The Ultimate Guide to Calculating Area Between Curves

Area Between Two Functions

The Ultimate Guide to Calculating Area Between Curves

Calculating the area between curves is a fundamental skill in calculus, with applications in various fields, including mathematics, physics, and engineering. Mastering this concept will not only help you excel in your calculus course but also provide you with a valuable tool for solving real-world problems. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the techniques and strategies for finding the area between curves.

Understanding the Concept

The area between curves is the region bounded by two or more curves on a graph. To find this area, we use the concept of definite integrals. By subtracting the definite integrals of the lower curve from the upper curve, we can determine the exact area of the region between them.

The Formula for Area Between Curves

The formula for calculating the area between two curves, f(x) and g(x), over the interval [a, b] is:

Area \( \displaystyle = \int^a_b [f(x)-g(x)] dx \)


  • \( f(x) \) is the upper curve
  • \( g(x) \) is the lower curve
  • \(a\) and \(b\) are the left and right boundaries of the region, respectively

Steps for Calculating Area Between Curves

To find the area between curves, follow these step-by-step instructions:

Step 1: Identify the Curves and Boundaries

Begin by clearly identifying the upper and lower curves, \(f(x)\) and \(g(x)\), respectively. Then, determine the left and right boundaries (a and b) of the region you want to calculate.

Step 2: Set Up the Integral

Set up the definite integral using the formula for the area between curves:

\( \displaystyle \int^a_b [f(x)-g(x)] dx \)

Step 3: Evaluate the Integral

Evaluate the definite integral using the appropriate integration techniques, such as substitution, integration by parts, or trigonometric substitution. Remember to apply the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus to evaluate the integral at the boundaries \(a\) and \(b\).

Step 4: Simplify and Interpret the Result

Simplify the result of the integration and ensure that the final answer is in terms of the original variables. Interpret the result as the area between the curves, and don’t forget to include the appropriate units if applicable.

Tips for Mastering Area Between Curves

To help you become proficient in calculating the area between curves, consider these valuable tips:

Tip 1: Sketch the Curves

Before attempting to solve the problem, sketch the curves on a graph. This visual representation will help you identify the upper and lower curves, as well as the boundaries of the region.

Tip 2: Break Down Complex Problems

If the problem involves more than two curves or multiple intervals, break it down into smaller subproblems. Calculate the area between each pair of curves or over each interval separately, and then add or subtract the results as needed.

Tip 3: Choose the Right Integration Technique

Familiarise yourself with various integration techniques and learn to recognise when to apply each one. Choosing the most appropriate technique for a given problem can simplify the integration process and help you avoid errors.

Tip 4: Double-Check Your Work

After finding the area between curves, double-check your work to ensure accuracy. Verify that you have correctly identified the upper and lower curves, set up the integral properly, and evaluated the integral using the correct techniques.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When calculating the area between curves, be mindful of these common mistakes:

  1. Confusing the upper and lower curves
  2. Incorrectly setting up the definite integral
  3. Misapplying integration techniques
  4. Forgetting to evaluate the integral at the boundaries
  5. Neglecting to simplify or interpret the final result

By being aware of these potential pitfalls and taking steps to avoid them, you can minimise errors and improve your problem-solving skills.

Practice Makes Perfect

As with any mathematical concept, the key to mastering the area between curves is practice. Work through a variety of problems, from simple to complex, and don’t hesitate to seek help when needed. With time and dedication, you’ll develop a deep understanding of this essential calculus topic and be well-prepared to tackle even the most challenging problems.

If two functions $f(x)$ and $g(x)$ intersect at $x=1$ and $x=3$, and $f(x) \ge g(x)$ for all $1 \le x \le 3$, then the area of the shaded region between their points of intersection is given by:
$$ \begin{align} \displaystyle
A &= \int_{1}^{3}{f(x)}dx-\int_{1}^{3}{g(x)}dx \\
&= \int_{1}^{3}{\Big[f(x)-g(x)\Big]}dx
\end{align} $$

Example 1

Find the area bounded by the $x$-axis and $y=x^2-4x+3$.

\( \begin{align} \displaystyle
x\text{-intercepts:} \\
x^2-4x+3 &= 0 \\
(x-1)(x-3) &=0 \\
x &=1 \text{ and } x=3 \\
\end{align} \)


\( \begin{align} \displaystyle
A &= \int_{1}^{3}{\Big[0-(x^2-4x+3)\Big]}dx \\
&= \int_{1}^{3}{(-x^2+4x-3)}dx \\
&= \Big[\dfrac{-x^3}{3} + 2x^2- 3x\Big]_{1}^{3} \\
&= \Big(\dfrac{-3^3}{3} + 2 \times 3^2-3 \times 3 \Big)-\Big(\dfrac{-1^3}{3} + 2 \times 1^2- 3 \times 1\Big) \\
&= \dfrac{4}{3} \text{ units}^2
\end{align} \)

Example 2

Find the area bounded by the $y=x+2$ and $y=x^2+x-2$.

\( \begin{align} \displaystyle
\text{intersections:} \\
x^2+x-2 &= x+2 \\
x^2-4 &= 0 \\
(x+2)(x-2) &= 0 \\
x &=-2 \text{ and } x=2 \\
\end{align} \)

\( \begin{align} \displaystyle
A &= \int_{-2}^{2}{\Big[(x+2)-(x^2+x-2)\Big]}dx \\
&= \int_{-2}^{2}{(x+2-x^2-x+2)}dx \\
&= \int_{-2}^{2}{(4-x^2)}dx \\
&= \Big[4x-\dfrac{x^3}{3}\Big]_{-2}^{2} \\
&= \Big(4 \times 2-\dfrac{2^3}{3}\Big)-\Big(4 \times (-2)-\dfrac{(-2)^3}{3}\Big) \\
&= \dfrac{32}{3} \text{ units}^2
\end{align} \)

Example 3

Find the area bounded by the $x$-axis and $y=x^3-x^2-2x$.

\( \begin{align} \displaystyle
x\text{-intercepts:} \\
x^3-x^2-2x &= 0 \\
x(x^2-x-2) &= 0 \\
x(x+1)(x-2) &= 0 \\
x &=-1, x=0 \text{ and } x=2 \\
\end{align} \)

\( \begin{align} \displaystyle
A &= A_1 + A_2 \\
&= \int_{-1}^{0}{\big[(x^3-x^2-2x)-0\big]}dx + \int_{0}^{2}{\big[0-(x^3-x^2-2x)\big]}dx\\
&= \int_{-1}^{0}{(x^3-x^2-2x)}dx-\int_{0}^{2}{(x^3-x^2-2x)}dx\\
&= \Big[\dfrac{x^4}{4}-\dfrac{x^3}{3}-x^2\Big]_{-1}^{0}-\Big[\dfrac{x^4}{4}-\dfrac{x^3}{3}-x^2\Big]_{0}^{2} \\
&= 0-\Big[\dfrac{(-1)^4}{4}-\dfrac{(-1)^3}{3}-(-1)^2\Big]-\Big[\dfrac{2^4}{4}-\dfrac{2^3}{3}-2^2\Big]+0 \\
&= \dfrac{37}{12} \text{ units}^2 \\
\end{align} \)


Calculating the area between curves is a crucial skill for anyone studying calculus or working in fields that require mathematical problem-solving. By understanding the concept, following the step-by-step process, and applying the tips and strategies outlined in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to mastering this topic.

Remember to practice regularly, learn from your mistakes, and seek help when needed. With perseverance and dedication, you’ll soon find yourself confidently calculating the area between curves and applying this knowledge to solve real-world problems. Good luck on your calculus journey!

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