that you certainly may include the full question in you course, but the concepts will be tested in other ways on the exam.

The epsilon-delta definition of limit

I think the reason that this topic is not tested is slightly different. If the function for which you are trying to “prove” the limit is linear, then \displaystyle \delta =\frac{\varepsilon }{\left| m \right|} where m is the slope of the line – there is nothing to do beside memorize the formula. If the function is not linear, then the algebraic gymnastics necessary are too complicated and differ greatly depending on the function. You would be testing whether the student knew the appropriate “trick.”

Furthermore, in a multiple-choice question, the distractor that gives the smallest value of must be correct (even if a larger value is also correct).

Moreover, finding the epsilon-delta relationship is not what’s important about the definition of limit. Understanding how the existence of such a relationship say “gets closer to” or “approaches” in symbols and guarantees that the limit exists is important.

Volumes using the Shell Method

I have no idea why this topic is not included. It was before 1998. The only reason I can think of is that the method is so unlike anything else in calculus (except radial density), that it was eliminated for that reason.

This is a topic that students should know about. Consider showing it too them when you are doing volumes or after the exam. Their college teachers may like them to know it.

Integration by Parts on the AB exam

Integration by Parts is considered a second semester topic. Since AB is considered a one-semester course, Integration by Parts is tested on the BC exam, but not the AB exam. Even on the BC exam it is no longer covered in much depth: two- or more step integrals, the tabular method, and reduction formulas are not tested.

This is a topic that you can include in AB if you have time or after the exam or expand upon in a BC class.

Newton’s Method, Work, and other applications of integrals and derivatives

There are a great number of applications of integrals and derivatives. Some that were included on the exams previously are no longer listed. And that’s the answer right there: in fairness, you must tell students (and teachers) what applications to include and what will be tested. It is not fair to wing in some new application and expect nearly half a million students to be able to handle it.

Also, remember when looking through older exams, especially those from before 1998, that some of the topics are not on the current course description and will not be tested on the exams.

Solution of differential equations by methods other than separation of variables

Differential equations are a huge and important area of calculus. The beginning courses, AB and BC, try to give students a brief introduction to differential equations. The idea, I think, is like a survey course in English Literature or World History: there is no time to dig deeply, but the is an attempt to show the main parts of the subject.

While the choices are somewhat arbitrary, the College Board regularly consults with college and university mathematics departments about what to include and not include. The relatively minor changes in the new course description are evidence of this continuing collaboration. Any changes are usually announced two years in advance. (The recent addition of density problems unannounced, notwithstanding.) So, find a balance for yourself. Cover (or better yet, uncover) the ideas and concepts in the course description and if there if a topic you particularly like or think will help your students’ understanding of the calculus, by all means include it.

PS: Please scroll down and read Verge Cornelius’ great comment below.

Happy Holiday to everyone. There is no post scheduled for next week; I will resume in the new year. As always, I like to hear from you. If you have anything calculus-wise you would like me to write about, please let me know and I’ll see what I can come up with. You may email me at


Good Question 12 – Parts with a Constant?

partsSomeone asked me about this a while ago and I thought I would share it with you. It may be a good question to get your students thinking about; see if they can give a definitive answer that will, of course, include a justification.

Integration by Parts is summarized in the equation

\displaystyle \int_{{}}^{{}}{udv}=uv-\int_{{}}^{{}}{vdu}

To use the equation, you choose part of a given integral (left side) to be u and part to be dv, both functions of x. Then you differentiate u and integrate dv and use them on the right side to obtain a simpler integral that you can integrate.

The question is this: When you integrate dv, should you, can you, have a constant of integration, the “+ ” that you insist upon in other integration problems? Why don’t you use it here? Or can you?

Scroll down for my answer.

Answer: Let’s see what happens if we use a constant. Assume that \displaystyle \int_{{}}^{{}}{dv}=v+C. Then

\displaystyle \int_{{}}^{{}}{udv}=u\cdot \left( v+C \right)-\int_{{}}^{{}}{\left( v+C \right)du}

\displaystyle =uv+Cu-\left( \int_{{}}^{{}}{vdu}+\int_{{}}^{{}}{Cdu} \right)

\displaystyle =uv+Cu-\int_{{}}^{{}}{vdu}-Cu

\displaystyle =uv-\int_{{}}^{{}}{vdu}

So, you may use a constant if you want, but it will always add out of the expression.

For more on integration by parts see here for the basic idea, here for the tabular method, here for a quicker way than the tabular method, and here for more on the tabular method and reduction formulas.