Excel Formulas Cheat Sheet for Beginners

Holding an Excel formulas cheat sheet in one hand and a pencil in the other

Excel is one of the most powerful accounting software tools out there, and most of that power comes from the ability to use Excel formulas to automate your work. When you’re first learning how to use them, it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed – luckily, this Excel formulas cheat sheet is here to help you make sense of it all!

Let’s take a look at the basics of formulas, some common functions you’ll use with them, and how to keep them organized no matter how complex they get.

What’s the difference between functions and formulas?

A lot of people use the terms “function” and “formula” interchangeably, but they’re actually two different things. A formula begins with an equal sign followed by an expression, which may include one or more functions. A function starts with a name and is typically followed by arguments enclosed in parentheses.

Here’s an example of a formula that uses the COUNT function:

=COUNT(A1:A15)

You can see how the formula uses the COUNT function to compute the result, which is the count of numbers in the A1 through A15 cell range.

The list below shows a small sample of the Excel functions that you’ll probably find yourself using often. 

SUMCalculates the sum of the determined valuesSUMIFSCalculates the sum of a set of values where one or more conditions are met
AVERAGEFinds the average value in a group of valuesMEDIANFinds the median value in a group of values
MINCalculates the smallest number in a rangeMAXCalculates the highest number in a range
COUNTCounts the number of numeric cells in a rangeCOUNTIFSCounts the number of cells in a range where one or more conditions are met

When working with names, addresses, customer lists, or any other text-based data, Excel’s text functions come in handy. 

Some of the text functions you’ll use often include:

LEFTReturns one or more characters from a text string’s left sideRIGHTReturns one or more characters from a text string’s right side
MIDReturns one or more characters from the middle of a text stringCONCATMerges two (or more) strings of text
UPPERConverts a string of text to all uppercaseLOWERConverts a string of text to all lowercase
TEXTConverts a number to textVALUEConverts a text to a number

The lookup functions are useful for searching through large amounts of data. While most Excel users have their own favorite Lookup function (or pair of functions), each one has perks that works best in different situations. 

VLOOKUPVertically searches for a value in a tableHLOOKUPHorizontally searches for a value in a table
INDEXA lookup function that searches a table both vertically and horizontallyMATCHReturns the location of a value in a sequence
XLOOKUPAn updated version of VLOOKUP available in newer Excel versionsOFFSETMoves the cell reference by the number of given rows and/or columns

While those are a handful of functions you’ll often use in your formulas, it’s far from the whole list. If you need the full list of Excel functions, Microsoft has them conveniently organized by category!

Now that you know the common functions, which formulas use them?

Formulas are, for the most part, totally customizable based on the needs of the user. Which ones you use most frequently will vary based on the type of work you need to do. 

However, you can still get some practice by working with some simple formulas. Once you master the basics, creating customized, complex formulas will be a lot easier – and even fun!

Formulas can contain:

  • Operators – such as +, -, *, /
  • Functions – such as SUM
  • Nested functions – such as INDEX(MATCH())
  • Names – such as CompanyName (named with the Name Manager)
  • Constants – such as 10 or 20
  • Cell references – such as A1

For some good practice with basic Excel formulas, check out these posts:

  • Sum Last N Columns – This tutorial starts with a simple formula that uses SUM and later incorporates the INDEX function, so you’ll get some practice with both!
  • Excel Month List – The formula in this post uses common date and time functions to create a responsive calendar.
  • Count Between Dates – This post will help you get familiar with formulas containing the COUNTIFS function.

Once you’ve gotten comfortable with creating simple formulas, you’ll want to start using two tools that come in handy when they become more advanced: range references and the LET function.

Excel formulas cheat sheet – range references 

You can refer to data in other parts of a worksheet by providing range references in the formula or function arguments. You can reference cells (or a range of cells) when creating either a basic formula or one that includes a function. For example, let’s say you choose to reference cell B2 – the formula will calculate the result using the value of that cell. The formula will automatically recalculate its result when the value in that cell changes.

In Excel, you can use two types of cell references:

  • Relative – A cell reference that adjusts itself when the cell is copied or filled.
  • Absolute – A cell reference that doesn’t change when copied or filled.

When writing a formula, you can mix relative and absolute references so that the row changes but the column does not, or vice versa. 

To assign absolute references, you’ll use a dollar sign ($). Where you insert it in the cell reference determines whether the column, row, or both are absolute. It can sound a little confusing, but it’s not too difficult to learn once you see a couple of examples!

Let’s say you needed to reference cell B2 again. Here’s how you’d assign the reference type:

=B2 – The reference is completely relative

=$B2 – The column (B) is absolute, but the row (2) is relative

=B$2 – The column (B) is relative, the row (2) is absolute

=$B$2 – The reference is completely absolute

When you need to repeat the same calculation across numerous rows or columns, relative references come in handy. Absolute references are useful when you need to keep a reference constant, for example, if you needed to calculate a single sales tax percentage across a range of cells. 

Use LET to keep longer formulas from getting out of hand.

No Excel formulas cheat sheet would be complete without mentioning the useful LET function! Excel formulas are usually pretty short and sweet. As a result, they’re simple to comprehend and maintain over time. An example of a short formula looks something like this:

=SUM(B2:B8)

This formula uses the SUM function to add the values from cell B2 to cell B8. Pretty simple, right? 

As spreadsheets grow more complex, the formulas tend to get more complicated as well. You may wind up with cumbersome formulas that are difficult to read and maintain, often due to duplication. For example, a formula with several duplications may look like this:

=IF(VLOOKUP(B8,Table1,2,0)>100, VLOOKUP(B8,Table1,2,0), VLOOKUP(B8,Table1,2,0)*C8)

You can see that VLOOKUP(B8, Table1, 2, 0) is used three times, making the formula lengthy, repetitive, and a bit confusing. The LET function allows you to assign names to the values in your formulas, and then use the names as needed throughout the rest of the formula.

It can take that confusing formula above, and turn it into something much easier to read:

=LET(Rate, VLOOKUP(B8,Table1,2,0), IF(Rate>100,Rate,Rate*C8)) 

Using the LET function is considered more of an advanced skill, but beginners can start using it in simpler functions to get familiar with how it works.


In Excel, formulas can be used to calculate just about anything you can think of – you don’t have to be afraid of getting a little creative. While this Excel formulas cheat sheet covers the essentials of Excel formulas, the best way to get really familiar with them is to practice by having Excel compute as many values as possible. In other words, when you find yourself typing a value into your worksheet manually, see if you can convert it to a formula. This habit will not only enable you to see what is possible, it will also eliminate a manual entry step (improving efficiency, and reducing manual errors).

Do you have any other neat tips about Excel formulas? Let us know in the comments!

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13 Comments

  1. Collier Smith on May 17, 2022 at 8:46 am

    Very upset with myself that I did not know about the Value function. I learn something new every time I come to this website. Thank you Excel University!

  2. K Grimsley on May 18, 2022 at 7:41 am

    As always, thank you Excel University for the helpful hints! Sometimes going back to the basics is the easiest way to add new weapons to your arsenal. Today, my new trick is LET! 😉

  3. Edil Poulina on May 22, 2022 at 12:55 pm

    Let function; Very useful and practical, I new about it, but never used it. Now I’m going to do just that often and wherever possible to avoid lengthy formulas.

  4. Muhammed Anas on April 25, 2023 at 5:56 am

    Need to be a master in excel

  5. Annie on May 5, 2023 at 11:50 am

    I want to multiply a dollar amount by a percentage and have the total appear in the cell.

    Ex. 1200.00 x .0825=$102.00 1200.00+102.00=1302.00
    What formula would I use to get the $1302.00 to appear in the cell?

    • Jeff Lenning on May 8, 2023 at 7:26 am

      If your dollar amount was stored in cell A1, and your rate was stored in cell B1, then in C1 you could write the formula =A1*B1.
      Hope it helps, and good luck on your project 🙂

  6. Joanna on July 3, 2023 at 6:25 pm

    i have a due date in H1. i want it to turn red if the date goes beyond the current date. such as: June 30 the item is due and i open the file july 3. july 3 will turn red since it’s after june 30. what’s the simplest way achieve this operation?

    • olumide on September 27, 2023 at 7:13 am

      Highlight column H1 to the last cell, click conditional formatting from the Home tab, new rule, select choose a formula to determine which cells to format (from the drop down list) , type =$H$1<today(). format to fill with color red

  7. Joanna on July 3, 2023 at 6:29 pm

    i have a due date in cell H1. i want it to turn red if the current days date is beyond the date in H1. such as: June 30 the item is due (h1) and i open the file july 3. june 30 will turn red since it’s prior to july 3. what’s the simplest way to achieve this operation?

  8. Daphne Puckett on October 18, 2023 at 4:45 pm

    If I have measurements that, when entered correctly, should = 100 exactly. is there a way to automatically highlight the row if the cells don’t =100

  9. Martin Mugisha on February 29, 2024 at 9:40 am

    Would Love to keep receiving updates from this site.

  10. Nancy Rhoads on May 9, 2024 at 11:25 am

    I’m trying to calculate a window two hours before and 2 hours after a known time, but also constrained by another set of 2 hours. how can create a formula that gives me the the window two hours before and after and then checks to make sure the calculated window is also within the other time constraint? i can do this in my head but i have too many to calculate

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