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Applying Stanford Learning Lab’s Assignment Calculator to Course Assignments

The assignment calculator helps students calculate when and how to complete course assignments

This article describes why the Learning Lab Assignment Calculator is an effective tool for students, and how Stanford faculty and staff can apply it in their courses.

Do you include complex, multi-step assignments in your coursework? Do some of your students struggle with time management and miscalculate when to start assignments or how long each step will take? Time management is arguably the most important non-academic learning skill. An assignment calculator provides learners with a handy time management guide.

Why students struggle with time management

Students may struggle with time-management for various reasons:

  • The planning fallacy describes the tendency for people to consistently underestimate the time it takes to complete a task. One of the reasons this occurs is because people might not “unpack” multi-step assignments (i.e. writing a research essay or dissertation) into smaller steps that are easier to make predictions about (Kruger & Evans, 2004).
  • Some neurodivergent students may have different time management skills than neurotypical students. One meta-analysis showed that, over 27 empirical studies, participants with ADHD perceived time less accurately, less precisely, and were more likely to overestimate time than participants without ADHD (Zheng et al., 2022).
  • Students may struggle with procrastination and perfectionism, which become obstacles to meeting assignment deadlines (Jackson, 2009).

Assignment Calculator tutorial

Here is a 4-minute walkthrough of the Learning Lab Assignment Calculator.

Assignment Calculator features

The Assignment Calculator has many useful features:

  • Students can select from a variety of assignment types, then choose their start date and end date.
  • Based on the selected times, the assignment calculator will assign a due date for each sub-component of the assignment that is calculated from the percentage of time assigned to each step (5%, 10%, 25% etc.).
  • Each step contains relevant instructions, resources, and links that can facilitate completing that specific step in the assignment.
  • Instructions for each step will directly connect Stanford students with Stanford resources. For example, assignment steps related to writing and revisions can contain links to scheduling a writing consultation with the Hume Writing Center.
  • Students can click a button to add each step and due date to their digital calendars.

Benefits to students

Using the Assignment Calculator can benefit students in a number of ways:

  • The default assignments give students a good idea of the specific steps involved in common assignment types, such as writing an essay.
  • Students can avoid the planning fallacy and procrastination by focusing on one aspect of an assignment at a time.
  • First-year students and transfer students can be directed to Stanford-specific resources.
  • Neurodivergent students get another time management tool that is designed specifically for Stanford students.
  • The assignment calculator models how to break down complex assignments, so students can learn and apply this skill later on.

Creating customized assignments

Faculty and staff can work with the Learning Lab to create customized assignments that go beyond the default options available. To start the process:

  1. Please fill out this assignment creation form and the Learning Lab will contact you within two to three working days.
  2. You will be given a copy of this form to build your assignment. The Learning Lab will upload the information in this form to the assignment calculator.
  3. The timeline for creating an assignment, from start to finish, is between one and two weeks.
  4. If notified, the Learning Lab can quickly update the assignment information if and when assignment details change.
  5. For ease of access, the Learning Lab recommends that you add the assignment calculator informational page and the actual calculator to your syllabus.

Additional recommendations

Consider these other factors when using the Assignment Calculator:

  • The most suitable assignments for the assignment calculator are those with multiple steps. 
  • This tool is also available to graduate student instructors.
  • With permission from lead instructors, Teaching Assistants can be assigned to build assignments.
  • Students will be able to locate your customized assignments by instructor name and course code.


The Learning Lab Assignment Calculator is a joint collaboration between the Learning Lab and Fibonacci Web Studio.


Adams, R., & Blair, E. (2019). Impact of time management behaviors on undergraduate engineering students’ performance. SAGE Open, 9(1), 1-11.

Jackson, V. Time management: A realistic approach. (2009). Journal of the American College of Radiology, 6(6), 434-436.

Kruger, J., & Evans, M. (2004). If you don’t want to be late, enumerate: Unpacking reduces the planning fallacy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40(5), 586-598.

Zheng, Q., Wang, X., Chiu, K. Y., & Shum, K. K. M. (2022). Time perception deficits in children and adolescents with ADHD: A meta-analysis. Journal of Attention Disorders, 26(2), 267-281.

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