The Pros and Cons of Using Excel for Statistical Calculations

Last modified April 16, 2020

Microsoft Excel is widely used, and is a great program for managing and wrangling data sets. Excel has some statistical capabilities, and many also use it to do some statistical calculations. The excellent book by Pace (2008) gives many more details (it can be purchased as a printed book, or as a pdf download). 

Is Excel complete and easy to use for statistics?

You are not going to get an unbiased answer from a statistical software company! But I would not recommend using Excel for statistics. One problem is that Excel is far from a complete statistics program. It lacks nonparametric tests, post tests following ANOVA, and many others tests. Another problem is that Excel reports statistical results without all the supporting details other programs provide. While you can do nonlinear regression using Excel's solver, it isn't so easy to set up and the results are not as complete as a program designed to do nonlinear regression (like GraphPad Prism). 

Are statistical results from Excel accurate?

Use of Excel for statistics is somewhat controversial, and some recommend that Excel not be used for statistics because it is not accurate. This was a real problem i.n the past Excel used some poor algorithms for computing statistics which lead to incorrect results (McCullough, 2005; Knusel, 2005). Microsoft responded to these criticisms and improved statistical calculations beginning with Excel 2003. Some errors remained in Excel 2007 for Windows and Excel 2008 for Mac. McCullough (2008) pointed out many erroneous results produced by Excel 2007 (especially its Solver) and concludes, "Microsoft has repeatedly proved itself incapable of providing reliable statistical functionality.” Yalta (2008) reached a similar conclusion, “the accuracy of various statistical functions in Excel 2007 range from unacceptably bad to acceptable but inferior.”  In contrast, Pace (2008) concludes that Microsoft has fixed the important bugs, leaving only statistical bugs that are trivial or obscure. He concludes that Excel 2007 is a reasonable choice for analyzing the kinds of data most academics and professionals collect. More recently, Mélard in 2014 reached the same conclusion. 

 Given these problems, you should use another program to check important calculations, especially if your data seem unusual or include missing values.


Other GraphPad pages about Excel:


Linking and embedding Excel data into Prism.

What can Prism do that Excel cannot do?

Problems importing large Excel files into Prism  (fixed in 5.02)

Computing the binomial distribution with Excel

Generating random numbers with Excel

Beware of Excel's rank() function, or nonparametric tests will be incorrect.

Computing a P value from z, t, F, or chi-square using Excel

Using Excel to compute confidence intervals

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