Which Standard Deviation to Use in Excel: Basic and Advanced Data Analysis

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Standard deviation is a vital statistical measure used in Excel for analyzing data variability and dispersion. It helps in understanding how data points in a dataset are spread out from the mean. However, Excel offers different functions for calculating standard deviation, and choosing the right one can be confusing. In this article, we will explore which standard deviation to use in Excel for both basic and advanced data analysis.

Basic Standard Deviation in Excel

Excel provides two main functions for calculating standard deviation: STDEV.P and STDEV.S.

1. STDEV.P (Population Standard Deviation)

Use STDEV.P when your data represents the entire population you are studying. For example, if you want to find the standard deviation of test scores for an entire class of students, STDEV.P is the function to go with. It considers all data points and provides a more accurate measure of population variability.

2. STDEV.S (Sample Standard Deviation)

On the other hand, if you are working with a sample of data that represents a subset of a larger population, you should use STDEV.S. For instance, if you want to determine the standard deviation of a sample of 30 students’ test scores from a class of 100, STDEV.S should be used. It adjusts for the bias introduced when working with samples rather than the entire population.

How to Calculate Basic Standard Deviation

Let’s walk through a simple example of how to calculate both STDEV.P and STDEV.S in Excel.

Suppose we have the following dataset representing the scores of 10 students in a math quiz:


To calculate the population standard deviation, enter the formula =STDEV.P(A2:A11) in an empty cell. This will give you the result, which is approximately 6.68.

For sample standard deviation, use the formula


to get a result of approximately 7.22.

Advanced-Data Analysis in Excel

Excel provides more advanced standard deviation functions and tools for complex data analysis, including:

1. STDEVP and STDEVS Functions

In addition to STDEV.P and STDEV.S, Excel also offers the STDEVP and STDEVS functions. These functions work similarly to STDEV.P and STDEV.S but are available for compatibility with other spreadsheet applications.

2. Data Analysis ToolPak

Excel’s Data Analysis ToolPak is a powerful add-in that extends Excel’s capabilities for statistical analysis. To access it, go to “Data” > “Data Analysis” and select “Descriptive Statistics.”

Using the Data Analysis ToolPak, you can calculate not only standard deviation but also various other statistical measures for your data. This tool is particularly useful when dealing with large datasets or conducting complex analyses.

3. PivotTables

PivotTables are another advanced feature in Excel that can help you analyze data effectively. You can use PivotTables to summarize data and calculate standard deviations for specific subsets of your dataset.

Here’s how to create a PivotTable to calculate standard deviation:

  1. Select your data range.
  2. Go to “Insert” > “PivotTable.”
  3. Drag the field you want to analyze to the “Values” section and choose “Value Field Settings.”
  4. Select “StdDev” as the calculation type.

PivotTables are dynamic, which means you can easily adjust your analysis by dragging and dropping fields in the PivotTable Fields pane.

Choosing the Right Standard Deviation

So, which standard deviation function should you use? The choice between STDEV.P and STDEV.S depends on your data and the context of your analysis:

  • Use P when you have data representing the entire population.
  • Use S when you are working with a sample that represents a subset of the population.

For advanced data analysis, consider using the Data Analysis ToolPak and PivotTables to gain deeper insights into your data. These tools allow you to customize your analysis to suit the specific requirements of your project.


Understanding which standard deviation to use in Excel is crucial for accurate data analysis. By choosing the right function—STDEV.P or STDEV.S—you ensure that your analysis is appropriate for the nature of your data.

For more complex analyses, Excel offers advanced tools like the Data Analysis ToolPak and PivotTables, which empower you to explore data variability and make informed decisions based on your findings. So, the next time you’re working with data in Excel, remember to select the appropriate standard deviation function to gain valuable insights into your dataset.

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