Calculating HigherOrder Derivatives: AP Calculus AB/BC Study Guide
Introduction
Welcome back to AP Calculus with Fiveable! 🎉 You’ve made it to the final key topic of Unit 3, and if your brain hasn’t exploded yet, you’re doing great! 🧠💥 We’re diving into the thrilling world of higherorder derivatives—because why stop at just one derivative when you can take the second, third, or even the nth derivative of a function? 📈📉
HigherOrder Derivatives: What Are They?
The term "higherorder derivative" may sound like something out of a scifi movie, but don't worry—it's much less intimidating than it seems. Essentially, a higherorder derivative is nothing more than taking multiple derivatives of a function. If you know how to take the first derivative, you’re already halfway there! For example, the second derivative is just the derivative of the first derivative, and the third derivative is the derivative of the second—you get the idea. It’s like peeling an onion, layer by layer, but with less crying. 😭🧅
A life pro tip: higherorder derivatives help us understand more about the function beyond just the rate of change. They give insights into the curvature, concavity, and even the "jerkiness" of the function—essentially adding more dimensions to our understanding.
Why Are HigherOrder Derivatives Useful?
 First Derivative: Tells us where the function ( f(x) ) has relative minima or maxima because the slope ( f'(x) ) is zero at these points.
 Second Derivative: Gives us information about the concavity of the function and helps identify points of inflection, where ( f(x) ) changes from concave up to concave down or vice versa.
 Third or Higher Derivatives: These can provide insights into the finer details of the function’s behavior—like how "jerky" the graph is (yes, that’s a technical term!).
Notation (Because Math Loves Symbols 🧮)
For the second derivative, we can write it as: [ f''(x) ] or [ y'' ] or [ \frac{d^2y}{dx^2} ]
For the nth derivative, you might encounter: [ f^n(x) ] or [ \frac{d^n y}{dx^n} ]
How to Calculate HigherOrder Derivatives (HODs, because acronyms are cool 👍)
Basic Steps:
 Find the first derivative of the function ( f(x) ).
 The second derivative is the derivative of the first derivative.
 The third derivative is the derivative of the second derivative…and so on.
 Keep going until you’ve reached the desired order of derivative. Are you dizzy yet? 😵💫
Example: Let’s go wild with ( f(x) = \frac{2}{3}x^3 + 4x^2 + 3x  1 )
Using the Power Rule: [ f'(x) = 2x^2 + 8x + 3 ]
[ f''(x) = 4x + 8 ]
[ f'''(x) = 4 ]
[ f^{(4)}(x) = 0 ]
Since ( f'''(x) ) is a constant, all higherorder derivatives beyond this point will be zero. Next time you’re asked to find a 97th derivative of a polynomial, just smile and write “0”. 😁
Let’s Practice: Time to Flex Those Calculus Muscles 💪

Quick Power Rules and Trig

Example 1: ( f(x) = 6x^4  2x^2 + 5x + 1 )
First derivative: ( f'(x) = 24x^3  4x + 5 )
Second derivative: ( f''(x) = 72x^2  4 )
And we're done!

Example 2: ( f(x) = \sin(x) )
First derivative: ( f'(x) = \cos(x) )
Second derivative: ( f''(x) = \sin(x) )
Fun fact: Trig functions like to play a game of “tag,” alternating forms with each new derivative!

Example 3: ( f(x) = \cos(2x) )
First derivative: ( f'(x) = 2\sin(2x) )
Second derivative: ( f''(x) = 4\cos(2x) )
With composite functions, remember the Chain Rule: always differentiate the outer and multiply by the derivative of the inner.


Chain and Product Rule Funfest

Example 4: ( f(x) = (5x^4 + 2x^2  3x + 9)^2 )
Outer function ( O(x) = x^2 ), inner function ( I(x) = 5x^4 + 2x^2  3x + 9 ).
Using the Chain Rule: First derivative: ( f'(x) = 2(5x^4 + 2x^2  3x + 9)(20x^3 + 4x  3) = (10x^8 + \dots) )
Spoiler alert: You can also apply the Product Rule for a less messy solution.

Example 5: ( f(x) = \sqrt{5x^3 + 81x^2} )
Rewrite it as ( f(x) = (5x^3 + 81x^2)^{1/2} ) for easier differentiation.
Chain Rule: First derivative: ( f'(x) = \frac{1}{2}(5x^3 + 81x^2)^{1/2}(15x^2 + 162x) )
Repeat Process for the second derivative. It’s long, but totally worth it! 🚴♂️


Rational Functions and Natural Logs Thunderdome

Example 6: ( f(x) = \tan(3x) + \ln(x) )
First derivative: ( f'(x) = 3\sec^2(3x) + \frac{1}{x} )
Second derivative: ( f''(x) = 18\sec^3(3x)\tan(3x)  \frac{1}{x^2} )
Remember: secant and tangent are the peanut butter and jelly of trigonometric functions.

Example 7: ( f(x) = \frac{x^2}{x+1} )
Using the Quotient Rule: First derivative: ( f'(x) = \frac{(x+1)2x  x^2(1)}{(x+1)^2} = \frac{x^2 + 2x}{(x+1)^2} )
Second derivative: ( f''(x) = \frac{2(x+1)  2(x+1)}{(x+1)^3} = \frac{2}{(x+1)^3} )
Bonus: Quotient Rule fun is just getting started. 🎢

Conclusion
There you go—higherorder derivatives are no longer the terrifying monsters hiding under your calculus bed. With practice, you can unravel these layers with skill and confidence. Remember that every derivative you take deepens your understanding of the function’s behavior, much like getting to know a friend better over time. 😊📚
Now, go forth, ace those derivatives, and conquer your AP Calculus AB/BC exam like the math warrior you are! 🚀