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Multiple Choice Questions

Published: 18th October 2021

What are multiple choice questions?

Multiple-choice questions are a type of closed question, and involve a participant being asked to choose one or more responses to a question from a list of pre-determined options made by the researchers. Using this question type is a common feature of quantitative research because they are quick and easy to read, administer, and analyse.

Types of Multiple-Choice Questions

The structure of a multiple-choice question will often depend on the aim of the survey in which they are used. For questions used in tests where the purpose is to test the accuracy of the participant’s knowledge, the list of response options will consist of the (only) correct answer and a series of distractor options. In contrast, for questions used in research the list of response options will consist of a range of possible answers, but there is no right or wrong choice because researchers are interested in identifying trends in their population of interest. In research, multiple-choice questions are used to gauge concepts like satisfaction, agreement, confidence, or the likelihood of something occurring. Notwithstanding the aim, multiple-choice questions can be formatted in several different ways.

Single Select Multiple Choice Question

Single Select Options

Single select multiple-choice questions involve participants choosing only one answer out of the list of available options, and are the format most commonly associated with multiple choice questions. For these types of questions, all response options are visible at the same time and the participant can choose one, or participants can choose one option from a dropdown list.

Multiple Select Checkboxes Question

Multiple Select Options / Checkboxes

Multiple select questions give participants the option to select more than one answer out of the list of options. These questions have all options visible for participants to select from, and the question stem typically contains a phrase similar to ‘select all that apply’ or ‘you may choose more than one’.

Dichotomous Question

Dichotomous Questions

Dichotomous multiple-choice questions involve participants selecting an answer from only two possible options, which are usually the opposite of one another. Examples of these include either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, ‘True’ or ‘False’, or ‘Agree’ or ‘Disagree’.

Matrix Questions

Matrix questions involve the presentation of several multiple-choice questions simultaneously in a grid format. Within this grid, participants will be required to select one response option per row.

Linear Response Questions / Sliding Scale Questions

Linear response questions require participants to rate their answer by moving a point along a sliding scale.

Image Multiple-Choice Question

Visual / Image Multiple-Choice Questions

A visual multiple-choice question involves participants selecting their answer to a question from a series of images, as opposed to text. For these questions, one or more images are chosen to indicate an answer and the text is used as a caption. Visual questions are quite common on social media-based quizzes.

Rank Order Questions

A rank order multiple choice question involves a participant ranking the provided options against one another, in order to provide an indication of preference. For these questions, all options may be listed, and participants will need to type the corresponding number in the space provided, or a ‘drag and drop’ option could be used.

How to write multiple choice questions

The following helpful hint will help you in designing excellent multiple choice questions:

  1. Keep the aim of your survey research in mind when writing. This will ensure that the questions you include are relevant to your survey – each question should have a specific purpose or relate to a specific part of the aim. This will make sure that the data you obtain helps you address your research question.
  2. Write the question and response options clearly and in a neutral tone. Questions should be written clearly so that participants can easily understand what it is that you’re asking. Using clear and concise language will also help avoid ambiguity or potentially confusing your participant. A neutral tone and no leading phrasing should be used to help avoid potential bias.
  3. Write concisely. Detail should be used where appropriate, however because multiple choice questions contain several response options that will all need to be read, keeping the question and the list of response options as short as feasible will help reduce burden on the participants.
  4. Choose an appropriate format. The ultimate format of the multiple-choice questions you use is up to you as researchers, however some formats will be better suited to some questions compared to others. For example, if you have a question and no others like it, a single-select format may be appropriate. However, if you have a series of similar questions, to avoid repetition and adding length to your survey a matrix format may be a better option. Relatedly, when entering your response options, it’s often useful to randomise the order in which you present them. If the most common or most likely answers are always presented first, participants will tend to select them and then disregard the rest of the list. However, if they are randomised this increases the likelihood of the participants reading the whole list and responding accordingly.
  5. Keep the number of response options balanced. While there is no real limit to the number of response options, response lists are preferably kept short to reduce burden and avoid overwhelming participants with choice. However, you will need to balance this by ensuring that there is enough of a range in your list of response options. It’s important that, while you include the answers that you as researchers think are most likely, that you include the opposites or related ones in order to capture differing opinions and reduce bias towards certain options.

Research considerations

Multiple choice questions are often a good choice for large-scale research because they are easier to administer and analyse, particularly for studies that are primarily based on number-based questionnaires or surveys. This is because participants only need to consider and select from one or more of the options provided to them, rather than having participants come up with a possible answer themselves. Providing the same set of responses is also helpful in creating a degree of consistency in your sample.

However, with multiple-choice questions it’s important to keep in mind that it may be difficult to reduce the range of possible answers you include to a select handful, particularly when the range of answers or options is large. Further, because participants have to choose from answers that are predetermined by you as researchers, this may promote a degree of bias in participant responses because the options are what you expect the participant’s answers to be. Therefore, where practical, it’s always a good idea for multiple choice questions to have an extra option at the end providing participants with a space to self-identify their answer if it isn’t one of the options listed.

Helpful References

Brame, C. (2013) Writing good multiple choice test questions.