Im trying to find more information about numerical integration methods. When is a Newton-Cotes Quadrature formula on n nodes exact?

  • $\begingroup$ The standard Newton-Cotes approximation to the integral of $f$ over $[a, b]$ with $n$ nodes is the integral $[a, b]$ of the polynomial $P$ of degree $n-1$ interpolating $f$ at the $n$ equally spaced nodes in $[a, b]$ dividing $[a, b]$ into $n-1$ subintervals of equal sizes. Since whenever $f$ is a polynomial of degree at most $n-1$, the interpolating polynomial $P$ is simply $f$, in this case the approximation is exact. For some particular choices of $n$ (e.g. $n = 3$, which gives Simpson's rule), the formula is exact for polynomials of higher degree. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Fox
    Jul 18 '14 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ Is the $P$ you mentioned unique? Also I don't understand your last statement about the formulas being exact for polynomials of higher degree. $\endgroup$
    – Jed
    Jul 18 '14 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ If one specifies $n$ distinct nodes and $n$ values at these nodes there is a unique polynomial of degree $n-1$ taking the given values at the given nodes. The requirement that it take the given values at the given nodes gives $n$ equations for its $n$ unknown coefficients. It is straightforward to construct a solution (the Lagrange formulas are the easiest), which must therefore be unique by elementary linear algebra. My last statement is a caveat - the argument given shows exactness for polynomials up to a certain degree, but this degree is not in all cases the best possible. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Fox
    Jul 18 '14 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ See wikipedia, Numerical Analysis by Burden definition 4.1 for degree of precision, theorem 4.2 for closed Newton-Cotes formulas and theorem 4.3 for open Newton-Cotes formulas. You can find many more details in this book. $\endgroup$
    – Dante
    Jul 18 '14 at 21:08

The answer expands on the comments by Dan Fox.

It is convenient to take $[-1,1]$ as the interval of integration (any other interval is handled by linear transformation). Let $x_1=-1,\dots, x_n=1$ be equally spaced points on this interval. The Newton Cotes formulas (implicitly) do the following:

  1. Given a function $f$, interpolate $f$ by a polynomial $p$ of degree $n-1$; namely the Lagrange polynomial.
  2. Find $\int_{-1}^1 p(x)\,dx$, and return this as an approximation to $\int_{-1}^1 f(x)\,dx$


  • We do not actually go through these steps explicitly; the computation is done once, for general $f$, and results in a quadrature formula $\approx \sum w_i f(x_i)$ that we use.
  • You can already see the pitfall of the method: when $n$ is large, due to Runge's phenomenon $p$ will likely be not very close to $f$ near endpoints.

Since the interpolating polynomial in 1 is unique, when $f$ is itself a polynomial of degree at most $n-1$, we have $f\equiv p$ identically. Therefore, in this case the formula is exact.

When $n$ is odd, we have $\int_{-1}^1 x^n\,dx = 0$ by symmetry. Also, the contribution of $x^n$ to the interpolating polynomial is an odd polynomial, also by symmetry. (E.g., interpolating $x^3$ at $\pm 1$ gives a multiple of $x$.) Therefore, $x^n$ contributes zero to both the quadrature formula, and to the actual integral. Conclusions:

  • The $n$-node Newton-Cotes formula is always exact for polynomials of degrees $\le n-1$.
  • When $n$ is odd, it is exact for polynomials of degrees $\le n$.

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