Quite frankly, excel kinda makes me feel like I’ve never done anything interesting in my entire life and am actually a middle-aged man in a cheap suit working in an office with bad florescent lighting. THAT BEING SAID it’s a fucking useful thing to know how to work with — you can budget with it, you can track your progress in stuff and make graphs, you can analyze data, you can use it to
solve, or um, double check math problems. Most importantly, when you’re in the eleventh hour at school and have only the vaguest idea what your grade is because your professors don’t tell you, you can use excel to figure that shit out. (It’s infinitely easier to track as you go, but I really can’t tell you how to live your life.)
I’m gonna work through this tutorial with the assumption that you’ve never really used excel before, although we’re really only using a few of the tools/functions.
We’re going to use:
- The “font” and “number” parts of the ribbon – the ribbon is the toolbar up at the top of your screen when you use excel. You can use the font section to bold/underline stuff to make your spreadsheet easier to read, and you can adjust how numbers show up by using the number section. (For this, you’ll mostly want to use it to change the number of decimal places and get the numbers to show up as percentages rather than, for example, money.)
I like to start out by giving myself a little heading in the corner with information I might need to keep in mind. Exam/paper dates, instructor contact info, and the grade you need to not get kicked out of school are great things to put there.
Make three columns: type of assignment, percent of the final grade, and the percent you’ve earned of that. Be sure to change column sizes so that words don’t get cut off. (When you go up to the A, B, C… section labeling the columns, the cursor will change and you can adjust the size.)
Enter the numbers in as decimals (ie 0.15 = 15% of the final grade) and then highlight them all and change them to percentages by hitting the % button in the number ribbon for recent editions of excel. (If you have another way you like to enter in this stuff, that will of course work too. I’m just showing how I do it.)
Since everything is still highlighted, go ahead and hit the autosum button. (It’s in the top right of the ribbon.) You can also type SUM(firstcell:lastcell) in the cell below your list. (Don’t literally type firstcell/lastcell, type in the names of your first and last cell. B1, A4, B3, C7 etc.) It should equal 100% because otherwise you’re missing/added something.
SIDE NOTE: if your syllabus splits your grade up by points, you can still find the percentages by dividing the points per that category by the total number of points. For example, if homework was 200 points out of 1100 total, the percent would be equal to (200/1100).
When it comes to entering your grades, obviously some categories are going to have more than one grade. Luckily, you can average them; in another section of your spreadsheet, keep a column with your grades in that category. (THIS IS SHOWN IN IMAGE ONE.) Below that, you can get your average grade in that category by typing =average(fistcell:lastcell).
Back in your cumulative grade column, you can find out the percent of that category you’ve actually earned — for example, if you get have a 100% homework average in this scenario, you get 15% out of a possible 15% towards your final grade. Do this by using =(the cell with your average)*(the percent of your grade that category takes up). (THIS IS SHOWN IN IMAGE TWO.)
I went ahead and entered random grades in image three, just to show you that once you’ve got stuff in there, you can find your current grade by taking the sum of the column, just like with the “% of grade” column. CONGRATS, THAT’S YOUR CURRENT GRADE!
This method is going to show the percent you’ve earned up to date, so don’t freak out if the spreadsheet tells you you have a 55% or something. If you haven’t taken two exams that add up to 35% of your grade, the highest you could possibly get is a 65% anyway. In this situation, you can divide your “% earned” by the % you’ve attempted.
(For example: you dutifully fill out your spreadsheet. One month into the semester, it says you have a 35%. Since you’ve only done work in categories that make up 40% of your grade, you can find your current grade by dividing 35/40. You are on track for a high B, chill the fuck out.)
reasons to fuck with this
I realize that excel is kind of a tedious, unsexy way to organize your life, but there are some notable perks to doing this. First off, it’s way, way more reliable than your gut. It’s very easy to feel like you’re doing well in a class that you’re really not doing well in at all.
It can also be incredibly comforting — I’m very careful about my GPA because I have a scholarship that I will lose if it drops below a certain point. When I’m freaking out like, “oh my god I’m going to fail this test and lose my scholarship and have to borrow all this money and disappoint my family and live at home forever what the fuck do I do?” it’s extremely comforting to be able to check and know that everything is going to be okay after all, because it’s all laid out and I know the math is right.
A third thing is that it can be very helpful with prioritizing your time — there’s going to come a point where you realize that an assignment requires a lot of effort but isn’t actually important to your grade. Of course, it’s important to do things to learn and all that, but when it comes down to it, working on a boring, time consuming project is a really bad idea if it means you’re neglecting an assignment that’s important. It comes down to conserving energy, really.
I really hope this post is helpful to people still in school — if there’s something that you think is unclear, please please feel free to comment and I’d be happy to go back and clarify things!