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Grow Your Business Technology

Basic Arithmetic Excel Cheat Sheet

Microsoft Excel
Credit: Shutterstock

Excel is a robust tool, and since it's a core piece of Microsoft Office software, it's found on most Windows machines. And it's often the first tool small-to-medium business owners turn to when they need to keep books, make schedules and manage costs. The problem a lot of entrepreneurs have with Excel is remembering the exact way to input calculations and formulas. When you don't use Excel every day, it can be tough to keep things straight, so we created this basic guide to help. 

Thanks to arithmetic operators, you can use Excel as a calculator when you need to do quick calculations. These mini formulas are intended for single use and can't easily be applied to large sets of data (or columns of numbers). For large data sets you'll want to use full formulas (more on that later). 

Here's a simple chart for arithmetic operators you can use to do some simple math. It's a JPEG, which means you can easily save it and print it for future reference:   

 

Much more complex equations are possible in Excel, using similar arithmetic operators, but you must follow Excel's order of operations.

When you're dealing with lots of complex data, official Excel formulas are the way to go. To apply these formulas to a set of data, enter the formula that corresponds with the calculation you want, leaving off the last parenthesis, at first. Highlight or type the data set you want to include in the calculation using a colon, and only after you've done that should you type the last parenthesis. 

For instance, to find the total of two cells (A2 and B2, for instance) using addition, you would type =SUM(A2:B2). To find the median, or middle number, of a data group (A2 through F2), you would type =MEDIAN (A2:F2). If you wanted to find the average of three cells (A2, A3 and A4, for example), you would type =AVERAGE (A2:A4). To find the mode, or the number that appears the most in a set of data (A1 through A20), you would type =MODE(A1:A2) That's all there is to it. 

This handy chart is also savable and printable: 

 

Excel has a built-in shortcut button for using these various formulas as well. 

If you click on the Formulas tab at the top of the page, you'll see several icons going from left to right. Note: If you're using Office 365, you'll need to open the full Excel program to access these buttons. 

 

This button does more than just add numbers for you, but it does that too. If you put your cursor in the cell beneath a column of numbers and click the AutoSum icon (which looks like ∑), it will automatically insert the formula and highlight the cells above the cell you selected. 

Then once you hit enter you’ll see the answer. 

 

The AutoSum button also has a little arrow below it. If you click that, it will display a drop-down list of the other function shortcuts, which you can use in the same way. These include Average, Count, Max and Min. 

There are other shortcut buttons as well, including Recently Used, Financial, Logical, Text, Date & Time, Lookup & Reference, Math & Trig, and More Functions. Each of these can help with much more complex formulas and types of data sets. 

If you're interested in learning more about Excel, why not take an affordable online course? This class is ideal for small business owners and entrepreneurs who want to get a handle on the basics. 

Mona Bushnell

Mona Bushnell is a New York City-based Staff Writer for Tom’s IT Pro, Business.com and Business News Daily. She has a B.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT Technician, a Copywriter, a Software Administrator, a Scheduling Manager and an Editorial Writer. Mona began freelance writing full-time in 2014 and joined the Purch team in 2017.