Excel’s “Double” F2 Key

Everybody (well, almost everybody) knows that pressing the F2 key in Excel activates the “editing” mode for the active cell – the cursor goes into the cell so that you can change the contents and the various cell references in that formula turn different colours.

What many people don’t know, is that there are actually two modes for the F2 key, and it’s critical to understand both modes in order to use the keyboard quickly and effectively.

Have you ever pressed F2 with the intention of changing the formula, and then tried to use the arrow keys to navigate outside the active cell (in order to reference other cells), only to find that Excel won’t let you do it? Many users facing this frustration will reach for our friend the mouse.

What has happened is that you are in the first F2 mode, called the “Edit” mode. You’ll know this because you can see the word “Edit” in the bottom left corner of your screen in the grey bar. When you’re in the “Edit” mode, you can use your arrow keys to move the cursor within the cell’s formula.

If, however, you want to change the formula by using your arrow keys to reference a new cell, you need to press the F2 key again. This will take you into the second F2 mode, which is the “Enter” mode. You will now see the word “Enter” in the grey bar in the bottom left corner. As long as your cursor is after a mathematical operator in the formula, you can now use your arrow keys to select a different cell. When the cursor leaves your formula, the word “Enter” in the bottom left corner of the screen will change to the word “Point”.

Finally, if you want to be able to move the cursor around inside the formula again, simply hit F2 one more time and you will revert to “Edit” model. So, once you are editing a cell, the F2 key will let you toggle between accessing outside cell references and editing inside the cell. You’ll never need to use your mouse again in order to select cells.