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Finding the nth Term Given the Common Difference and a Term

Sequences where difference between any two consecutive terms is constant.

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Arithmetic Sequences and Finding the nth Term Given the Common Difference and a Term

Halley's Comet appears in the sky approximately every 76 years. The comet was first spotted in the year 1531. Find the nth term rule and the 10th term for the sequence represented by this situation.

Arithmetic Sequence

In this concept we will begin looking at a specific type of sequence called an arithmetic sequence. In an arithmetic sequence the difference between any two consecutive terms is constant. This constant difference is called the common difference. For example, question one in the Review Queue above is an arithmetic sequence. The difference between the first and second terms is (53)=2, the difference between the second and third terms is (75)=2 and so on. We can generalize this in the equation below:

anan1=d, where an1 and an represent two consecutive terms and d represents the common difference.

Since the same value, the common difference, d, is added to get each successive term in an arithmetic sequence we can determine the value of any term from the first term and how many time we need to add d to get to the desired term as illustrated below:

Given the sequence: 22,19,16,13, in which a1=22 and d=3

a1a2a3a4ananan=22 or 22+(11)(3)=22+0=22=19 or 22+(21)(3)=22+(3)=19=16 or 22+(31)(3)=22+(6)=16=13 or 22+(41)(3)=22+(9)=13=22+(n1)(3)=223n+3=3n+25

Now we can generalize this into a rule for the nth term of any arithmetic sequence:

an=a1+(n1)d

Solve the following problems

Find the common difference and nth term rule for the arithmetic sequence: 2,5,8,11

To find the common difference we subtract consecutive terms.

5285118=3=3 ,thus the common difference is 3.=3

Now we can put our first term and common difference into the nth term rule discovered above and simplify the expression.

an=2+(n1)(3)=2+3n3,so an=3n1.=3n1

Find the nth term rule and thus the 100th term for the arithmetic sequence in which a1=9 and d=2.

We have what we need to plug into the rule:

an=9+(n1)(2)=9+2n2,thus the nth term rule is an=2n11.=2n11

Now to find the 100th term we can use our rule and replace n with 100: a100=2(100)11=20011=189.

Find the nth term rule and thus the 100th term for the arithmetic sequence in which a3=8 and d=7.

This one is a little less straightforward as we will have to first determine the first term from the term we are given. To do this, we will replace an with a3=8 and use 3 for n in the formula to determine the unknown first term as shown:

a1+(31)(7)a1+2(7)a1+14a1=8=8=8=6

Now that we have the first term and the common difference we can follow the same process used in the previous example to complete the problem.

an=6+(n1)(7)=6+7n7,thus an=7n13.=7n13

Now we can find the 100th term: a100=7(100)13=687.

Examples

Example 1

From the information given, we can conclude that a1=1531 and d=76.

We now have what we need to plug into the rule:

an=1531+(n1)(76)=1531+76n76,thus the nth term rule is an=76n+1455

Now to find the 10th term we can use our rule and replace n with 10: a10=76(10)+1455=760+1455=2215.

Example 2

Find the common difference and the nth term rule for the sequence: 5,3,11,

The common difference is 35=8. Now an=5+(n1)(8)=58n+8=8n+13.

Example 3

Write the \begin{align*}n^{th}\end{align*} term rule and find the \begin{align*}45^{th}\end{align*} term for the arithmetic sequence with \begin{align*}a_{10}=1\end{align*} and \begin{align*}d=-6\end{align*}.

To find the first term:

\begin{align*}a_1+(10-1)(-6)&=1 \\ a_1-54&=1 \\ a_1&=55\end{align*}

Find the \begin{align*}n^{th}\end{align*} term rule: \begin{align*}a_n=55+(n-1)(-6)=55-6n+6=-6n+61\end{align*}.

Finally, the \begin{align*}45^{th}\end{align*} term: \begin{align*}a_{45}=-6(45)+61=-209\end{align*}.

Example 4

Find the \begin{align*}62^{nd}\end{align*} term for the arithmetic sequence with \begin{align*}a_1=-7\end{align*} and \begin{align*}d=\frac{3}{2}\end{align*}.

This time we will not simplify the \begin{align*}n^{th}\end{align*} term rule, we will just use the formula to find the \begin{align*}62^{rd}\end{align*} term: \begin{align*}a_{62}=-7+(62-1) \left(\frac{3}{2}\right)=-7+61 \left(\frac{3}{2}\right)=- \frac{14}{2}+ \frac{183}{2}= \frac{169}{2}\end{align*}.

Review

Identify which of the following sequences is arithmetic. If the sequence is arithmetic find the \begin{align*}n^{th}\end{align*} term rule.

  1. \begin{align*}2, 3, 4, 5, \ldots\end{align*}
  2. \begin{align*}6, 2, -1, -3, \ldots\end{align*}
  3. \begin{align*}5, 0, -5, -10, \ldots\end{align*}
  4. \begin{align*}1, 2, 4, 8, \ldots\end{align*}
  5. \begin{align*}0, 3, 6, 9, \ldots\end{align*}
  6. \begin{align*}13, 12, 11, 10, \ldots\end{align*}
  7. \begin{align*}4, -3, 2, -1, \ldots\end{align*}
  8. \begin{align*}a, a+2, a+4, a+6, \ldots\end{align*}

Write the \begin{align*}n^{th}\end{align*} term rule for each arithmetic sequence with the given term and common difference.

  1. \begin{align*}a_1=15\end{align*} and \begin{align*}d=-8\end{align*}
  2. \begin{align*}a_1=-10\end{align*} and \begin{align*}d= \frac{1}{2}\end{align*}
  3. \begin{align*}a_3=24\end{align*} and \begin{align*}d=-2\end{align*}
  4. \begin{align*}a_5=-3\end{align*} and \begin{align*}d=3\end{align*}
  5. \begin{align*}a_{10}=-15\end{align*} and \begin{align*}d=-11\end{align*}
  6. \begin{align*}a_7=32\end{align*} and \begin{align*}d=7\end{align*}
  7. \begin{align*}a_{n-2}=3n+2\end{align*}, find \begin{align*}a_n\end{align*}

Answers for Review Problems

To see the Review answers, open this PDF file and look for section 11.5. 

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