GMAT Tip: How to Deal With a Critical Reasoning 'Paradox'

This tip on improving your GMAT score was provided by Vivian Kerr at Veritas Prep.

While other questions are more heavily tested in the GMAT critical reasoning, you’ll occasionally see questions that involve explaining a paradox or resolving an apparent contradiction.  These “resolve the argument” or “paradox” questions ask about a specific incongruous aspect of the argument. To identify them, look for some common keywords such as: “explains the results,” “resolve the paradox,” or “best explains the discrepancy.” Unlike other critical reasoning questions, these don’t ask how to weaken or strengthen the argument itself.

As with most critical reasoning questions, you should start by taking apart the argument: Identify the conclusion, evidence, and assumptions before reading the question after the paragraph. Specifically, pay attention to what is lacking in the details. Usually the author fails to provide enough information. If you were to make the same argument, what would you add to resolve the issue brought up in the question? Write down your prediction(s) and then scan the answer choices, eliminating those that do not resemble your prediction.

Quick Critical Reasoning Strategy

1. Identify the conclusion, evidence and assumptions.

2. Read and rephrase the question.

3. Go back to the passage and form a prediction.

4. Eliminate incorrect choices.

Let’s try one together.

The vast majority of a person’s health-care expenditures go toward curative measures such as hospitalizations after injuries and care for existing illnesses. Mike’s employer does not provide health insurance to his part-time employees, including Mike. However, the employer does reimburse employees for a flu shot each winter.

Mike’s employer’s seemingly inconsistent behavior in regard to health-care expenses is best explained by which of the following?

Before we get to the answer choices, let’s start by analyzing conclusion, evidence, and assumptions:

Conclusion: The employer does not provide health insurance to part-timers.

Evidence: The majority of health-care expenditures go toward curative measures (fixing injuries, illnesses); employer reimburses for flu shots. Notice the gap in logic here: why would an employer who doesn’t pay health insurance reimburse employees for a flu shot?

Assumption: The employer sees some financial benefit in paying for the flu shot (a preventative measure), even though he won’t pay health insurance. He doesn’t want his employees to get sick in the first place.

Now it’s time to get to the actual question and answer choices.

Question Rephrase: We can see this is a “paradox” question because of the phrase “best explained.” What’s the strongest reason why the employer would pay for a flu shot but not pay for health insurance?

Prediction: Some unknown benefit to the employer in the long-term.

Eliminate Incorrect Choices: Now we’re ready to analyze the answer choices:

(A) Health insurance rarely covers preexisting illnesses.

(B) Part-time employees are usually covered by the insurance of a spouse or parent with full-time employment.

(C) Few employers offer health insurance to part-time employees.

(D) Flu shots prevent illness that could lead to lost work days.

(E) Health insurance premiums are on the rise.

Since we’ve done the work of breaking down the passage, simplifying the question, and predicting an answer, the correct choice (D) is readily apparent.

What can you learn from this question (other than to check to see if your employer will pay for a flu shot)? It pays to analyze the argument before you get to the question stem and answer choices. In order to “best resolve the paradox,” as the questions may ask, it helps to fully understand the paradox first.

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