Excel Lesson 2: Part 2 (Formulas & Order of Precedence)
Please Note: This session builds on, and assumes that you have completed, the previous Excel sessions. If that is not the case, please go back and complete them before returning to this session.
STEP 1: Getting Started
Launch Excel and create a new blank Workbook or open up an existing Workbook. I will use:
This session is all about understanding the ‘order of precedence’ when using formulas in Excel. In plain language, it means understanding the order in which Excel processes brackets and combinations of arithmetic operators (+, -, * and /).
In the last session we used the following formula to compute the average saving.
Now look what happens when we remove the brackets from this formula:
Even with the same numbers, this formula gives a radically different (and incorrect) answer. The reason is actually very simple. Without any brackets, Excel calculates 1450/6 first giving the value 241.67 It then adds the other five numbers to 241.67 to get 7746.67
With the brackets – which are used to ‘package up’ data as one unit – all six numbers are added up first and only then is that total (8955) is divided by 6 to give the correct result of 1492.50
Even if you put the brackets back in, you can still get the wrong answer:
This is simply because you have put a bracket around the whole calculation which makes no difference to the 1450/6 being done first.
Moving the brackets around can still give incorrect answers:
This makes Excel add 1295 and 1450 together to get 2745 which is then divided by 6 to get 457.5 – which then has the other four numbers added to it to arrive at 6667.5 – which is wrong again.
Brackets make a huge difference in formulas.
The number of brackets used in a formula must be an equal number such as 2, 4, 6, 8 etc. In other words, for every opening bracket ‘(‘ you must have a matching closing bracket ‘)’. If not, you will get an error message from Excel:
STEP 3: Further Help
The subject of ‘order of precedence’ in formulas is a large and complex issue. The following official Microsoft Support website will guide you through the fine details:
That completes this session.
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