If you’re like most Excel users, you’ve probably entered a formula or two and wondered, “Why am I getting this result?!”
Today, we’re diving deep into the mathematical order of operations that Microsoft Excel uses for its formulas.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- The importance of understanding the Order of Operations.
- Detailed breakdown of each operation in PEMDAS / BODMAS.
- Tips and tricks on ensuring your formulas always return the correct values.
So, grab a cup of coffee (or tea), and let’s go through Excel’s operations order!
Why The Order Matters
You’ve already learned about the basics of Excel formulas and functions, but keeping the order of operations in mind is vital for accurate results.
A proper order of operations enables Excel to understand and evaluate complex expressions. Your calculation results will be incorrect or unexpected if the order isn’t correct.
For instance, even a subtle change in the sequence of addition and multiplication can lead to entirely different outcomes, affecting your analysis or decision-making.
Another way to think about it is if you are preparing a cake, you follow a precise recipe. If you mix the ingredients in the wrong order, your cake might not turn out as expected!
Similarly, the order of operations in Excel ensures that your formulas are evaluated correctly and produce the desired results.
Excel’s Order of Operations
It’s time to return to Maths 101 and refresh PEDMAS / BODMAS. Excel formulas follow the acronym PEMDAS to determine the order of operations.
The “P” stands for Parentheses, meaning Excel first evaluates expressions within parentheses or brackets. To prioritize a specific calculation, enclose it in parentheses.
For example: =3*(2+4) here, Excel calculates 2+4 first and then multiplies the result by 3.
Remember to enclose the part of a formula that you want Excel to calculate first before following the remaining order of operations.
After evaluating parentheses, Excel proceeds with exponents or orders. Exponents are handled using the “^” symbol.
For instance: =2^3 gives you 8, as Excel calculates 2 raised to the power of 3.
Division and Multiplication (DM)
Following exponents, Excel carries out multiplication and division operations, performing them from left to right.
For example: =2*3/4, Excel multiplies 2 by 3, then divides the result by 4.
Addition and Subtraction (AS)
Lastly, Excel performs addition and subtraction operations from left to right.
For example: =3+4-2, Excel conducts addition first: 3+4, then subtracts 2 from the sum.
Excel Formula Considerations
Functions & Their Precedence
Excel follows the PEDMAS / BODMAS rule to the tee. Just like arithmetic operations, functions follow a specific order of operations, determining the order in which they’re executed.
For example, Excel has a set of logical functions, such as IF, AND, OR, and more. These are usually combined within formulas to make them more dynamic and versatile.
You will need to consider the order in which these functions are executed, which can impact the outcome of your calculations.
Using Nested Functions
You can use nested functions in your formulas to create more advanced and intricate calculations. Nesting functions means placing one function inside another to perform various operations step by step.
For instance, you can use the SUM function within the IF function to add values based on a specific condition.
When nesting functions, remember that Excel evaluates inner functions first, then works its way outward.
This order ensures that each function receives the correct inputs from the previous step to perform its operation accurately.
Common Errors and Troubleshooting Excel Formulas
Here are some common headaches (and how to solve them!) you can run into with the order of operations.
Incorrect Order of Operations
A common mistake is not using parentheses to group expressions. Excel follows PEDMAS, meaning calculations are performed in a specific sequence.
So remember to use parentheses to explicitly define the order in which calculations are performed, avoiding unexpected results.
Formulas in Excel can be sensitive to incorrect syntax or spelling.
Functions, cell references, and operators must be written correctly to avoid confusing Excel. Make sure to double-check your formulas to ensure proper syntax and spelling.
If you need help understanding relative and absolute cell references, check out this guide on dollar signs in Excel.
Formula Auditing Tool
One way to check the order of operations in a formula is to use the Evaluate Formula tool in Excel. This tool lets you see how Excel evaluates each part of a formula and identifies any errors or dependencies.
Here are the steps to use the Formula Auditing tools in Excel:
- Select the cell that contains the formula you want to check.
- Under Formulas ribbon tab, click Evaluate Formula (Formula Auditing group). This will open a dialog box that shows the formula and its result.
- Click Evaluate to see how Excel calculates each part of the formula according to the order of operations. You can also use the F9 key to evaluate the formula. You will see the underlined portion of the formula change as Excel performs each calculation.
- If you see an error value, such as #DIV/0!, #VALUE!, or #NAME?, you can click Restart to go back to the beginning of the formula and check where the error occurs.
- If you want to see the cell references or functions used in the formula, click Step In to go into that part. You can also use the Step Out button to go back to the previous level of the formula.
- When you check the formula, click Close to exit the dialog box.
Tips and Best Practices for Excel Formulas
Here are my top tips to remember when writing Excel formulas.
- Use parentheses: You can’t have too many parentheses. Nest your calculations within parentheses to ensure it’s calculated in the intended order. Here’s Microsoft’s take on operator precedence in Excel formulas.
- Cell References: Be cautious with absolute and relative cell references. Use the F4 shortcut key to toggle between them, ensuring the correct cells are referenced when copying formulas.
- Keep it simple and clean: Use whitespace, line breaks, and indentation when working with complex formulas. Break it down into shorter and simpler calculations if necessary. It will make them much more manageable and less likely to contain errors.
- Error Checking: Excel can help identify potential issues with your formulas. Go to Formulas > Error Checking to catch and fix any mistakes before they trip you up.
- Function Wizard: If unsure about a function or its syntax, utilize the built-in Function Wizard by pressing Shift + F3 or clicking “Insert Function” in the formula bar.
Remember, practice makes perfect. Apply these tips consistently, and you’ll become an Excel formula pro in no time!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are functions like SUM or AVERAGE affected by the order of operations?
Functions like SUM or AVERAGE compute values as defined by their specific operations. However, the PEMDAS rule still applies if combined with other operations in a formula.
For instance, in =SUM(A1:A10)*3, Excel will sum the values in A1 through A10 and then multiply the result by 3.
How does Excel handle operations of the same level, like multiplication and division?
When operations are on the same level (e.g., multiplication and division), Excel evaluates them from left to right.
For example, in the formula =12/4*3, Excel first divides 12 by 4 (resulting in 3) and then multiplies by 3, resulting in 9.