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Use conditional formatting in Excel to visualize letter grades

By Wendy Tietz, CPA, Ph.D.; Jennifer Cainas, CPA, DBA; and Tracie Miller-Nobles, CPA

Conditional formatting is a simple tool that allows you to visually highlight information based on a set of criteria and can be used in a variety of ways.

As an example, suppose you have an Excel workbook that contains each student’s numerical course grades, but you would like a visual way to differentiate each student’s letter grade (A, B, C, D, or F). You can accomplish this using conditional formatting in two easy steps.  Below is a screenshot of an example gradebook that contains each student’s final course grade:

gradebook


Step 1: Highlight the course grades
: Use your mouse to select the course grades. In this example, cells AI2 through AI20 would be selected.

Step 2: Create conditional formatting rules: On the Home tab, select Conditional Formatting, Highlight Cells Rules, Between... In the Between box, type the criteria 90% and 100%. This first rule will identify the A’s (90%-100%) in the course. Select the color option you want from the drop-down box. To choose a color that isn’t listed (such as green without dark green text), choose Custom Format, then under the Fill tab, select the color you would like the cells to change to. Click OK in the Format Cells box. Then click OK in the Between box.

custom-format

format-cells


Now all the course grades that are “A’s” are highlighted with a green box:

gradebook-finish


You can repeat this process for each letter grade, using a different color for each grade, making it easy to identify which students have earned a certain course grade:

gradebook-colors


View this video for an overview of how to use conditional formatting.

Wendy Tietz, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., is a professor of accounting at Kent State University in Kent. Ohio; Jennifer Cainas, CPA, DBA, is an instructor of accountancy at the University of South Florida in Tampa; and Tracie Miller-Nobles, CPA, is an associate professor of accounting at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas. See their site AccountingIsAnalytics.com for resources they have developed for teaching data analytics in introductory accounting. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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