AP®︎/College Calculus AB
Tables can be a powerful tool to approximate a limit, but they need to be used wisely. Learn how to create tables in order to find a good approximation of a limit, and learn how to approximate a limit given a table of values.
Limits are a tool for reasoning about function behavior, and tables are a tool for reasoning about limits. One nice thing about tables is that we can get more precise estimates of limits than we'd get by eyeballing graphs.
When using a table to approximate limits, it's important to create it in a way that simulates the feeling of getting "infinitely close" to some desired -value.
Imagine we're asked to approximate this limit:
Note: The function is actually undefined at because the denominator evaluates to zero, but the limit as approaches still exists.
Step 1: We'd like to pick a value that's a little bit less than (that is, a value that's "to the left" of when thinking about the standard -axis), so maybe start with something like .
Step 2: Try a couple more -values to simulate the feeling of getting infinitely close to from the left.
Notice how our -values really "zoom in" around . A worse choice of -values would have been constant increments like , which aren't very helpful for thinking about getting infinitely close to .
Step 3: Approach from the right just like we did from the left. We want to do this in a way that simulates the feeling of getting infinitely close to .
(Note: We've removed from the table to save space, and also because it isn't necessary for reasoning about the limit value.)
Looking at the table we've created, we have very strong evidence that the limit is . But, if we're honest with ourselves, we must admit that what we have is only a reasonable approximation. We can't say for sure that this is the actual value of the limit.
Three students were given a function and asked to estimate . Each student created a table (shown below).
Each table is accurate, but which one is the best for approximating the limit?
Common mistakes when creating tables to estimate limits
Here are a several things to watch out for as you create your own tables to approximate limits:
Assuming the function value is the limit value: The example above highlights a case where function is undefined, yet the limit still exists. Avoid jumping to conclusions about the limit value based on the function value.
Not getting infinitely close: Getting infinitely close means we’re trying to get so close to a desired -value that there’s very little room left between where we are and where that value is—close enough to convince us that the estimate we’re getting is most likely what the limit is.
Avoid picking -values in constant increments like or even because those values don't really get us infinitely close—they only get us kind of close. To get infinitely close, we want to keep reducing our increments, using -values like , so that we’re shrinking the space between where we are and where we’d like to be.
Not approaching from both sides: Remember to approach your desired -value from both the left and the right. Remember, for the limit to exist, the left- and right-hand limits must be equal. Avoid jumping to conclusions about the limit value after only approaching your desired -value from one side.
Assuming "left side" means "negative": Some students mistakenly believe that when approaching from the left they must use negative numbers. In the example above, we approached from the left by using positive values that were just a little bit less than , such as and . Don't assume you must use negative -values when approaching from the left.
The function is defined over the real numbers. This table gives select values of .
What is a reasonable estimate for ?
Common mistakes when estimating limits from tables
Confusing the limit value with the function value: Remember that the limit of a function at a certain point isn't necessarily equal to the function's value at that point. For example, in Problem 2, but is about .
Thinking a limit value is always an integer: Some limits are "nice" and have integer values or nice fraction values. For example, the limit in our first example here was . Some limits are less nice, like the limit in Problem 2 which is somewhere around .
A student created a table to help them reason about .
Based on the table, what can you reasonably conclude about the limit?
The table gives a few values of function . The function is increasing everywhere except at , and exists.
Which is a reasonable estimate for ?
Want to join the conversation?
- So in problem 3, if x=7 is not an asymptote, what is it called?(12 votes)
- If x=7 was an asymptote, we would see that as it approaches 7 from one side, it would start to approach infinity at a dramatic pace and do the same or negative infinity from the other. As you can see, they both approach −1.925 from each side. Therefore we have discontinuity which is when a point at which a function is discontinuous or undefined.(83 votes)
- how did you determine problem 4? i dont understand the correlation between the limit and it strictly increasing(20 votes)
- Correct me if i'm wrong but as the function has a discontinuity at x=5 and the closest values we have to lim->x=5 is at x=4 and x=6, it made sense to me that with the given information the most accurate estimation of lim->x=5 would be the average value of x=4 and x=6. I.e (4.9+5.6)/2 which is 5.25 which is approximately 5.3(20 votes)
- okay, so I think I'm starting to understand, is a limit a value that we would expect there to be, if the existing trend continued, regardless of what the actual value is?(22 votes)
- Yes certainly it aims on what the trend is and not on what the function was. It tells what the trend approaches as we go to a particular point in a graph.(3 votes)
- I dont agree with the answer... Obviously It can be true... but not only this one can be true. Let's show why... Imagine those values.
f(3) = 4,3 (as shown)
f(4) = 4,9 (as shown)
f(4,5) = 5,2
f(4,99) = 5,3
f(5) = 4,8 (as shown)
f(5,001) = 4,9
f(5,1) = 5
f(5,5) = 5,5
f(6) = 5,6 (as shown)
Which acomplish our requirements... it is increasing everywhere (understood as positive derivative)... And in this case there is no limit. The approximations from both sides is different (has different value)(5 votes)
- That's why the problem asks for a 'reasonable estimate' of the limit. We're given incomplete information, so we can only make an educated guess of the limit if we assume the function behaves nicely.(13 votes)
- the function was increasing by six before and after x=5 but when x=5 the function becomes messy, because the value 5 is out of place. So why is this still the right answer?(4 votes)
- are u talking about the last question? it says the function never decreases except at the point x=5. This means there must be a point discontinuity. to find the limit as x approaches 5, we have to do some guessing. at x=4, f(x)=4.9 while at x=6, f(x)=5.6. Thus, we know that the limit value must be between 4.9 and 5.6. The only value that falls in between that range is 5.3 and thus that is the right answer. hope this helps(11 votes)
- I am confused about question 4, even after the tutor explained it i am still having trouble. Can someone help me?(2 votes)
- In problem 4, it is said that "The function is increasing everywhere except at x=5", which means that x=5 most certainly is a function jump. That said, x=5 is presumably a single dot out of the rest of the graphic of f, so the limit of f(x) when x approaches 5 is different from f(5).
However, knowing that the limit depends on the points surrounding it, and knowing that f(4) < that limit < f(6), i.e 4.9 < that limit < 5.6, we can deduced that a good estimate for the limit in question is 5.3.
Hope this helps!(12 votes)
- What is the difference between the function value and the limit value?(1 vote)
- The function value at a point a refers to the value f(a) whereas the limit value refers to the limit (f(x)) as x approaches a.
Both values are the same for a continuous function but might be different for a function discontinuous at a.(9 votes)
- How does this question not break the advice above not to use x values that are too coarse? Why can't there be a function that would not make 4.8 the closest answer with 4.9000001 being a plausible value? Would it not be only slightly less silly to keep the f(x) values the same but use a gigantic scale of x values: 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000 etc? The function increases everywhere but x=5. But why such a large leap of faith that it increases so smoothly?
A possible fix would be to not say "reasonable estimate" (possibly implying "nearest" but, "Which answer falls withing a range of possible outcomes?"(5 votes)
- There is not a set range in which you should use x values. But it is recommended that you choose x values that are within hundredths of each other.(0 votes)
- What is asymptote?(4 votes)
- An asymptote is an x-value (in some cases even y-value) that a function gets extremely close to but never touches. It is graphed as a dashed line.
If x = 0 is our vertical asymptote of our function f, then the limit notation is-
The Limit as x approaches infinity of f(x) = 0(2 votes)