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March 31, 2022

Solving “Paradox” Questions

Here are some ways that these bottom-up questions ask you to resolve a paradox:

  • Which one of the following, if true, most helps to explain the apparent paradox above?
  • Which one of the following, if true, most helps to resolve the conflict described above?
  • Which one of the following, if true, would most effectively reconcile the discrepancy described above?

Make a Strong Prediction

Paradox passages rarely have an argument (premises + conclusion). Instead, they usually present two seemingly contradictory facts. Your job is to understand how it’s possible for both of those facts to be true despite this apparent contradiction. You’re solving a mystery. 

Once you recognize that it’s a Paradox question, identify two conflicting facts and ask yourself: Why is one fact happening, even though the other fact is happening

Your prediction might involve made-up information and doesn’t need to match the correct answer word-for-word. It’s okay to keep it vague as long as you pinpoint something that will resolve the discrepancy. 

Consider the following passage:

John really hates eating ice cream. And yet, on Tuesday I saw him downtown at an ice cream shop.

How might you resolve this paradox? 

  • Maybe John is on a date, and the person he’s trying to impress really loves ice cream.
  • Maybe John’s friend dared him to eat his least favorite kind of food. 
  • Maybe John is looking for a job and he’s applying for one at the ice cream shop because they pay $20/hr. 

The point is that John has another reason to be at the ice cream shop that doesn’t involve enjoying ice cream. Once you capture the gist of the solution to the paradox, move on to the answers.

What to Look For

Assume that all five answer choices are true. The correct answer will give you new evidence that explains away the paradox. Once you know that John is trying to impress a hot date, there’s no more confusion. 

If you’re debating between two answers that both help to explain the paradox, pick the more helpful one. The content of each answer matters first. Once you’re satisfied that an answer choice is relevant, turn your focus to its strength. The correct answer often uses strong wording

If it’s an EXCEPT question, the correct answer won’t resolve anything—in fact, it might even make the paradox more confusing (“The author saw John enjoy his cone of ice cream with relish”). To narrow down your options, cross out answers that resolve the issue even slightly ("John hates ice cream, except he loves peppermint ice cream").