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📝 Translating lab instructions to code

Dear all,

Starting this week, labs instructions will be providing you with the specifications for the functions to implement as well as giving you guidelines on what to include as part of your program.

The program (sometimes referred to as “your program” or the “main program”) usually needs to use, i.e. call, the functions that you defined at the start of the file (using the def keyword).

If your function has one or more parameter, then you will need to call the input() function inside of your main program: the values that you get from the user are going to be passed as arguments from your program into the function through a function call.

This is very important: the function arguments are a way that we tell the function what specific values to use inside the function instead of the generic parameters that we defined. These arguments are provided during the function call and are substituted for the function parameters.

Sample Lab Instructions

Let’s deconstruct a sample lab:

Learning objectives

In this lab, you will:

  • define and write the requested function with the specified number of parameters
  • write a program that asks for the user input and converts it into the appropriate type
  • use the collected input when calling the function
  • format the printing of the result (using the f-string) to keep your output to two decimal places


An Olympic-size swimming pool is used in the Olympic Games, where the race course is 50 meters (164.0 ft) in length. In swimming, a lap is one length in distance. By definition, a lap means a complete trip around a race track, in swimming, the pool is the race track. Therefore if you swim from one end to the other, you’ve completed the track and thus you’ve completed one lap or one length. (Source: What Is A Lap In Swimming? Lap Vs Length)

Write the function meters_to_laps() that takes a number of meters as an argument and returns the number of laps.

Complete the program to output the number of laps. Output each floating-point value with two digits after the decimal point, which can be achieved as follows:


Test your code

If the input is:


the output is:


If the input is:


the output is:


To clarify, you must first define the following function: def meters_to_laps() that takes in length (a floating-point argument representing the distance in meters) and returns the number of laps this distance corresponds to (also a float, since we are formatting the output to two decimal spaces). Then, in your main program, you are supposed to take user input and call the function with these values, and print the results with the specified precision.

Hint: remember how to convert user input to a floating-point number?

Reading through the lab

The start of the lab typically outlines our learning objectives, which are the goals/concepts that we are practicing in this lab. It is intended to help you locate those concepts in the book (re-read or reference them before / as you are solving the lab).

🌟 All labs assume that you are following the suggested Problem-solving Workflow guidelines that we ask for you to use. (Make sure to arrange your windows to make it easier for you to keep track of the instructions and your solution.)

The lab might have some introduction to explain the context for the problem and to provide important information. In this example, the intro defines a lap and tells us about the length of the race course, which is the value that we will need to use in our solution. Usually, you need to read the first part of the instructions (intro) in order to know how to solve the problem and write the body of the function.

  • Pause.
  • Read and follow all instructions carefully.
  • Manually work through the example and the test input/output to verify that you understand what is being asked conceptually.
  • As described in the Problem-solving Workflow, develop the pseudocode of the solution, before proceeding.
  • Re-read the lab to verify that you solution addresses all provided instructions.

As you can see, the instructions are asking us to

  1. define the requested function
  2. write a program that calls the function

Let’s take a closer look at these two distinct parts of your code.

Function vs. program

🔑 Notice that there are two parts in the lab solution file that you’ll need to replace with your code:

  • Function specification: marked with ''' Define your function here '''
  • The program: marked with the if __name__ == "__main__": block and ''' Type your code here. Your code must call the function. '''

Function specification

📄 Function specification will need to be implemented inside the definition that starts with def.

The lab instructions give you the information that you need for the function stub:

… the function meters_to_laps()

  • takes a number of meters as an argument and
  • returns the number of laps.

Just from these instructions we can get the following function elements:

  • the function name
  • the name and number of arguments
  • the docstring (function documentation)
  • the return value

We can copy/paste our skeleton function template and begin updating its components:

def ___( _ ):
    This function takes as an argument
    param: meaning/description (type)
    The function returns/prints object (type).
    # function body
    return _ # or print (check instructions)

The code could roughly be as follows (we’ll leave the naming of the argument up to you and will replace it with the ellipsis:

def meters_to_laps(...):
    """ The function takes as input
        param: ... - number of meters (float).
        Uses the race course distance of 50 meters (164.0 ft) in length.
        The function returns the number of laps (float).
    ### compute the number of laps
    num_laps = ...
    return num_laps

Note that we can add the types of the arguments in the function docstring by looking at how to test our function and what the output should be.

The main program

📄 The program (i.e., “your program” or “main program”) will need to get the user input and call the function to produce the requested output. The main program has to be implemented inside the if __name__ == "__main__": block. All lines that are inside the block are indented underneath that line. If a line is not indented and is on the same indentation level as the if __name__ == "__main__":, then that line is outside of the block.

Your code in this block must call the function that you defined above it (remember: only the function definitions and import statements should be placed outside of this block).

In the lab instructions, after we implemented the function, we are supposed to:

Complete the program to

  • output the number of laps.
  • Output each floating-point value with two digits after the decimal point…

After following the lab instructions, for this lab, the structure of the solution could be as follows:

def meters_to_laps(...):
    """ The function takes as input
        param: ... - number of meters (float)
        The function returns the number of laps (float).
    ### compute the number of laps
    num_laps = ...
    return num_laps

if __name__ == "__main__":
   # Get the input from the user

   # Output each floating-point value with two digits after the decimal point
   num_laps = meters_to_laps(...)

Code template

In general, your code should follow the template shown below.

You can copy/paste the template below, just remember to update the comments.

def function_name(param1, param2, ...):
    This function takes as an argument
    param: param1 -  meaning/description (type)
    param: param2 -  meaning/description (type)
    Quick description of the function goal.
    The function returns/prints object (type).

    result = ... # some calculation here to get the final result
    # check the instructions if you need to print something
    return result # remember the return :)  

if __name__ == "__main__":
    var = input() # reading as many inputs as we need
    # program body - see the instructions
    func_result = function_name(var, ..) # a function call, remember to store the result!
    print("This is the final output", func_result) # see instructions for output
    print(f"This is the final output {func_result:.2f}") # some cool format for floats :)

Important notes

📌 A few things to notice:

  • Since the instructions didn’t ask to print anything within the function, the definition should not include a print.
    • That’s not always the case, because sometimes we need to do both (i.e., print and return something) – the instructions will specify exactly what you need to do, so you don’t need to guess, just read and follow the instructions.
  • If you remove the entire if __name__ == "__main__" block, your function should still work by itself.
    • Your functions should NOT rely on variables that are outside of the function definition (e.g., global variables, which are outside of the def block, or variables that are inside the if __name__ block).
    • If you listed parameter names in the function signature, which you are not using inside of your function body, then re-read the previous bullet point and the lab instructions (ask yourself: “why does my function have a parameter that I haven’t used inside the function?”).
  • You need to read the first part of the instructions (intro) in order to know how to solve the problem and write the body of the function. Read and follow all instructions carefully.

My unit tests are not passing; what do I do?

Please, first read the “Important notes” section above.

If those notes do not fix the issue, check the following:

  • do you have an if __name__ == "__main__" line in your code? is it not indented?
  • is everything underneath the if-name-main line indented?
  • is the def (function signature) line of code - the only line of code that’s at the same level of indentation as the if-name-main line?
  • are all your input() calls inside the main program (i.e., in the if-name-main block not in your function)?

If your unit tests are not passing, you need to go back to the lab instructions and carefully read them:

  • Are you calling the function correctly? Check your arguments against the parameters. Is the order of the arguments correct?
  • according to the instructions, is the function supposed to print or return the result?
  • If the function is supposed to return the result, are you returning it? Are you returning the correct object type?
  • Are you returning the correct value? If you are returning something that the main program is supposed to print, then you might be returning an incorrect value.
  • Is the main program supposed to print something? Are you trying to return its output from the function instead?
  • Are you using all the function parameters inside your function? (are you using a different name for the variable inside the scope of the function?)
  • If you have conditionals (if/else), does your return variable have a default value in cases none of the conditions evaluates to True? (if you define the return variable inside the if, elif statements and you’ll get the “variable name not defined” when returning its value if the conditions are not met)

We hope that this is helpful 👍. If you have any follow-up questions 🧐 or comments, we look forward to addressing them on the forum.

Have a productive week!


The lab instructions are based on a sample zyBooks lab.

Specials thanks to Liubov Kurafeeva for contributing the initial code template.