How to Learn Excel

Karen asks: “How do I become an excel/access master?”

Good question. As I was composing my reply, I realized that your comments will dwarf my response and that the only place for a question like this is on a blog.

The only way to get good is to solve real-life problems. The best way to do that is to answer questions on Microsoft newsgroups (also called Usenet or nntp) or some other forum (like Mr. Excel forums).

You need a newsreader. Outlook Express and Windows Mail are good newsreaders and one is likely already on your computer. I use Agent, which is not free, but has some subtler benefits. Point your newsreader to the Microsoft servers, see Chip Pearson’s Hints and Tips for Newsgroup Users.

Then subscribe to:

If you want to get an idea of what’s on there, you can visit Microsoft’s Online Newsreader. But, trust me, you’ll want a true newsreader if you answer any significant number of questions.

Spend 10-15 hours per week answering questions from these groups. Don’t worry if they’ve already been answered. Figure them out and check your result against other answers that were posted. After about a year, you’ll get bored with those questions and you’ll want to subscribe to:


And start answering VBA questions. Same deal, 10-15 hours a week. Some people answer > 700 per month

They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. I think you can do it in half that time. In fact, after two years of answering newsgroup questions, you’ll be the best Excel/Access user in your company by a wide margin. The only reason you’ll continue to do it is because you really enjoy the satisfaction of helping people and bettering yourself in the process.

If you like books, I recommend these Who has a good Access book recommendation?

After another year, you’ll be sick of answering the same questions over and over. You’ll think “I wish I could just point these people to the answer instead of typing it out each time.” In no time, you’ll have a website, then a blog.

And that’s it. No magic bullets, just time and attention.

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19 thoughts on “How to Learn Excel

  1. I like Alison Balter’s Mastering Microsoft Access 2000, but we just switched to 2003 and I’m interested in what has changed.


  2. I think that 5K hours might be possible if you only count the time spent not repeating stuff you already know. I figure I’ve probably spent about 12000 hours with Excel but there are aspects that I still wouldn’t consider myself expert in, like I’m a long way from expert in charting, to name but one area.

    (If you define “expert” as being something like Peltier’s level, anyway!)

  3. @Brett

    You can use the GETPIVOTDATA function to link to data in a pivottable by ‘label’ rather than by cell.

    There are 2 situations where i’ve used it. Firstly, you can create a second table that is more concise than the actual pivot table (admittedly you can usually do this with another pivot but there are occasions where this alternative approach makes more sense)

    The second is to calculate a ‘% of subtotal’ field, which isn’t possible in a pivot.

    You could do all of this with cell references but the label lookup system allows for greater security.

  4. FWIW:

    I believe that “learning Excel” should be considered from a more wider perspective then just through the Excel UI.

    Today it becomes more and more common to develop Excel solutions on the .NET platform, to develop/publish solutions for the Microsoft Office SharePoint platform and also to develop Excel solutions where we don’t even use Excel.

    Kind regards,

  5. Access 2002 Desktop Developer’s Handbook is an amazing reference. Not for starters, but once you’re writing VBA in Access it’s great. I’m also enjoying Integrating Excel and Access. It’s helping me sort out the myriad ways one can move data from Access to Excel.

  6. I just started a blog about Excel, it is in Spanish and it doesn’t have much content yet.

    At first I thought about just posting Excel tricks, but reading the newsgroups and forums (in Spanish) I realized that there are lots of people that have no idea about many fundamental things. Now I am posting some fundamentals.

    I had planned a post about how to learn Excel, my question is, what a person that knows nothing about Excel should do to learn it?, specially if there are not many good books in your language or they are too expensive for some bad economies.

  7. @Dennis

    What are ‘Excel solutions where we don’t even use Excel.’ ?

    From the perspective of large financial services companies, very little SharePoint penetration to date.

    As for .Net, it teaches nothing about how to use formulas or structure spreadsheets effectively or efficiently. It’s only a replacement for VBA macros and udfs, and from my perspective that’s less than 20% of the total business use functionality derived from Excel.

    Worse, someone who doesn’t know Excel well as a spreadsheet would find trying to learn .Net reduces their facility with Excel itself. My impression of most .Net developers I’ve worked with is they’re just barely capable of cookbook usage of Excel OM methods and properties and have a very high incidence of reinventing functionality that already exists in Excel (and that pre-existing functionality is usually more efficient both in terms of system resource usage and execution time) because they never spent the time mastering Excel itself.

  8. You need the Microsoft news servers if you are going to subscribe with a newsreader. I think it’s (just add that to outlook express or Windows Mail and it should work).

    There’s an advertisment-free newsgroup portal here that contains the excel groups :, along with some from other office products.

    It’s a shame the ExcelKB forums aren’t around any more :(

  9. Excel is to large for one to Master in totality…Look around and you will see there are specialist
    So we have
    a) Formula Experts (Bob U, Aladin Akyurek etc)
    b) Charting Experts (Jon Peltier, Andy Pope etc)
    c) .net Experts (Dennis W)
    d) External Data Experts (OneDayWhen…)
    e) API Experts (Ivan F)
    f) General Experts (Long list)
    etc etc ….

  10. >>Karen asks: “How do I become an excel/access master?”

    Good question indeed, but the answer is not (imho) newsgroups and books etc, although Dick is obviously correct, it’s because you have to use it every day – so that implies, why do should i become a Excel/Access master?
    Firstly you are likely only to be a master of one. And in fact, if you do target Excel, say, you really are become a “master” of spread sheets, or charting, or what ever. If it’s access, then you become a master at Database, and you might just use Access a lot or start with access (if you see what I mean).

    I cant think of anyone in the sphere that first thought I will become an expert in spread sheets and then looked for a job where they could use it, it works the other way round! :-)

    just my 2 cents

  11. i always used to think that learning excel is the toughest job. but when i visit the sites like your it seem that learning excel is now a fun. i think i have improves a lot after utilizing the tips from your sites.

  12. I need a crash course in excel. any suggestions ? I have an interview tomorrow.

  13. Hi Iam from India & iam a Mis Executive my question is
    “How do I become an excel/access master?”

  14. Mastering excel in a long road. Every time I read the blog explaining excel, I found new knowledge.
    Thanks for this inspiring site, encouraging me to learn excel more and more

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