Google Sheets Formula Tutorial

Instructions and examples of simple formulas

Google Sheets formulas perform calculations on spreadsheet data. You can use formulas for basic number-crunching, such as addition or subtraction, and more complex calculations, such as payroll deductions or test averages. 

One considerable advantage of using a spreadsheet is that its formulas are dynamic: If you change the spreadsheet's data, the answer will be recalculated automatically wherever it appears without you having to re-enter the formula.

Creating a Basic Formula: Start With the Equal Sign

The steps for creating a basic formula are the same ones to follow when writing more complex formulas. In our sample formula, we'll first add the numbers 5 and 3 and then subtract 4.

  1. Type the following data into the appropriate cells:

    A1 : 3
    : 2
    : 4

    Data entered in cells of Google Sheets spreadsheet
  2. Select cell A4.

    A4 selected in Google Sheets spreadsheet
  3. Type the equal sign ( ) in cell A4.

    When creating a formula in a Google spreadsheet, you always start by typing the equal​ sign in the cell where you want the answer to appear.

    Equal sign (=) in cell A4


  4. Following the equal sign, enter A1 + A2 - A3 and press Enter.

    Using the cell references of data in the formula will automatically update the answer if the data in cells A1, A2, or A3 changes.

    Formula entered in cell A4.

Using Pointing to Add Cell References

The best way to add cell references is to use a feature called point and click, which allows you to click on the cell containing your data to add its cell reference to the formula.

  1. Type the equal sign ( ) in cell A4.

    Equal sign (=) in cell A4
  2. Select cell A1 with the mouse pointer to enter the cell reference into the formula.

    Cell A1 selected as the first reference in the formula
  3. Type a plus ( + ) sign.

    Plus sign following A1 in formula
  4. Select cell A2 with the mouse pointer to enter the cell reference into the formula.

    A2 selected in formula
  5. Type a minus ( - ) sign.

    Minus sign added to formula
  6. Select cell A3 with the mouse pointer to enter the cell reference into the formula.

    A3 added to formula
  7. Press Enter on your keyboard. The answer should appear in cell A4.


  8. Select cell A4. The complete formula is shown in the formula bar above the worksheet.

    Formula appearing in formula bar

Mathematical Operators in a Google Sheets Formula

As seen in previous steps, writing a formula in a Google spreadsheet is not difficult. Just combine the cell references of your data with the correct mathematical operator.

The mathematical operators used in Google Sheets (and Microsoft Excel) formulas are similar to those used in math class:

  • Subtraction - minus sign (-)
  • Addition - plus sign (+)
  • Division - forward-slash (/)
  • Multiplication - asterisk (*)
  • Exponentiation - caret (^)

The Google Sheets Order of Operations

If more than one operator is used in a formula, Google Sheets follows a specific order of operations, which you can change by adding brackets to the equation. An easy way to remember the order of operations is to use the acronym BEDMAS:

  1. Brackets
  2. Exponents
  3. Division
  4. Multiplication
  5. Addition
  6. Subtraction

Any operation(s) contained in brackets will be carried out first, followed by any exponents.

After that, Google Sheets considers division or multiplication operations equally important and carries out these operations in the order they occur, left to right, in the equation.

The same goes for the next two operations: addition and subtraction. They are considered equal in the order of operations. Whichever appears first in an equation is carried out first.

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