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GRE Critical Reasoning Question Type: Paradoxes

In a previous post, I discussed Critical Reasoning questions. In this post, I am going to focus on one of the six types of Critical Reasoning questions—The Paradox.

A paradox represents a discrepancy: one fact is stated and then a second unexpected fact is introduced. Your job is to pick an answer that best helps explain how the two facts match up. Let’s take a look at the following example:

1. The median house value in Butlerville has fallen significantly in the last few months. Nonetheless, the number of homes sold has been at its lowest level in seven years.

Which of the following best explains the discrepancy?

(A)  The value of homes is not the only determinant of whether a house will be sold.

(B)  The neighboring city of Jacksonburg has seen a recent surge in home sales.

(C)  The Butlerville economy is struggling and the unemployment rate has reached historic rates.

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(D) Analysts predict that the number of homes sold will increasing in the coming year.

(E)  Homes priced over a million dollars have seen the sharpest decline in sales.

Again, our job is to find an answer that best accounts for the discrepancy. First off, we want to simplify what the argument is saying: Homes are cheaper than ever, but fewer are being sold. We need to find an answer that explains why.


In Critical Reasoning, part of finding the correct answer is eliminating the incorrect ones. Of course, you have to have a good reason for eliminating the wrong answers. (This post helps break down the wrong answers).

(A) The value of homes is not the only determinant of whether a house will be sold.

This answer choice may sound tempting, only because it may not be immediately apparent what the implications of the answer choice are. Even if there are other indicators of whether a home sells, what are these indicators? Regardless, our question of why fewer homes are being sold is not directly answered.

Whenever you are unsure on an answer choice, do not feel you have to eliminate it right away. Come back to it if necessary. Often a much obvious answer choice awaits.

(B) The neighboring city of Jackson has seen a recent surge in home sales.

This answer choice is Out of Scope, because we are trying to explain what is going on in Butlerville not in Jacksonburg.

(C)  The Butlerville economy is struggling and the unemployment rate has reached historic rates.

Here is a good reason people aren’t buying homes. People are unemployed and not making money (you do need money to buy a home, after all). So now we have the answer as to why fewer homes are being sold. This is the correct answer.

(D) Analysts predict that the number of homes sold will increasing in the coming year.

The coming year does not explain why so few house have sold in the current year. Out of Scope

(E)  Homes priced over a million dollars have seen the sharpest decline in sales.

While this may be true, it does not explain why fewer people in Butlerville are buying homes.



Paradox questions typically use the word ‘discrepancy.’ They ask us to find an answer choice that helps explain the discrepancy between two facts.

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19 Responses to GRE Critical Reasoning Question Type: Paradoxes

  1. vivek April 22, 2015 at 10:15 pm #

    I beg to differ from everyone, but I thought that the answer was E. I concentrated on the word MEDIAN. As the largest value comes down, so will the median. Hence it is possible that the apparently low MEDIAN prices of houses are only because of the change in prices of expensive ones. So it can resolve the paradox by explaining that the actual prices may not be lower than usual and hence, we can’t expect surge in purchase of houses.

    Am I being reasonable in the argument above ?

    • biswarup June 20, 2016 at 3:08 am #

      (E) says there is a decline in SALES, not a decline in house VALUE. So that doesn’t affect the median VALUE.

  2. jesse June 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    pls help me solve this question, i am stuck .
    two cars started from a same point and travelled on a straight course in opposite direction for 2 hrs,at which time they are 208 miles apart.if one care traveled on avg 8 miles per hr faster than the other car.what was avg speed of each car for 2 hr trip?


    • Sammy June 20, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      Chris, If you dont mind I can take the liberty to answer this question. This is by no means to upend your authority.

      Speed = Distance / Time
      Average Speed = Total Distance / Total Time
      Total Time = 2 hours
      A speed = x
      B speed = x+8
      Total Distance traveled by A and B is 208 miles
      Total Distance = Average Speed(by A and B) * Total Time
      208 = x+x+8 * 2hr
      208 = 2x+8 *2hr
      104 = 2x+8
      96 = 2x
      x = 48

      So speed of one car ‘A’ will be 48 while the other car ‘B’ will be 48+8 = 56

      • Chris Lele
        Chris June 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

        Great response Sammy! Very succinct and easy to understand. I’m so happy to see the Magoosh community help one another out :).

      • Mariana August 13, 2016 at 5:23 pm #


    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

      Hi Jesse,

      Sammy has written an excellent response above!

  3. Jai June 18, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    Isn’t C too out of scope?
    Unemployment may not be the only reason right?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 19, 2012 at 4:19 pm #


      I think the key here is (C) gives us a reason, and thus helps explain the paradox. We could conceivably come up with other reasons, but none are listed in the answer choices. Does that help?

      • Mahantesh June 20, 2012 at 10:15 am #

        Frankly, my doubts clarified only at the end of your answer to Jai ! Thanks for clarification Chris.

      • Jai June 20, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

        Thanks chris 🙂

  4. abhay June 18, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Very nice question. choice a seems very tempting but does not actually resolve the paradox.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 19, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

      Yes, exactly. Good spotting that :).

  5. Sammy June 18, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    I am having a hard time trying to distinguish why option C is a better fit than option A. I know A doesn’t answer it directly but then again so doesn’t C.
    C states that the economy is struggling – it doesn’t say anything about people being uninterested in buying a house. (You have to make an assumption that UNEMPLOYED people do not want to buy a house even if the house is relatively CHEAPER.)
    A states that the value of homes isn’t the only important determining factor, this would explain why there is a direct paradox of why even though home values are down, they aren’t selling.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 19, 2012 at 4:18 pm #


      (A) doesn’t really give us a good reason. It just says that price isn’t the only determinant. That doesn’t resolve the paradox. (C) does help resolve the paradox, in that it gives us a specific reason. Sure, there is an assumption that unemployment rates and a stressed economy lead to depressed economy. But I think it is a reasonable one. Moreover it does help resolve the paradox.

    • David July 11, 2012 at 12:49 am #

      Hi Sammy,

      Like you, I also find answers like (A) appealing. Trusting that Chris is right on how these questions are likely to be scored by ETS, I’ve been thinking about the difference between (A) and (C).

      My understanding is that the text will present two facts, F1 and F2, which can in some way be considered to be surprising. Let’s label as D the supposed surprising “discrepancy” between F1 and F2.

      Answers like (A) resolve the problem by saying D isn’t such a big deal. There isn’t any real discrepancy. We shouldn’t be surprised by D. We shouldn’t expect F1 and F2 to correlate in the implied manner. It doesn’t address the specifics of F1 and F2 as presented, except to say that they may have some unspecified more complex relationship.

      Answers like (C) offer a story which, if true, bear more directly on F1 and F2. This relationship need not be direct, but nonetheless it’s more concrete than an answer like (A). You could fill in the gaps to say “We see F1 because of (C). We also see F2 because of (C).”

      To me answer (A) is a completely reasonable answer to a question like “Which of the following best explains the discrepancy?” And I actually find it a better answer because it’s true and doesn’t require additional assumptions. But this doesn’t mean that answers like this are what will be scored correctly by ETS. For now I’m guessing that answers like (C) are better for that purpose, so I’m going to try to look for answers that let me say “We could see facts F1 and F2 because of this answer”, rather than “We can explain away the supposed discrepancy D as unexceptional, as this answer describes.”

      • Karishma May 9, 2014 at 5:31 am #

        I agree that in this case the answer is C. But sometimes whether out of scope option is the right answer or not can be tricky. Thanks for the help!!

        • Rasitha July 31, 2016 at 12:32 am #

          Also what I have noticed is that when you are unsure of two answers(where both seems like could be answers) usually A is not the answer.

          They like to put trap answers on A. So you have better chance of being marked right by picking the answer that is not A.

          • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
            Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 2, 2016 at 10:50 am #

            That’s not a pattern I’d noticed before, but maybe you’re on to something. Have any other Magoooshers out there noticed more “trap” answers on A?

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