Using What-If Analysis

In Excel what if analysis lets you answer questions with data. With what if analysis Excel also lets you experiment with data.

What-if analysis

Video: Using What-If Analysis in Excel 2010

Launch video!Watch the video (4:08).

Excel includes many powerful tools to perform complex mathematical calculations, including what-if analysis. This feature can help you experiment and answer questions with your data, even when the data is incomplete. In this lesson, you'll learn how to use a what-if analysis tool called Goal Seek.

Optional: You can download this example for extra practice.

Using Goal Seek

When you create a formula or function in Excel, you put various parts together to calculate a result. Goal Seek works in the opposite way: It lets you start with the desired result, and it calculates the input value that will give you that result. We'll use a few examples to show how to use Goal Seek.

To use Goal Seek (Example 1):

Let's say you're enrolled in a class. You currently have a grade of 65, and you need at least a 70 to pass the class. Luckily, you have one final assignment that might be able to raise your average. You can use Goal Seek to find out what grade you need on the final assignment to pass the class.

In the image below, you can see that the grades on the first four assignments are 58, 70, 72, and 60. Even though we don't know what the fifth grade will be, we can go ahead and write a formula or function that calculates the final grade. In this case, each assignment is weighted equally, so all we have to do is average all five grades by typing =AVERAGE(B2:B6). Once we use Goal Seek, cell B6 will show us the minimum grade we'll need to make on the final assignment.

Screenshot of Excel 2010Function calculating the monthly payment
  1. Select the cell containing the value you want to change. When you use Goal Seek, you'll need to select a cell that already contains a formula or function. In our example, we'll select cell B7 because it contains the formula =AVERAGE(B2:B6).
    Screenshot of Excel 2010Selecting cell B7
  2. From the Data tab, click the What-If Analysis command, then select Goal Seek from the drop-down menu.
    Screenshot of Excel 2010Selecting Goal Seek from the drop-down menu
  3. A dialog box will appear with three fields:
    • Set cell: This is the cell that will contain the desired result. In our example, cell B7 is already selected.
    • To value: This is the desired result. In our example, we'll enter 70 because we need to earn at least that to pass the class.
    • By changing cell: This is the cell where Goal Seek will place its answer. In our example, we'll select cell B6 because we want to determine the grade we need to earn on the final assignment.
  4. When you're done, click OK.
    Screenshot of Excel 2010Entering the desired values into the dialog box and clicking OK
  5. The dialog box will tell you if Goal Seek was able to find a solution. Click OK.
    Screenshot of Excel 2010Clicking OK
  6. The result will appear in the specified cell. In our example, Goal Seek calculated that we will need to score at least a 90 on the final assignment to earn a passing grade.


    Screenshot of Excel 2010The completed Goal Seek and calculated value