Should phrasing questions as multiple-choice be discouraged? In general, would it be justified to edit questions to remove lists of proposed answers (e.g. a, b, c, d)?

It seems to me that including a list of proposed answers along with one's question does not serve any purpose on MSE, and also does not change the logical meaning of the question. I interpret the practice to mean "please post an answer that is equal to exactly one of these answers (perhaps with added explanation)" but I do not feel bound to honor this request. I'd be curious to know whether other people feel the same way.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Forcefully removing the list of proposed answers would be over-editing, IMO. Of course, you are not bound by any OP's request and can give answer in any form you wish. $\endgroup$ – user53153 Dec 22 '12 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ Somewhat related: Posting multiple questions as one?. (Since often users posts several such questions in one post.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Dec 23 '12 at 6:57
  • $\begingroup$ Also possibly related: Multiple Choice Questions in Advanced Topics. Has there been some recent influx of multiple choice questions here? $\endgroup$ – Ilmari Karonen Dec 24 '12 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ @IlmariKaronen I can't compare the frequency, because I haven't been here very long. I just think it is a strange practice. But it sounds like it doesn't bother other people much, so I won't worry about it. $\endgroup$ – Trevor Wilson Dec 24 '12 at 2:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Trevor It does not bother me in the sense that I completely ignore such questions. :) $\endgroup$ – user53153 Dec 24 '12 at 5:49

Does it improve a multiple choice question to edit out the answer choices? No. It removes some context, that the poster is asking a multiple choice problem, and removing context is bad however much it may help disguise the poster's expectations of getting someone to do their exercise.

Having the form of a multiple choice problem will not prevent the poster from giving more of an account of their thoughts. If you can succeed in getting the poster to provide more context, it will likely improve the content from the Math.SE perspective.

There may be some useful observations to be made about the multiple choice parts of a Question. Are there some choices that we can dismiss "by inspection"? Such observations may well rise to the level of a good Answer, or at least be the subject of some helpful Comments.

While critiques of Questions that lack context are often framed in terms like "problem statement question" (PSQ), the objection is ordinarily not that the problem is being stated, but that there is a lack of problem digestion in evidence.

New users are often under a mistaken impression that the more precisely they can repeat a problem, the better the chance of getting a timely Answer. In fact this overlooks the importance of conveying where the poster got stuck. If there is an opportunity for teaching, many Readers will respond with help. But seizing that opportunity will often depend on the user's disclosure of what "is difficult" for them with an assignment.

So when a new-ish user posts a multiple choice Question, I'd take it as an opportunity to ask which if any of the choices they are able to discard (and why).


Personally, I am not against MCQ, but I would like to see clearly stated in the post along the lines: "This is a question from a test with limited time. Therefore it could be useful to know a way to quickly eliminate some of the options so that the correct one remains."

Many of the questions on the main site come from users who are preparing for this type of example. (For example, JEE and probably also CSIR-NET are of this type.) The questions can be taken from past years or from example tests.

I consider asking about this a valid question. After all, answers showing how some of the answers can be easily ruled out also gives some useful information. (And, of course, this does not prevent users from giving answer which do not concentrate only on the given options.) But the information that the OP is especially interested in quick solutions should be included if this is the case. (This is among the things I would consider as "including the context".)


I always get the feeling that such askers would be perfectly happy with an answer of $B$ (or whatever). I think that our rules about "what have you tried?" should be especially enforced when multiple choice questions are asked.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .