Defining Order of Operations in Excel Video

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  • 0:01 Mathematical Calculations
  • 0:52 Defining Order or Operations
  • 2:15 Complex Calculations
  • 3:55 Using Parentheses to…
  • 5:00 Applying Order to Cell…
  • 6:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karen Sorensen

Karen has a Bachelors in Communications. She has 25 years of experience in Information Systems, Adult Learning and Virtual Training.

If you plan to write formulas in your Excel worksheets, understanding the order of operations is important. This lesson will explain how Excel performs the calculations in formulas and the order of mathematical operations.

Mathematical Calculations

Most formulas in Excel perform simple calculations, such as 2 + 3. Or you can think about using cell references, such as A1 + A2. However, some formulas can be a bit more complex, performing more than one calculation. For instance, a complex formula would be 2 + 3 * 4 (or A1 + A2 * A3). The order that Excel performs the calculation can affect the value returned by the formula. Therefore, it's important to understand the order of the calculation to get the result you want.

This lesson will review the basic rules of operational order when writing Excel formulas. We will also look at how you can change the order by adding parentheses to your formulas.

Defining Order of Operations

Let's begin with defining the order of operations. Operational order dictates the precedence, or order, of which the calculations occur. I realize that this may all seem a bit complicated, but let me assure you, it's not. However, understanding how Excel performs that math is very important if you have any plans to use formulas in your worksheets - so hang with me!

First, let's break the different types of calculations or rules into four groups:

  1. What's in parentheses
  2. Exponential calculations, such as 2^2
  3. Division and multiplication
  4. Addition and subtraction

And, before I go any further, we are going to skip talking about the second calculation, exponential. It's very seldom used in Excel formulas. So, let's focus on the other three.

Now, Excel will calculate anything in parentheses first. Next, it will do division and multiplication. And then, last, it performs addition and subtraction. So far so good. Now let's take a look at some examples.

Complex Calculations

The examples will work best if we just use numbers. Then, we can replace the numbers with cell references and write formulas to match.

Let's think about our basic mathematical calculation, 2 + 3. No need to worry about order here, since there is only one operation to perform, add (+). But what about 2 + 3 * 4?

Your first instinct will be to add 2 + 3, which equals 5. Then multiply 5 by 4, which equals 20. Unfortunately, you would be wrong! Remember our order? Multiplication is performed before addition. So, first you would multiply 3 by 4, which equals 12. Then, you would add 2, for a total of 14. Two completely different answers. Let's take a look at one more example.

What if you had 5 * 3 + 2 - 1? We know that multiplication comes first, 5 multiplied by 3, which equals 15. But what would be next? Add or subtract?

When two operations are used and they both fall under the same rule of order, the operation displayed first (going left to right) is performed first. So, in this case, the addition would come next, then the subtraction. So, 15+2, which equals 17. Then, subtract 1, and the final answer is 16.

Are you still with me? Let's move on.

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