3 ways to calculate the mean in Excel

This is one of my favourite interview questions: Please calculate the mean of the ten numbers on this excel sheet.

This simple question first lets me find out if they know what I mean by the word mean. Some people think they’re being smart and ask me whether I want the mean, median, or mode. Smart, but not smart enough. Other people need me to tell them that mean refers to average. But that’s another story.calculate mean in excelcalculate mean in excelcalculate mean in excel

This first option is the one that most people are familiar with. If you look to the top left hand portion of the screen, there is a little box that is either blank or says “SEARCH.” If you click on the black triangle beside this box, a list of options will pop open and you can flip through them one by one. In the list, you’ll eventually find the one that says average. Then all you need to do is follow the steps that Excel lays out for you. This is a great option to use if you’re trying to find a brand new feature when you don’t even know if it exists. It’s also a great way to learn what options are available so that you can use them later on.

The second option is known by even fewer people. Instead of going to the blank box and searching for the feature you want, simply press the = key and type the name of the function you want. Even if you’re one of the folks who uses the first option to calculate the mean, you probably already know that the function is called average. So just type it. You’ll probably also know the names of functions like “sum” or “stdev” so why search through a list of a hundred options when you already know the one you want to use.

And last but not least is the feature that the fewest people know about. In the bottom right hand section of your screen in the status bar are some fancy little features. By simply highlighting the numbers you’re interested in, you’ll see various attributes of those numbers appear in the menu bar. Yup, that’s the mean you see there. If you need to know very quickly what the mean of your numbers is, just highlight and look and you’re done. Very cool!

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