How to Use Exponents in Excel

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Excel provides a few different ways to represent exponents in an Excel spreadsheet, depending on your purpose.
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In math, an exponent is useful when you want to multiply a number by itself a given number of times. This is sometimes referred to as taking the power of a number, where the term power refers to the number of times the number is multiplied. For example, two to the power of three is the same as multiplying the number two three times: 2 x 2 x 2 = 8. Excel provides a few different ways to represent exponents in an Excel spreadsheet, depending on your purpose.


Creating Exponents in Excel

The Excel POWER function returns the result of taking the power of a number. The function takes two arguments, the base number to be multiplied and the power, which is also referred to as the exponent. To reference the result of taking two to the power of three, enter POWER(2,3) in a cell on an Excel spreadsheet. The result should be 8. Remember to always precede a function with "=" if it's the first entry in a cell.

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You can use numbers or cell references as arguments for the POWER function. For example, if you want to calculate an exponent for the number in cell A1, you could enter POWER(A1,3). Using a $ sign before a column label in the arguments, such as $A$1, will make an absolute reference to cell A1 that will not change if the formula is copied or moved. Without the $, the location of the referenced cell will change.


Using the Keyboard Shortcut for POWER

The POWER function is easy to use when you need to reference an exponent, especially since Excel displays text to show the required arguments. If you'd like an even quicker method, use the caret character (^) on your keyboard to indicate an exponent, such as 2^3. Excel will interpret this as two raised to the power of three. You can use references to cells on either side of the caret, such as A1^A2, which will take the number in cell A1 and raise it to the power of the number in cell A2.


Excel EXP Function

Besides the POWER function, Excel has a built-in EXP function that seems like it could be used for exponents. However, this function is used for logarithmic calculations rather than to calculate a simple exponent. The EXP function is used to take the power of e, where e is the constant number 2.71828182845904 (the base of the natural algorithm).

Displaying a Superscript in Excel

Adding a superscript to a number is a standard way to express an exponent, such as 23. If you want to display an exponent without calculating the result, enter the exponent into a cell and then double click on the cell to select it. Highlight the character you want to format as superscript, then launch the Font Settings dialog from the Font group on the Excel Home tab. Click on the checkbox next to Superscript under Effects. Click OK to exit the Font Settings dialog. The selected text should be displayed in superscript format.