Microsoft Office's US Teen Champions Share Their Best Tricks

Each year, hundreds of thousands of American teenagers compete to be the best at Word, Excel and PowerPoint and win up to $US3000 ($3907) in the Microsoft Office Specialist US National Championship. It's organised by Certiport, a testing company that offers certifications in software such as MS Office, AutoCAD and Adobe Creative Suite. We asked this year's first-place winners for their best Office tips.

They are so pure, protect them. Photos by Certiport

MS Excel: Conditional Formatting

Excel 2016 champion John Dumoulin and Excel 2013 champion Anirudh Narayanan both recommend Conditional Formatting, which visualises data characteristics through fill colours, text colour and mini-graphs. According to Dumoulin, "It can make your data look very enhanced and eye-catching.

"For example, if you had a table that displayed the sales for a company each month, you could apply conditional formatting to display the months with the highest sales in green, the months with the lowest in red, and the average sales months in yellow."

Diagram by GCFLearnFree.org 

"Instead of using one of the pre-made options, click on 'New Rule'," says Narayanan. "Unless you know which of the delivered options fits your requirement, creating a new rule will be easier for customisation."

Conditional Formatting is located on the Home tab, under the Styles section. More info at the Microsoft Office support site.

MS Word: Text Selection and Quick Access

Word 2013 champion Forrest Liu has a selection shortcut that frankly ought to be system-wide: To select multiple bodies of text, hold the Ctrl key while highlighting the desired text.

Word 2016 champion Joshua Garrelts recommends customising the Quick Access toolbar in the top left corner of the app. He includes buttons for spell check and emailing a document. "The spell check one is helpful to me because I always forget the keyboard shortcut to do a quick spell check."

MS PowerPoint: Embedded fonts and show-don't-tell

PowerPoint 2016 champion Dheya Madhani has several tricks:

  • Sometimes you might need to share a deck with someone who doesn't have all the typefaces you used. Click File & Options, go to the Save menu, and check "Embed fonts in the file".
  • Select multiple items with the Selection pane, located under the Arrange drop-down menu. "This is used when many objects are behind each other and it is hard to select all of them," says Madhani.
  • Create a presentation from an existing document by clicking Home > Slides > Slides from outline.

PowerPoint 2013 champion Dominic Allain has a stylistic suggestion: "Vary your slides, and try to show information rather than tell it. A chart or image will say a lot more than another bullet point."

Using tricks like these, MOS competitors had to replicate elaborate documents in the relevant application in just 50 minutes, a much more challenging task than those on a standard certification test. Without knowing what would be on this test, competitors had to learn all they could about the software, ready to use any obscure feature. Madhani practised by taking the PowerPoint 2016 certification test over and over during lunch with her teacher Mrs Rael, then making presentations over her summer break.

For the Word test, Garrelts and Liu had to create custom macros through the developer tab. "The competition itself made me a bit nervous," says Liu, "but I was so familiar with Word that it only took me half of the 50 minutes to complete the tasks. At that point, I really just hoped I hadn't made any careless mistakes."

These national champions are on their way to the MOS World Championship in Anaheim, CA, which according to Certiport's promotional video will resemble a number from Spring Awakening.


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