Posted by admin on 2nd March 2010

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are one of those essential topics – you won’t get through your GCSE ICT exam without getting a question on Spreadsheets. Understand the basics and you’ll find you’re much better prepared for whatever the examiner throws at you.

A spreadsheet is made up of cells – little rectangles that fill up the entire page, or “table” or “worksheet“. Each cell can be found with a “cell reference” – a unique code with a letter and a number (always letter first, then number), just like map coordinates in Geography. So to find a particular cell reference, look along the top for the column that it’s in, then across to the left side to find the row.

A spreadsheet table with cell B5 highlightedLooking at this example table, you can see that we’ve highlighted where you’d look to find the cell reference of one cell. The column (a vertical line of cells) is “B” and the row (a horizontal line of cells) is “5″, which makes it cell “B5″. If you’re asked a question about spreadsheets, the examiner will just expect you to be able to follow cell references and work out which cell they’re talking about.

So what can go into cells? Three things:

  • Values (numbers or other data of any kind)
  • Labels (text that explains what the values mean)
  • Formulas (calculations using values)

Values and Labels can be formatted to change how they’re presented. This is especially helpful for dates and times or to change how many decimal places are displayed of a number. You can even use “conditional formatting” which will change how a cell looks depending on what value is stored or calculated in it.

However, mostly you’ll need to focus on the formulas part of spreadsheets. There are so many that we can’t possibly cover them all on this one small page, but we’ll take a look at the most important ones.

If you forget everything else about formulas in spreadsheets, remember this: formulas start with an = (equals). I can’t over-emphasize how essential that one line is. In a multiple choice question of which formula is correct for a calculation, cross out any that don’t start with an equals sign – it’ll save you from easy mistakes and trick questions!

The basic “operators” are the ones we learned in primary school; add, subtract, multiply, divide. They’re not quite the same on a computer as in your maths book – multiply is a * (star) instead of an X sign, and divide is a / (forward slash) instead of that symbol that’s not even on your keyboard! If you have to write out a formula, don’t forget the right symbols.

There are more calculations you can do in a spreadsheet – we call these “functions“. They include “=SUM”, which adds up cells, “=AVERAGE”, which does an average (technically it’s a “mean” average), “=MAX” and “=MIN” which find the biggest and smallest number in a list (maximum and minimum).

Usually, the formulas you’re asked to understand or describe in an exam are not more complex than these basics, but for your coursework project you will probably need some more complex formulas that these. The important thing is to take it slowly, not get confused and scared, but focus on using the right formula and the right cell references.

The other big thing that Spreadsheets are used for is making graphs, of course. You’ll need to recognise different types of graph or chart that you can make with a spreadsheet for the exam – line, bar/column, pie, scatter. You may need to be able to describe how to make a graph too, using the chart wizard.

Three types of graph: line, bar and pie

There’s loads more to find about spreadsheets – start by clicking here to search for more useful web pages on spreadsheets

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