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With regard to homework questions, and specifically with multiple choice questions (MCQ) in mind, what are the minimum levels we are looking for in terms of effort to deduce an answer for ones self? Quantitatively its very hard to put a marker on that because its somewhat dependent on the question.

However, MCQ's are often given with something along the lines of "I think its a or c" as the "effort".

I see the need for effort as something equivalent to a school test in math. We were always told to show our working, that way the mistake can be spotted. E.g.

What is $2 + 5 \times 7$?

a) $37$

b) $49$

c) $212$

Can be answered (incorrectly) with

$49$

or

$2 + 5 = 7$

$7 \times 7 = 49$

and in the latter case we can see why the answer was wrong, thus making it easy to explain the mistake to the OP.

Equivalently then, I think the users need to give the detail of any logic or information they have used in trying to deduce the answer. This means the content is useful to the community, rather than only helping the (lazy/ignorant/naïve) student asking the question. So when there is an MCQ the minimum level needs to be along the lines of

"I know the answer is not b or d because blank and blank, while it could be a because blank, however, it could be d because blank"

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This is more of a long comment rather than an answer.

MCQs are a controversial format. Personally, I believe this is because they allow for very little research to be done and the question to still be answerable and have one main question, with several side questions unmentioned. They do have biological relevance, are technical in some cicrumstances, and the central question is usually a decent enough one outside the MCQ format. However often the OP has no idea what is making the question difficult to answer for them and the Q&A format of this site will not address the problem (As always, there'll be an XY problem if OP doesn't understand what they asked, and since they asked multiple questions at once, this will almost certainly be the case). Addressing which MCQs are constructive for the site and which aren't is an important point to address.

Let me use a simple example question:

"Is A, B, C, or D true? I think A is true because X."

This could could always be rewritten as:

"Is A because of X?"

If the asker has done some research into the most likely answer and understands the problem they are faced with, there is no need for an MCQ format. If only one point is justified then perhaps the OP has been at least a bit lazy.

However, there are sometimes interesting "red herrings" in MCQs of biological interest and the other options for answers are relevant. If that is the case, then this should be addressed in a similar format to the following:

"Is A because of X? If so, since A is like B then does B do X? And what has C got to do with X? And why would D be mentioned in relation to X when it's obviously got nothing to do with X?"

For a well researched MCQ, all the options should be addressed otherwise I'd say it's a lack of effort, or major edits to a clearer question should be used.

Taking a recent, open, example that currently reads:


Find the odd one out and state the category of the rest.

  • Chloroplast
  • Mitochondria
  • Nucleus
  • Grana

Now my answers are :

  • 1st possibility : grana

    • Category : presence of DNA in others
  • 2nd possibility : grana

    • Category : all others are cell organelles

Are their any more possibilities and are my answers reasonably correct?


Why couldn't this be written as "Are grana the only sub-cellular compartment lacking DNA: which other sub-cellular compartments lack DNA?" (Could be an interesting and suitable question) followed with a separate question "Are grana organelles?" (trivial and prone to closure). These would be more typical homework questions, and lend themselves more to the format of this site.

The MCQ format on SE doesn't really make sense. I'm not the first to identify that they introduce several questions at once. It's also worth noting that a quick search doesn't return any questions specifically discussing if MCQ is on topic in meta-discussions other than a tumble-weed from maths and some questions asking about the relevance of MCQ in eduction.

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