Is Excel difficult?

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Is Excel difficult or easy to learn?

In my first blog on “How Long to Learn Excel,” I explained that Microsoft Excel is a powerful spreadsheet application that contains lots of formulas and functions and is mainly used to organize numbers, analyze complex data, and carry out calculations (from basic to advanced).


Is Excel difficult to learn
Is Excel difficult to learn

Considering all of its capabilities, it’s normal to conclude that Excel is difficult to learn.  However, the real answer is “maybe no.” Excel is not really difficult to learn.

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Although Excel is an incredibly powerful tool, it is also very flexible.  That means as you walk through learning the basics of Excel, you’ll graduate on to more advanced features, and soon become proficient in the use of the software. So, the key to learning Excel is to take baby steps.

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Basically, if you’re a word person and aren’t into numbers, you’ll find Excel difficult to learn and it might take some months of consistent practice for you to feel a small growing confidence in using the software. However, if you’re a number person, learning Excel is a breeze.

While word persons will spend most of their time using MS Word or MS PowerPoint, crafting an amazing PowerPoint presentation for their department, Excel can help you to manage a budget, track money, etc.

As stated earlier, Excel is so flexible and is not difficult to learn if you start slowly from the basics. Excel can help students with simple mathematical calculations as well as help accountants to keep their clients’ books in order.  Imagine the same tool solving both the simple needs of an elementary student and the complexities found in an accounting office.

If the elementary student decides to start learning Excel starting with the accounting function, he or she will definitely find Excel so difficult to learn.

So how does one start, and is Excel easy to learn?

I would like to answer that question by asking this question “Is riding a bicycle easy or difficult to learn?” Just like anybody can learn how to ride a bicycle, in like manner, anybody can learn Excel.

Just like you can’t ride a bicycle like a pro or make stunts when you start learning how to ride a bicycle the first time, you can only start with the basics of Excel. Just like the more you practice riding your bicycle, the more confident you’ll become in riding it, the more you practice Excel, the more you can grow in it.

However, always take the first things first. All Pros started as beginners i.e. if you want to become an advanced Excel user, you have to grow into it from a baby step.

At first, learning Excel may look overwhelming, especially when you hearing what you can do in using Excel like VLOOKUP, What-if scenarios, creating charts and graphs. Chances are that you may be gripped with fear.

Nobody is born as an adult. Everybody grew through infancy, toddlerhood, pre-teen years, teenage years, young adults, and into adulthood.  Similarly, you don’t expect to become an accountant the first time you pick up Microsoft Excel – this will only make learning Excel look difficult.

You have to grow into learning Excel by taking baby steps and before you know it, you will be walking through Excel, and eventually running circles around your peers.

Now that you know that Excel is not difficult to learn, you need to focus on being proficient and not on obtaining a certificate when learning Excel.

When you’re learning Excel, always take your time to learn what you’re studying. That is, don’t speed through the learning process.  If you rush up learning Excel, you may not learn as much as you should. Hence, don’t focus on learning Excel fast alone – in fact, fight the urge to learn fast – but also understand every concept taught.

If you focus on learning fast without a thorough understanding of every concept taught, you would definitely earn a certificate that shows you’ve completed an Excel course, but the certificate will be empty. Why? Because you won’t know or be able to practice what the certificate says that you have learned.

Therefore, always take your time in learning Excel.

It’s only when you have taken your time to thoroughly understand Excel concepts and practiced the same lesson twice or thrice to ensure that you can handle it on your own that you’ll be able to handle real-life situations when they come.

More so, it’s only when you really know and understand Excel concepts that you will be able to show and teach someone else to understanding. In conclusion, learning Excel is not difficult if and only if you start with the basics, take things slowly, and always practice the concept you’ve learned.

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Why Is Excel Regarded As Being Difficult?

Before we continue, you may be tempted to ask this question, “Should I learn Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets?”

Well, we would recommend that you learn Excel. You may then proceed to learn Google Sheets once you’re proficient in Excel.

Excel is the standard and is by all means the authority when it comes to spreadsheet tools.  More so, Excel has more learning resources available – online and offline – than any other spreadsheet program.  Besides, Excel trainers or educators train students with Microsoft Excel.

Now back to the question, why do people regard Excel as being difficult?

Generally, all apps – and not Excel alone – seem hard to learn if you haven’t used them before. You may certainly find it difficult to learn about Excel the first time you use it. So, where some people may claim that Excel is difficult, others will claim that it is simple.

There are more than 450 functions in Excel, and most of them will look both useless and arcane if you’re self-learning, especially when you come across the colons and dollar signs, filtering, sorting, PivotTables, charts and formatting. These are way too much stuff to learn at the beginning and learning Excel may appear difficult.

Excel is a huge product that can do a huge variety of tasks. Most power users only ever touch a very small percentage of what it can do. A person can spend decades mastering some areas while never touching, or even being aware of, many other areas.

Another thing is the lack of motivation to learn. Without motivation to learn Excel, you’ll get pissed off and pull back each time Excel does things differently from what you expect or think how you expect it to be done. If this happens, you’ll always find yourself fighting with Excel trying to do something rather simple.

So rather than trying to remember the details of how everything is done, just remember that it is possible. When you need to do it, you will be properly motivated to learn how. And depending on how you learn, that process could be assisted by YouTube videos, books, websites, lectures, and colleagues.

After you solve a few problems with Excel, you would start to understand how Excel thinks. Learning will now be easier because each new technique starts meshing with what you already know.

Another reason why Excel may seem hard to learn is that they are quite boring, especially to word persons, and most people don’t feel they need it or want it.

If you work with data much, Excel is extremely useful. For instance, learning to sum a column or sort or filter a table based on a column is not so hard, although you can end up wrestling with malformed data or trying to tell these programs that a column is a date in a particular format, or a particular currency and not just text or whatever.

Sometimes, it is the calculation and not Excel itself that is complicated. Maybe you’re trying to use the wrong tool to solve the problem. Perhaps, Excel is not the best tool for your problem.

Although Excel can handle quite large connected database tables, the tool was not originally meant to be a database thing. This can make the solutions look sometimes counter-intuitive and sometimes outright weird, slow, or rather cumbersome. The same thing applies when you use Excel for integrating differential equations or running large regressions, inverting matrices, etc.

To avoid running into issues with Excel, always define your problem first, analyze possible solutions, and choose the right tool.

Excel is also difficult for the same reason that Photoshop or AutoCAD is difficult. All these are powerful multifunctional tools. They can be used to do very simple things or they can be used to build amazingly complex solutions. Hence, trying to do complex things on Excel when you don’t have the idea yet makes the tool seems difficult to learn.

However, MS has tried to improve Excel functionality and make it easier to use. Concat is better than Concatenate. Iferror makes error handling formulae easier to read (and write) than If(Iserror). XLookup is going to be a heap better than VLookup.

The tables were great when they arrived and they’ve got better. PowerQuery means we can replace lots of potentially error-prone steps with easily repeatable powerful data management processes.

If you want a simpler Excel, fire up Excel online with Office365. You still need a bit of study just to understand where to start but a lot of the complexity has gone. Unfortunately, that also means a lot of the capability has gone as well. But if all you want to do is add up some numbers that might not be an issue.

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Factors Why Excel Is Difficult

  • Most people using Excel do so intending to print the results. However, the grid-based format makes it difficult to position elements sequentially on a page since it is designed in a way that doesn’t lend itself to printing.
  • Being a spreadsheet program it is intended to be used for the tabulation of Data for analysis and consistency however it has a freeform method of creating “Tables” with no default location for headers.
  • Multiple datasets can be placed about a “sheet” meaning that there isn’t consistency for accessing.
  • The formulas can be daunting and one must know how the references work and think whether something should be entered or calculated.
  • Being partway between database and word processor software it has the functions to do both however by default it does neither, this means that a fair amount of setup is required to structure a document for one purpose or another.
  • People are used to writing long paragraph format pros however the cells are arranged ideally for short individual phrases or single words/numbers. This makes formatting layouts and positioning elements tricky.
  • Most people don’t like them. For whatever reason Excel has a bad rap, especially among employees who don’t use it often. Whereas a data analyst who is frequently up to his eyeballs in spreadsheets might find them useful tools, people in other departments of the company may find them confusing or intimidating. That means you’ve already alienated a large portion of your audience from the get-go. Many people won’t even open an email attachment in Excel, let alone get excited about analyzing them to find insights.
  • Important data is hidden. Because you’re seeing all the raw data at once, it’s difficult to interpret what’s important and what’s not. Visualization tools can be used to highlight the important aspects of a data set or results, but in spreadsheets, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. You are missing the point if your team finds it hard to identify the messages or see how the data relates to their day job.
  • They are difficult to analyze. Again, especially for laypeople, spreadsheets can be difficult to analyze. Worse, the volume of data presented can lead to misinterpretation, and your team could make poor choices or take wrong actions based on that misinterpretation. More so, people only familiar with spreadsheets and their associated tools tend to make charts and graphs that often distort data, including 3D graphs and pie charts, simply because the tool (like Excel) makes them easy to create.
  • Loss of historical data. Spreadsheets aren’t designed to store historical data, so often, in an attempt to keep the size of them manageable, they are “updated” and companies lose their historical data. This makes it hard or impossible to spot trends over time and compare data across longer time horizons.
  • It’s difficult to share. Even with cloud computing solutions, it’s difficult to share a spreadsheet among many team members. And, because of the possibility that data could accidentally be deleted or changed, the spreadsheet that is shared is rarely “live” or real-time. At best, it might get emailed once a week — which poses the problem of the information getting lost in team members’ inboxes.

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Factors Why Excel Is Not Difficult

Excel is not at all difficult to learn. It would be a myth to call it difficult software to learn. The interface is quite simple and easy to understand. You can relate it to the tables we make on paper and it is used for the same purpose – make tables on the computer. Thus, excel came into existence.

Discrete data is efficiently stored in excel. Discrete data is nothing but data such as a list of individual names, email addresses, values, a number of items, and other similar data.

If you are using it for the first time, try making simple tables, such as timetables and schedules. Learn to do some basic formatting such as making headers bold and border the tables. Later once you get the gist of what excel can do, you can move ahead to explore its other features and be proficient in excel.

Excel is a great skill you can learn to get employed as a professional. It is widely used in industries such as engineering, management, and accountancy.

Excel has a great number of potential features for the learners. You will be amazed once you start exploring the various things you can do in excel.

You can also make graphs and charts of your numerical data. It helps you make visualization and presentation efficiently and easily.

As stated above, there are several resources available that can make you proficient in excel. You can find an ample number of articles and videos that teach excel. You can easily learn the basics of excel without wasting much of your time searching and scrolling on the internet.

You can also take on dedicated Excel courses from Boti, which takes you from the very beginning and covers the Excel concepts systematically. This will help you save your precious time and money.

Other reasons why Excel is not difficult to learn include the following:

  • You don’t need to learn specific codes to run it. All formulas are translated into your language, so “sum” will always be “sum” in Excel, so you usually know what formula is about right away.
  • For every day, non-professional use, you can use it just as any calculator. Add + here, * there and you have your equation ready. It even puts values from given cells when you click them.
  • Most functions have a short manual (what are they for) that pops-up when you hold your cursor over them. That makes it easy to use even if you see them for the first time.
  • The same goes for functions and charts. If you’re not sure which one you should use, you can go through a set of helpful windows that will ask you step by step what you want to achieve.
  • Excel has one of the most complete data organization and analysis systems for the common consumer. As such, it works for most business applications too. Using the power of your computer, Excel can easily handle thousands of data formulas and/or computations rather seamlessly. If you have multiple sheets that are interlinked, the formulas and data organization are unrivaled.

Whether you’re a total newbie to Excel or have begun a basic class in Excel, here are a few things you should know how to do in Excel:

  • Carrying Out Basic Math Functions

If you have Excel installed on your PC, then you can stop reaching out for a calculator. Excel can handle all sorts of math functions for you! All you need to do is enter a few simple formulas.

Here are the basic Excel formulas you need to know:

Addition: Type “=SUM” in a blank cell where you want the total sum to appear, click on the SUM function that appears, hold down the Ctrl key, and click on all the cells you want to add together, and then hit “Enter.”

Subtraction: Type “=” in a blank cell where you want the difference to appear, click the cell you want to subtract from, type “-”, click the cell you want to subtract, and then hit enter.

Multiplication: Type “=” in a blank cell where you want the total to appear, click the cell for a number you want to multiply, type “*”, click the cell for the other number you want to multiply, and then hit enter.

Division: Type “=” in a blank cell where you want the remainder to appear, click the cell for the number you want to divide, type “/”, click the cell for the number you want to divide by, and then hit enter.

Give the formulas above a try for yourself and you’ll quickly see that they aren’t complicated at all.

Note: You can easily drag the same mathematical formula across a row or column. After entering the formula or function into one cell, click on the cell where the total appeared, click the little box that appears in the lower right-hand corner, and drag it across the rest of the row or column where you need that formula to be applied.

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Is Microsoft Excel easy to learn?

Now you know the answer is yes as long as you’re ready to learn, start from the basics, and devote your time. Although Excel is complicated, it is yet very easy to learn. Get started today by mastering Excel today by undertaking our Excel courses.

Whether you are looking to learn the basics, intermediate, or more advanced Excel functions, there is a course for you. Contact us today and you’ll be on the path to becoming a total Excel whiz in no time!

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Luis Gillman
Luis Gillman

Hi, I Am Luis Gillman CA (SA), ACMA
I am a Chartered Accountant (SA) and CIMA (SA) and author of Due Diligence: A strategic and Financial Approach.

The book was published by Lexis Nexis on 2001. In 2010, I wrote the second edition. Much of this website is derived from these two books.

In addition I have published an article entitled the Link Between Due Diligence and Valautions.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information published on this website is accurate, the author and owners of this website take no responsibility  for any loss or damage suffered as a result of relience upon the information contained therein.  Furthermore the bulk of the information is derived from information in 2018 and use therefore is at your on risk. In addition you should consult professional advice if required.