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Calculation Order/Operator Precedence in Excel

If you are new to Excel, you may wonder why a formula does not yield expected results. This is often due to the order in which Excel performs calculations in your formulas, versus how we might process the calculations in our brain.

You may wish to add 5 and 2 together and multiply the results by 3, so you type “=5+2*3” without the quotes into a cell. The = tells Excel you're entering a formula. The * is the symbol for multiplication. Excel answers with 11, after you press the Enter key. Why? Because multiplication has a higher operator precedence than addition. Excel first multiplies 2 times 3, then adds the result to 5. To get the answer you expect (21), use parentheses to change the operator precedence. Your formula should be “=(5+2)*3.” Excel evaluates operations inside parentheses first, then performs the multiplication. When you press Enter, Excel displays 21, the result you intended, because you changed operator precedence with the parentheses.

Let’s use cell addresses next. Suppose the number 5 is in cell A1, 2 is in cell B1, and 3 is in cell C1. Entering = A1+B1*C1 into cell D1, yields 11. Entering =(A1+B1)*C1 yields 21.


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