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1-11-2016

The Comparison and Limit Comparison Tests


You can often tell that a series converges or diverges by comparing it to a known series. I’ll look first
at situations where you can establish an inequality between the terms of two series.
X∞ ∞
X
Let ak , bk , be series with positive terms.
k=1 k=1


X ∞
X
1. If ak ≥ bk for all k and ak converges, then bk converges.
k=1 k=1


X ∞
X
2. If ak ≥ bk for all k and bk diverges, then ak diverges.
k=1 k=1


X
It’s easy to see that these tests make sense. In the first case, the partial sums of bk are bounded
k=1

X
above by ak . The bk partial sums increase, so they must converge.
k=1
In the second case, the ak partial sums are always bigger than the bk partial sums, but the bk partial
sums go to ∞. Hence, the ak partial sums go to ∞ as well.


X 1
Example. Determine whether converges or diverges.
k3 + k + 7
k=1

The series has positive terms. In fact, I could use the Integral Test, but who would want to integrate
1
3
?
x +x+7
1 1
Instead, note that when k is large, the k3 term should dominate. How does 3 compare to 3 ?
k +k+7 k
Well, if you make the bottom smaller, the fraction gets bigger:

1 1
< 3.
k3 +k+7 k
∞ ∞
X 1 X 1
Now is a p-series with p = 3, so it converges. Hence, converges by comparison.
k3 k3 + k + 7
k=1 k=1


X (sin k)2
Example. Determine whether converges or diverges.
k(k + 1)
k=17

The series has positive terms. Since (sin k)2 ≤ 1,

(sin k)2 1 1
≤ ≤ 2.
k(k + 1) k(k + 1) k

The second inequality comes from the fact that making the bottom smaller makes the fraction bigger.
∞ ∞
X 1 X (sin k)2
Now 2
is a p-series with p = 2, so it converges. Hence, converges by comparison.
k k(k + 1)
k=17 k=17

1

X arctan k
Example. Determine whether converges or diverges.
k3
k=1

π
The series has positive terms. Since arctan k ≤ ,
2
arctan k 1
3
≤ 3.
k k
∞ ∞
X 1 X arctan k
3
converges, because it’s a p-series with p = 3 > 1. Therefore, converges by direct
k k3
k=1 k=1
comparison.

∞ √
X k+3
Example. Determine whether √ converges or diverges.
k=1
k k+2

If you make the top smaller, the fraction gets smaller:


√ √
k+3 k+2 1
√ > √ = .
k k+2 k k+2 k

Notice how I avoided changing k + 3 to k; I changed it to something which cancelled the radical on the
bottom.
∞ ∞ √
X 1 X k+3
Now diverges — it’s harmonic! So √ diverges, by comparison.
k k k+2
k=1 k=1


X 1
Example. Comparison won’t work if the inequalities go the wrong way. For example, consider .
k2 − 2
k=2

X 1
I’d like to compare this to , but if I make the bottom bigger (by adding 2), the fraction gets smaller:
k2
k=1

1 1
> 2.
k2 −2 k

X 1
It’s true that is a convergent p-series (p = 2), but it’s smaller than the given series. I can’t draw
k2
k=1
a conclusion this way.


X 1
Nevertheless, is “close to” the given series in some sense. Limit Comparison will make precise
k2
k=1
the idea that one series is “close to” another, without having to worry about inequalities.

X
Let ak be a positive term series.
k=1
X∞
Let bk be a positive term series whose behavior is known. (You usually choose this series because it
k=1
seems to be “close to” the given series.)

2
Look at the limiting ratio
ak
lim .
k→∞ bk


X
1. If the limit is a finite positive number, then the two series behave in the same way. That is, if bk
k=1

X ∞
X ∞
X
converges, then ak converges; if bk diverges, then ak diverges.
k=1 k=1 k=1


X ∞
X
2. If the limit is 0 and bk converges, then ak converges.
k=1 k=1


X ∞
X
3. If the limit is +∞ and bk diverges, then ak diverges.
k=1 k=1

bk
The first case is the most important one, and fortunately it will work even if you accidentally write
ak
ak
instead of . The second and third cases require that you get the fraction “right side up”.
bk


X 4k2 + k + 9
Example. Determine whether converges or diverges.
7k3 + 13
k=1

The series has positive terms.


When k is large, the top and bottom are dominated by the terms with the biggest powers:

4k2 + k + 9 4k2 4 1
3
≈ 3
= · .
7k + 13 7k 7 k

Compute the limiting ratio:

4k2 + k + 9
3 7 4k3 + k2 + 9k 7 4
lim 7k + 13 = · lim = · = 1.
k→∞ 4 1 4 k→∞ 7k3 + 13 4 7
·
7 k

The limiting ratio is 1, a finite positive number. The series


∞ ∞
X 4 1 4 X1
· = ·
7 k 7 k
k=1 k=1


X 4k2 + k + 9
diverges, because it is harmonic. Hence, the series diverges by Limit Comparison.
7k3 + 13
k=1


X 4k + 5
Example. Determine whether converges or diverges.
7k − 42
k=2

The series has positive terms.


When k is large,
4k + 5 4k
≈ .
7k − 42 7k

3
Compute the limiting ratio:
4k + 5 5
k − 42 1+ k
lim 7 = lim 4 = 1.
k→∞ 4k k→∞ 42
1− k
7k 7
The limiting ratio is 1, a finite positive number. The series
∞ ∞  k
X 4k X 4
=
7k 7
k=1 k=1


4 X 4k + 5
is a convergent geometric series (since < 1). Therefore, converges, by Limit Comparison.
7 7k − 42
k=2

∞  k
X tan−1 k
Example. Determine whether converges or diverges.
2
k=2

∞  k
X π
It is possible to use Limit Comparison, comparing the series to the convergent geometric series .
4
k=2
After a long computation, you’ll find the limiting ratio is e−2/π , so the test works.
However, there is a better way, which I’ll discuss next. It is called the Root Test, and you perform it
by taking the kth root of the kth term, then taking the limit as k → ∞. If the limit is less than 1, the series
converges. In this case, s
 k
k tan−1 k tan−1 k π
lim = lim = < 1.
k→∞ 2 k→∞ 2 4
Therefore, the series converges, by the Root Test.


c 2016 by Bruce Ikenaga 4