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In descriptive statistics, the statistics used to describe a variable or set of values usually focus on two aspects related to distribution: central tendency and dispersion. The mean, median, and mode are three measures commonly used to describe a dataset’s central tendency. Each one represents a different type of “average” or “middle” value and is more appropriate for specific circumstances and data types.

In this guide, you will learn about the three central tendency measures: mean (average), median, and mode. You will learn what each one is and what it tells you about the distribution of values in your dataset. You will also learn how to calculate them and how to use Google Sheets to find them. Finally, you have examples of each statistic.

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What is the Difference Between Mean, Median, and Mode?

  • The arithmetic mean of a set is calculated by adding all the values and dividing by the number of values.
  • The median is the middle value in your dataset, found by ordering the values from smallest to largest.
  • The mode is the most frequently occurring value in your dataset.

While all three describe a dataset’s central tendency, each measures a different aspect. In the next sections, you will learn about each central tendency statistic, when it's appropriate to use them, how to calculate them, and how to use Google Sheets to calculate them for you.

What is the Mean of a Dataset?

The arithmetic mean or average is probably the central tendency measure that most people are familiar with. Usually referred to as the average rather than the arithmetic mean, it is a popular measure in any field where statistics are considered important, like finance, academic performance, or sports.

How Do You Calculate the Mean?

To calculate the mean of a dataset, simply add up all the values and divide by the number of values. You can only calculate the mean for numerical values, as it involves addition and division.

Use the following formula to calculate the arithmetic mean, represented by x̄ (x bar).

x̄ = (x1 + x2 +…xn) / n

How to Find the Mean in Google Sheets?

You can find the mean easily in Google Sheets by using the AVERAGE function.

  1. 1. Open Google Sheets to the file with your dataset.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Open Google Sheets
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Open Google Sheets
  1. 2. In an empty cell, type in the AVERAGE formula.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Add AVERAGE Function
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Add AVERAGE Function
  1. 3. Select the range of values, close the parenthesis, and press ‘Enter’.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Select Dataset
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Select Dataset
  1. 4. That’s it. You have the average value for your dataset.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Dataset Mean
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Dataset Mean
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What is the Median of a Dataset?

The median of a dataset is the middlemost value, found by ordering the dataset in ascending or descending order.

How Do You Calculate the Median?

To find the median, you need to order the values in your dataset from smallest to largest. The middlemost value is the median, which has exactly the same number of values above and below it. If you have an even number of values, calculate the average of the two middle values.

How to Find the Median in Google Sheets?

Follow the steps below to learn how to find the median for datasets with an even and odd number of values.

  1. 1. In Google Sheets, open the spreadsheet containing your dataset.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Open Google Sheets 2
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Open Google Sheets
  1. 2. In an empty cell, type in the MEDIAN function.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Add MEDIAN Function
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Add MEDIAN Function
  1. 3. After selecting your dataset, close the parenthesis and press ‘Enter’.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Select Dataset 2
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Select Dataset
  1. 4. That’s it. The median for this dataset is ‘7’.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Dataset Median
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Dataset Median
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What is the Mode of a Dataset?

The mode is the value that appears most frequently in the dataset. The mode can be found for non-numerical values as well as numerical ones. A given dataset may have no mode, as there may be no repeated values. Alternatively, it may have one or more modes: unimodal, bimodal, trimodal, or multimodal.

How Do You Calculate the Mode?

To find the mode, order the values in your dataset to group them. Count the number of occurrences for each value. The most frequently occurring value is the mode. You can find the mode for different types of data, as you are simply counting occurrences.

How to Find the Mode in Google Sheets?

There are two mode functions in Google Sheets. The first is MODE, which works for unimodal sets. However, if you suspect there may be multiple modes, you should use the array function MODE.MULT, as it will find all the modes. Follow the steps below to find the mode using both functions.

  1. 1. Open the spreadsheet with your dataset in Google Sheets.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Open Google Sheets 3
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Open Google Sheets
  1. 2. Type the MODE function in an empty cell.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Add MODE Function
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Add MODE Function
  1. 3. Select your dataset, close the parenthesis, and press ‘Enter’.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Select Dataset 3
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Select Dataset
  1. 4. As you can see, the mode is ‘10’. However, if you look at the dataset, it has two modes, ‘10’ and ‘6’. Let’s use MODE.MULT to get the complete result.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide First Dataset Mode
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - First Dataset Mode
  1. 5. Type in the MODE.MULT function.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Add MODE MULT Function
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Add MODE.MULT Function
  1. 6. Select the range of cells containing the dataset and press ‘Enter’.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide Select Dataset 4
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - Select Dataset
  1. 7. That’s it. You now know that the dataset is bimodal, and you have both modes.
Mean Median Mode Explained Complete Guide All Dataset Modes
Mean, Median, & Mode Explained (Complete Guide) - All Dataset Modes

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Conclusion

The mean, median, and mode are three measures of central tendency. Although all three focus on the ‘average’ or ‘middle’ values in a dataset, each takes a different approach. The arithmetic mean, or average, is probably the best-known of these three, as most people come across it regularly in their everyday lives. You’ve seen that they’re easy to find, although the median and mode require that you do a little ordering and counting. However, if you’d rather skip that, you can find the mean, median, and mode by using the relevant functions in Google Sheets.

You now know what the mean, median, and mode are and what they can tell you about your dataset. You know how to work out the central tendency measures manually and that the calculations are simple. However, you also know there’s a quicker way to find them. In Google Sheets, you know how to find the mean using the AVERAGE function and the median using the MEDIAN function. You also know there are two options for finding the mode: MODE and MODE.MULT. The first will only find one mode, so if you suspect there may be additional modes, it’s best to use MODE.MULT.

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Hady ElHady
Hady is Content Lead at Layer.

Hady has a passion for tech, marketing, and spreadsheets. Besides his Computer Science degree, he has vast experience in developing, launching, and scaling content marketing processes at SaaS startups.

Originally published Jan 23 2023