Ultimate guide to Excel courses and qualifications

excel courses

Depending on what you read, estimates for the number of users of Excel range from the high hundreds of millions to well over a billion. This suggests that a lot of people across a lot of professions are spending time manipulating data in spreadsheets. Presumably, you’re here because you are one of them! And most of them (you?) could be working more quickly and achieve so much more! 

Ask yourself the following: 

  • Would you say that you’re aware of all the important functions that excel has to offer? 
     
  • Can you build an excel model effectively across a number of worksheets to fully analyse and integrate larger sets of data? (A skill that can be key for financial and data analysts.)
     
  • Are you aware that Excel can be used as a presentation tool and know how to go about that – or are you putting your data into an alternative presentation package?
excel courses

Are any of your answers no, maybe or not sure? If so, this is where Microsoft Excel training comes in. Not only can you learn to use its full functionality, but you can have a qualification that demonstrates your skill to others – great for your CV!

In this guide, we aim to help you to navigate the world of training and courses in Microsoft Excel to help you decide the best way for you to learn.

However, where and how you start your journey in determining which training to undertake depends on what you want to get out of it.

1. What sort of user are you?

2. Financial modelling and the FMI

3. Learning Excel – beyond the basics, but not as far as modelling!

4. How long does it take to learn Excel?

5. Different routes for gaining Excel skills

 6. Is a course worthwhile?

7. What’s involved in Microsoft Excel training?

8. What qualifications are available?

9. Do I really need an Excel qualification?

10. Excel for finance

11. Recommended providers

1. What sort of user are you?

If you’re looking to improve your existing Excel skills, perhaps to increase your knowledge of the functionality or to use it for presentation purposes, then an Excel course would be just the thing. 

Or, if you’re already a competent Excel user but are looking to use it for financial modelling, then, in this case, general Excel training is probably not going to be enough. Of much more use would be a course dedicated to your specific area of interest detailing how Excel can be used to support this. And this is where we’re going to go first:

2. Financial modelling and the FMI

Being able to predict the outcome in terms of your business’s finances of changes in certain variables, e.g. levels of sales, interest rates, wage or tax changes, is really fundamental to effective planning, budgeting and setting strategy. It can also get very complicated very quickly and result in damaging errors if not undertaken properly. Fortunately, the Financial Modelling Institute (FMI) provide qualifications in just this!

They offer an introductory course and three further levels of qualification. For the three qualification levels, you do need to have passed the previous level in order to pass to the next:

excel courses
Foundation course

As it suggests, a short introductory course which will provide you with the basics of financial modelling and theory. The course takes around 10 hours, is taught through tuition videos and is tested via a one-hour multiple-choice test. Passing this course will not provide you with an accreditation, but you will receive a digital badge. It is not necessary to have taken and passed this course in order to begin AFM.

AFM - Advanced Financial Modeler

Through undertaking this course, you will become confident in building an integrated financial model for a business when presented with base data, including income statements, balance sheets etc.

CFM - Chartered Financial Modeler

Having learnt the basics in the AFM course, this one provides you with the ability to tackle more complex situations, overcome more demanding problems and still produce a robust, effective model for forecasting purposes.

For AFM and CFM, the institute themselves provide some basic teaching materials in the form of a ‘Book of Knowledge’, tuition videos, previous sittings’ exams with solutions and a mock exam. These materials can be enhanced by going through one of their Approved Training Providers as they will typically offer their own range of materials, often providing additional explanation and practice of key skills in a variety of formats. 

The respective exams can be taken online and last for 4 hours. For AFM, it will involve building a model from scratch from the information provided. Whereas, for CFM, the exam will contain a number of unique problems which need to be addressed within a functioning model, arising from issues surrounding such elements as subsidiaries, revenues and working capital or debt.

MFM - Master Financial Modeler

This is an accreditation for the elite financial modellers. Those who have achieved CFM and have contributed to the financial modelling profession due to insights on advanced issues that they have learned to incorporate. Proof of skills and experience will enable those applying to take up this status and operate as ambassadors within the profession

In each case, achievement of the level will provide you with a qualification or accreditation to add to your CV, proving your proficiency and putting you ahead in the recruitment stakes.

3. Learning Excel – beyond the basics, but not as far as modelling!

So, maybe financial modelling is a step too far for now (however, particularly if you work within finance, we would recommend that you keep it in mind as it could really set you apart from the crowd), but you are one of the many who know that Excel could automate a lot more of your tasks if only you knew how! The rest of this article has been written with you in mind, dealing with the various questions you may have and hopefully enabling you to choose your next step with confidence. 

Let’s start with a very practical consideration.

4. How long does it take to learn Excel?

The short (and possibly unhelpful) answer is, it depends!

It depends on:

  • What you want to learn; and
  • Why you want to learn it

If you’re new to Excel and just want to get some basic knowledge, a few hours following some free Youtube videos could prove to be enough.

If you only need to learn specific functionality that’s key to your role – again, you may be looking at a few hours of work. 

If you’re after an in-depth knowledge taking in the advanced features and functions, you could be looking at either a few hours, a week or so, or even an entire lifetime!

excel qualification

If you want or need a formal qualification or would rather undertake a structured course, it will depend on the course you choose.

Basically, there are a lot of decisions to be made and considerations to take into account before we can get to an answer – let’s start by considering the learning options.

5. Different routes for gaining Excel skills

 

A quick Google search will show you that there are A LOT of options available to you to learn the functionality of Excel. These can be divided into two broad categories – guided Excel courses and “do it yourself”(DIY) learning based on your own research.

Taking these in turn:

When we talk about guided Microsoft Excel courses, we mean courses that follow some sort of plan/syllabus. These courses can be taken online or in-person (e.g. at a local college or library).

The advantages of taking Excel courses rather than doing it yourself include:

The disadvantages include:

They will follow a syllabus with a plan developed by an expert, you may find yourself learning Excel functions you never even knew existed!

Tutor access – Often, you’ll have access to a tutor who you can call on if anything is difficult or unclear.

An array of study resources – At Astranti, we offer tuition videos, workbooks to practise what you learn, revision activities and mock exams.

You can end up with an Excel qualification at the end – but more on this later!

It will require commitment in terms of effort and time.

It may cover areas that really won’t prove to be beneficial to you.

There is likely to be a cost involved.

On the other hand, ‘DIY’ Excel studying; finding information yourself and trying things out on Excel has its own advantages.

Advantages include:

However, be warned – DIY Excel studying does have its drawbacks:

It’s free – Youtube is a brilliant place to find resources for learning Excel. You’re sure to find a video covering a topic you’re intereste

You can choose what specific topics you want to study.

You don’t have to worry about revising for assessments or exams.

Whilst Youtube is a great resource, not all the videos are guaranteed to be good quality from either a content or teaching perspective. This could prove frustrating!

You won’t receive any official accreditation or recognition for your efforts, making it harder to prove the extent of your Excel abilities to your employer.

A lack of a syllabus or official structure may mean that you miss out on important areas – bringing us back to that functionality you would benefit from but don’t yet know exists!

So…

6. Is a course worthwhile?

Well, as suggested earlier, if you’ve identified a few specific skills that you want to learn, or if you’re only looking to get to grips with the basics of Excel, your best bet may well be learning through free online videos. Couple this with a bit of practice, and you could quickly develop the skills you need.

Furthermore, if in your role you don’t actually use Excel very often, your opportunities to utilise your Excel knowledge will be limited, hence why DIY studying on an as-need basis would probably be a better use of your time. 

If this is really you, then our journey together may well be at an end, as from here on, we’ll only be considering courses.

excel courses

In summary, if you are looking for Microsoft Excel training that will provide you with a comprehensive range of skills, or if you want an impressive qualification to put on your CV, a course is 100% the best option for you.

Excel courses are the perfect choice if you’re someone who regularly works with Excel and could really benefit from learning all the tricks of the trade. Completing a course will give you greater confidence in your Excel abilities and prove to your employers (and perhaps future employers) that you really are an Excel expert!

Now we need some details.

7. What’s involved in Microsoft Excel training?

Microsoft Excel training can vary a lot depending on who is providing it (the course provider) and what sort of course it is. 

Broadly speaking, a good Excel course should offer you:

  • Tuition videos – This is where an expert will walk you through a topic, showing you how they have done it on their own screen so you can follow along. 
     
  • Activities and solution videos – The best way to master Excel is by having a go for yourself at the various functions – and then being able to check what you’ve done with the solutions! 
     
  • Tutor support – Sometimes, however many times you watch a video, you still can’t make things work! When this situation arises, you’ll need to contact an expert for help and clarification.
     
  • Practise activities – These activities can help test your understanding of key topics, as well as prepare you for any exams or assessments for the specific qualification you’re working towards.

And, just in case you were wondering, at Astranti, we offer all of these as part of our Microsoft Excel Expert Course!

8. What qualifications are available?

So, if you’ve decided that a course which gains you a specific qualification to put on your CV is the best option, what are your options?

Basically, there are two main types you can choose from – Microsoft-certified qualifications (MO-200, MO-201 and others) and independent CPD (continuing professional development) course qualifications.

Starting by looking at the Microsoft-certified qualifications.

MO-200 and MO-201 are the most up-to-date exams for the MOS Excel qualification and, as such, are the ones that we’re going to concentrate on here. However, there are other exams available for the older versions of Excel. If you’re interested in these, you can read about them in our definitive guide to Excel certification.

So, what are MO-200 and MO-201 all about?

MO-200: Microsoft Excel (Excel and Excel 2019)

This is the first in the series and covers more beginner-level areas, including:

    • How to import and search for specific data.
       
    • Modifying the way worksheets look.
       
    • Modifying how the data is presented within the cells and how tables within worksheets look.
       
    • Print options.
       
    • Performing some basic functions such as adding up numbers from specific cells or finding the average.
       
    • Creating specific types of charts from data within a worksheet.

    This is not an exhaustive list. For more details, please refer to the MO-200 syllabus.

    excel qualification

    However, hopefully, what this overview does demonstrate is that this is the one to choose if you’re new to using Excel or haven’t used it very extensively. It will provide a good grounding in the basics, allowing you to move onto the more advanced course (and functions) with confidence if required. And because this qualification is awarded by Microsoft, you will have proof of your efforts to put on your CV – a big tick when competence in using Excel is one of the necessary or desired skills in the job advert! 

    On the other hand, it could be worth taking a moment to consider whether, due to its simplicity, you could learn most of what’s covered through DIY studying or experimenting in Excel yourself – saving yourself the cost of a formal course.

    So, assuming that one way or the other the basics are covered and you want to move on to becoming an expert, let’s have a look at the more advanced course.

    MO-201: Microsoft Excel Expert (Excel and Excel 2019)

    This Excel qualification, offered by various Microsoft Excel training providers (including us), will take your Excel knowledge and skills to a higher level.

    MO-201 covers advanced skills such as:

    • How to restrict access and available functionality to ensure that multiple users can access and use the data without causing issues.
       
    • More advanced methods to import and create the data sets  – generally, more ways to avoid having to manually transfer data into a worksheet, especially when it isn’t set up to be a quick copy and paste! 
       
    • Creating and using advanced formulas and how to embed one function inside another in order to increase the functionality and save even more time.
       
    • Creating macros so that you can easily and quickly repeat functions.
       
    • Creating and manipulating advanced charts and tables – great for swift analysis, effective presentations and supporting proposals.

    Again, this is only a brief overview of the MO-201 course syllabus

    Whilst even at this level, it may still be possible to teach yourself using free online resources, the complexity of some of these functions will require practice in order to perfect them. Undertaking a well thought out course containing tutor support and ample opportunities to test your new skills could well be preferable and more effective.

    How long does it take to do an MO-200 or M0-201 course? Well, that depends on the provider you choose, how quickly you learn and how much practice of each feature or function you feel you need to be exam ready. 

    The Astranti 201 course is around 20 hours long, but other providers’ courses may be longer or they may be shorter. Ultimately, less isn’t necessarily better. You need to find the course that suits you, your needs and your learning style. You’re undertaking this in order to be able to confidently use these features and functions today, tomorrow and next year – not just for the piece of paper! 

    So, that’s the Microsoft certified courses dealt with. Moving on to the alternative that we mentioned:

    excel courses

    CPD courses

    excel courses

    Continuing Professional Development simply refers to any additional learning you undertake to improve existing skills or develop new ones while you’re working. If you have membership of a professional body, e.g. CIMA, The Royal College of Nursing or The Law Society, there will often be an obligation to undertake a certain number of hours of relevant CPD per year.   

    CPD courses can be found on a wide range of topics – including Microsoft Excel. Upon completion, some CPD providers will award a certificate/qualification. However, be warned, CPD qualifications are generally not certified by Microsoft unless they are for MO-200 or MO-201, so the content, length and quality will vary. Essentially, anyone can put together a course and call it CPD.

    So, why bother? Well, as with anything, there are pros and cons:

    So, why bother? Well, as with anything, there are pros and cons:

    Advantages of CPD Excel courses
    • They vary in duration – some CPD courses take just a few hours, others take several weeks/months – you can therefore select whichever suits your schedule and needs.
       
    • There are plenty of CPD Excel courses available covering all levels.
       
    • You almost certainly won’t have to worry about sitting exams to complete the course and gain the certificate at the end.
    Disadvantages of CPD Excel courses
    • Unless they specifically say so, the courses aren’t assessed or accredited by Microsoft – so they won’t look as impressive on your CV.
       
    • CPD certificates often aren’t considered formal qualifications, so again, may not have the impact you’re after with potential employers.
       
    • Non-certified courses aren’t regulated, so there’s no guarantee that they will be comprehensive or high quality.

    Also, it’s always worth comparing the cost of any CPD courses option against doing a Microsoft certified MO-200 or MO-201 course. If the difference isn’t too great, could paying a little extra to get that formal qualification be a worthwhile choice? 

    Still unsure as to which course is best for Excel? In that case, the next section is just for you.

    9. Do I really need an Excel qualification?

    With everything that’s been said so far, you may by now be sold on one particular option. However, if you’re still undecided as to whether the formal Excel qualification route is for you, here’s a quick round-up and a few last points:

    • CV – As we’ve mentioned, taking an Excel qualification gives you evidence of your Excel abilities that you can use to bolster your CV. This may put you ahead of others when applying for a new job or when you’re angling for a promotion!
       
    • Productivity – Most Excel qualifications will teach you a range of relevant skills that will help improve your effectiveness and efficiency. In fact, Microsoft states that the MO-201 course will teach you the skills to help you ‘meet project needs and to enhance productivity.’ 
       
    • Evidence of CPD – Through taking a qualification, you can provide evidence to your organisation or professional body that you take continuing professional development seriously.
       
    • Sense of personal achievement – Taking a qualification can be a big step, and you’ll have to work hard to complete it. However, it can provide you with a real sense of pride and satisfaction when you receive that certificate at the end.

    That being said, gaining an Excel qualification isn’t for everyone; it really does depend on what you want to get out of your Microsoft Excel training. If you only use Excel occasionally or don’t feel that it’s a necessary addition to your CV, the benefits you’d gain from a qualification (compared to DIY studying or a course without a qualification) might not be worth the added effort or expense.

    This leaves us with the remaining question of which course provider to choose, but before we get there, just a quick diversion to address a well-known group of Excel users.

    10. Excel for finance

    If you work within the finance function, but are not specifically looking for financial modelling (that was dealt with at the top of the page) this part’s specifically for you! 

    As you’ll undoubtedly be aware, Excel is generally the go-to programme for recording, or more typically analysing, financial information.

    But with the growth and development of accounting software, do you still need to use Excel for finance applications? Are spreadsheets outdated? 

    To answer those in order, “in some cases” and “absolutely not”!

    In fact, Excel is still immensely popular amongst finance professionals. Why? Well, because much of its functionality is just perfect for their needs where they don’t have specialist software to perform that task. It’s its flexibility that is key to its success.

    excel courses

    For example:

    • Presenting data in easily understood forms – E.g. a variety of charts and clearly formatted tables.
       
    • Having Excel perform complex or time-consuming calculations for you – E.g. Net Present Value (NPV) calculations for investment evaluation.
       
    • Helping you create budgets and forecasts and support their effectiveness through automating variance analysis (the difference between projected and actual results).
       
    • Assisting you with project management – E.g. creating timelines and resource charts.

    More specifically:

    • Creating dual-axis charts – Allowing you to present two data sets on the same chart, making it easier to compare and evaluate data more efficiently.
       
    • Using conditional functions – Helping you to analyse data to make logical comparisons based on some criteria being met – E.g. finding the maximum or minimum value, sales generated by a specified customer, etc.
       
    • Macros – Creating a programme to complete a specific task linked to certain keystrokes. Thereby, forever onwards, pressing “shift-b” (for example) will total the results found in given cells, format cells a certain way or find a required result. Now that’s a time saver!
       . 
      This automation can be taken a step further to involve writing computer code to unlock even more functionality. Though, most Excel courses don’t usually go that far, so you might need to do a specialist course if you’re interested. 
       
    • What-if analysis – Enabling you to forecast the outcome of fluctuations in the value of specific variables, to help you and your organisation prepare for the future. (Although, depending on the scale, someone tasked with undertaking this as part of their role may wish to consider the Financial modelling option outlined earlier.)

    This is far from an exhaustive list, but it should give you a taste of why you, as a finance professional, need to learn to use Excel for finance applications in order to make your work a lot easier and more effective!

    And in terms of specific courses:
    • If you’re looking for a certified course that will support your need to use Excel for finance requirements, try to find a provider with finance expertise and a course geared towards applying the features and functions to finance (um, like ours!)
       
    • If financial modelling is your area of interest, accredited courses offered by the FM Institute in financial modelling would be the place to go. As detailed in an earlier section, these courses specifically look at the use of Excel in the context of developing financial models.
       
    • Non-certified courses – Options include CPD Excel for Finance course or Introduction to Financial Modelling course for a more focused purpose.
       
    • Free courses – The Corporate Finance Institute has released a free Excel crash course on Youtube that offers a great introduction to Excel for finance.

    But these are only some examples. We would advise you to do your own research to ensure you find the course that best suits your requirements for using Excel for finance applications. 

    And so, as promised before this diversion, looking beyond courses specifically tailored to finance professionals:

    11. Recommended providers

    Whatever aspects of Excel you’re interested in learning, there are plenty of providers out there ready to help you. Here are just some of the providers (free, paid and certified) that we have encountered in our research:

    Note: Astranti is not affiliated in any way with these external providers, so we cannot provide any guarantees about their courses, and we do not receive anything in return for recommending them.

    Excel courses online – Free

    You can find experts on pretty much every subject imaginable on Youtube, and Excel is no exception. We particularly liked the looks of these courses/channels:

    • MyExcelOnline – This Youtube channel (with almost 100k subscribers) provides a LOT of quick tutorials and detailed webinars to teach you all kinds of useful Excel skills, such as this webinar on Pivot Tables.
      . 
    • SimonSez IT – This Youtube channel is another brilliant example of free Excel courses online. For example, in this Advanced Excel Tutorial, they teach you how to use several Excel formulas that could become key tools in your arsenal.
      .
    • ProgrammingKnowledge – If you’re new to Excel and searching for beginner Excel courses online, this Excel Tutorial for Beginners will take you through many of the important Excel skills you may need.
      .
      Be warned, though, the entire course is included in this single video, and it clocks in at a gargantuan 10 hours! So, get comfortable and plan plenty of breaks.

    If you’re still thinking of getting a qualification, it’s worth remembering that you don’t need to avoid all free materials if you want to pursue a qualification or a paid course. These free online resources can be a great help if you feel you would benefit from hearing a topic explained in a slightly different way.

    Either way, what do you have to lose? They’re free!

    Excel courses online – Paid (No qualification)

    If you think you’d benefit from the structure provided by a purpose-made course, but you’re still not interested in preparing for an exam and getting a recognised qualification, one course provider we like is:

    Excel courses online – Paid (For a qualification)

    Given everything we’ve said above, if you’ve decided that you want to learn how to use advanced features in Excel AND also gain a respected and valuable qualification for your CV, the Microsoft-certified course is the way to go. And, on that subject…

    • Astranti – As we may have mentioned once or twice, we happen to provide a course that can help you learn invaluable Excel skills and pass the MO-201 Excel Expert exam.
      .
      If you want to learn advanced skills and earn a qualification, our Microsoft Excel Expert Course will teach you everything you need to know to sail through your MO-201 exam!

    The bottom line is that if you want to boost your skills and your career by proving you can use Microsoft Excel’s fundamental or advanced functions, investing in Excel certification is the way to go! And if you do decide to go for it, we wish you all the best! 

    Hopefully, we’ve provided you with all the information that you need? However, if you still have any questions about Excel certification or starting your journey on that path, feel free to post them below, and one of our team members will do their best to answer them.

    Illustration by Storyset.

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