Basic things that I think are good to know and feel confident about (both the formula and samples of how to use it)
* AVERAGE and STDEV (.P and .S if you want), CORREL
* VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP
* OFFSET (I use this one A LOT, often for selecting subsets of data to send to aggregating functions like AVERAGE and STDEV).
* If you are more quanty, NORMSDIST and the inverse + SOLVER, otherwise not.
* MATCH and INDEX are also pretty useful, though not essential. Students should know they exist, what the ‘gotchas’ are, go through an example or two, but I wouldn’t begrudge someone who couldn’t remember off of the top of their head how the syntax worked. In practice, I tend to use MATCH with OFFSET more than INDEX.
* SLOPE and INTERCEPT are useful when you want to fit a line without running through an entire regression package.
* I would thow in Pivot Tables, but with some context
Pivot tables are interesting. People get caught up in the pivoting aspect of pivot tables, which to me is a techno gee-whiz factor that distracts from the fact that tables are used for cross-tabulations where at least one variable is categorical (nominal or ordinal). I’ve never pivoted a pivot table, but I have had pivot tables come up now and then because I need a cross-tabluation.
More important than learning how to do it (which one can learn in a few minutes) is learning what types of problems call for it. However, once you’re teaching that, you might as well go through with the how.
In practice, I use pivot tables to identify means and standard deviations for data which might have seasonal features, or to distinguish between industry groups or other categories. Pivot tables don’t auto-update nicely, which is one reason that I sometimes try to mimick their functionality with SUMIF and COUNTIF statements, but if I really need the standard deviation, there often isn’t much alternatives.
I second JMH’s point on how to organize data and parameters to make sheets easy to work with. I use blue cells for user-defined parameters and then color a number of cells in light orange for important outputs. It’s less pretty than blue bold, true, but I find they’re a lot easier to spot on a page, and that’s often the priority for me.
I will sometimes have the first sheet be a set of instructions for how to use the rest of the sheet.
I will also tend to have a sheet (or maybe more) solely dedicated to raw input data. I tend to have lots of tables of price or return streams, so I keep one sheet for just the raw data, and everything else just copies off of or references that sheet elsewhere. This won’t work for interlinked 3-statement company models, but it works for the kind of asset allocation and backtesting work I often do.
Creating tables from a formula or worksheet where you have one or two input variables across rows and columns; again, not somethign to have memorized, but a funtionality they should know is there and know that they did it at least once.
How to name variables might be worth teaching. I do that less than I think I should, but I think it’s good for people to know about.
Conditional formatting is useful too, though Excel keeps changing how they do it with every update.
Good Charting techniques would go a long way to being useful (when to use which type of chart, in a Tufte like approach)
How to write a macro formula is useful, but not essential (e.g. write your own sharpe ratio funciton given an input of asset levels over time)
I wish I knew about EOMONTH a long time ago. It would have made many sheets easier. Not essential, but good to know about.