How to Become Proficient in Excel in 6 Easy Steps

Businesswoman walking up steps that represent how to become proficient in Excel in 6 easy steps

Even as other software hits the market, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a business that doesn’t regularly use Excel for one task or another – that’s why Excel skills have been so in-demand since the application’s creation over 30 years ago. Plenty of users know how to perform basic tasks, but truly learning how to become proficient in Excel is another story. 

To help you feel less overwhelmed when starting your journey toward Excel expertise, let’s outline the path you can take from beginner to power user in six easy steps!

  1. Use Excel as much as possible
  2. Create your own projects
  3. Consider taking a course that gives you real-life practice
  4. Experiment with different formula combinations
  5. Start focusing on higher-level Excel skills related to your field of interest
  6. Consider learning VBA

1. Use Excel as much as possible, even for small tasks.

If you’re closer to “intermediate” on the Excel proficiency scale, you’re already comfortable using Excel’s basic tools and functions – but learning how to use Excel in new ways is always a good investment. One of the easiest methods is simply by using the software as much as possible.

For example, you could use Excel to create a budget, track specific expenses, build a responsive calendar, or perform any number of other everyday tasks.

Creating spreadsheets for all your different needs will probably cause you to run into issues you aren’t quite sure how to solve – but that’s a good thing! Once you know what you don’t know, you have a starting point for learning new abilities. Using Excel consistently and working through new problems will strengthen your Excel skills, no matter what level of user you are currently.

2. Learn how to become proficient in Excel by creating your own projects.

Along with using Excel as much as possible, one of the best ways to become proficient is by making your own projects.

For example, even if the company you work for uses its own budgeting software, it would be good practice to mock up a spreadsheet in Excel to see if there’s any way you could improve the budgeting process (like one Excel University student who did just that using Power Query)!

Or, let’s say one of your hobbies is gardening. Instead of using an app to track arbitrary amounts of time between watering, fertilizing, etc., set up an Excel spreadsheet that can keep track of each individual plant’s needs. You’ll be able to see the average amount of time between watering, track growth, figure out a repotting schedule, and more. The best part is that you can maintain the spreadsheet and see patterns over years.

If you’re a beginning user, some other beginning projects may look something like:

  • Creating a budgeting spreadsheet to track your personal income
  • Writing a meal plan with grocery lists included
  • Keeping track of activities with a daily planner

For more experienced Excel users, you could do something like:

The sky’s the limit in terms of project ideas, so don’t be afraid to get creative! Going out of your Excel comfort zone is often the fastest way to learn new skills.

3. Consider taking a course that gives you real-life practice.

Online courses can be a great place to get consistent, reliable practice. They often come with the benefit of a completion certificate at the end, which you can put on your resume to show your skills.

There are a few different types of Excel courses online. Each has a unique way of teaching you how to become proficient in Excel.

  • Coding bootcamps – These are short, intensive programs designed to help people learn the skills they need to pursue a specific career. There are numerous bootcamps to choose from, so make sure you pick one that meets your job goals.
  • Excel courses – These are typically longer than bootcamps and include more general Excel knowledge that would apply to all types of users. Many courses also allow you to learn at your own pace.
  • Degree programs – Microsoft has certifications and exams that come with a downloadable “exam skills outline” so you can find out exactly what you should know before taking the test.

On the other hand, if you just want some free tutorials that can teach you how to complete specific tasks in Excel, there are still plenty of relevant resources online!

You can check out Excel University’s tutorials on our blog, or even take a free intro to Excel class if you need a refresher on the basics. Microsoft also has a ton of free Excel how-to guides, and it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for something specific.

4. Experimenting with different formula combinations can teach you how to become proficient in Excel.

In every stage of learning how to become proficient in Excel, you’ll run into hiccups that hinder the effectiveness (and efficiency) of your worksheets.

Instead of getting discouraged, think of it as an opportunity to learn new things!

In Excel, there are usually multiple ways to work through a problem or inconsistency in your spreadsheet. If you don’t love the workarounds you’ve been using, it’s the perfect chance to experiment with different formulas and functions to create a solution you’re satisfied with.

You might surprise yourself and come up with something really neat, like a PivotTable-style report that only uses the best parts of both PivotTable and formula-based reports, or a way to automatically format rows based on certain conditions. 

A game I like to play is: once I have a formula that returns the desired result (once it is working), I try to come up with other alternatives that are more concise, easier to understand, or shorter. This challenges me to consider other options and approaches. Often, I’ll end up using one of these options rather than the first formula that worked.

Not every new formula combination will be a winner, but experimenting with them is a practical (and fun!) way to continue becoming more proficient in Excel.

5. Start focusing on higher-level Excel skills related to your field of interest.

By now, you’ve gotten comfortable using Excel for many different tasks, had some valuable real-life practice, and know how to follow (and maybe even create) some more advanced Excel formula tutorials yourself. Nice!

That being said, it’s unrealistic to try and learn everything about Excel, so now’s time to start focusing on more niche topics related to your personal Excel goals.

Are you learning Excel to:

Each different need will require different skills, so once you have a strong grasp of the basics, you’ll save a ton of time and stress by focusing on higher-level Excel knowledge that supports your end goal.

6. Consider learning VBA. 

Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is a standalone application and scripting language that is used almost exclusively in Microsoft Office. It’s a tool that automates manual operations, such as tedious, routine tasks, and is commonly used in the form of Excel add-ins. It also has the ability to generate CSV reports and works seamlessly with the Microsoft Office suite.

It’s true that Microsoft is developing alternatives to VBA for some tasks, such as Office Scripts, Power Automate, Flows, and Power Query. However, due to the widespread usage of Microsoft Office and the fact that these alternatives still aren’t able to do everything, VBA is still a very valuable skill to have. 

While each person’s path to Excel proficiency will look a bit different, these steps are a solid starting point for beginner and intermediate users alike. At the end of the day, the key is to practice, practice, practice – and remember to check out plenty of free tutorials along the way. 

What are some of the ways you have improved your Excel skills? Let us know in the comments!

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