BMAT Q17, 2016 Section 1

Hey, I was wondering if anyone could help me with this critical thinking question from BMAT

Over-prescription of antibiotics by doctors who respond to patients’ demands has raised the
drug resistance of harmful bacteria. Drug-resistant bacteria can make routine surgery and
minor cuts fatal if infections take hold. We could introduce penalties for doctors who
over-prescribe, but this would not be enough. Given the scale and escalation of antibiotic
resistance, we need to discover a new class of antibiotics. In the past, pharmaceutical
companies have not regarded research on antibiotics as potentially profitable. Governments
should give financial incentives to the pharmaceutical industry to intensify work on finding new
classes of antibiotics which could be kept in reserve for emergencies such as a global
epidemic. This would make it more attractive for pharmaceutical companies to carry out the
necessary research.
Which one of the following, if true, most strengthens the above argument?

A. Governments will not allow routine sales of a new antibiotic, except in an emergency.
B. In some countries antibiotics can be bought without a prescription from a doctor.
C. Antibiotics are useless against viruses and often unnecessary against mild bacterial
D. Use of antibiotics in livestock production has increased bacterial resistance to several

I answered D because it seemed like extra evidence that would contribute to the argument that new antibiotics are needed. But the correct answer is A and I can’t seem to figure how this would strengthen the argument? Have I identified a wrong argument? Many thanks


Your reasoning for wanting to pick D makes sense, but remember that the main argument here is that over-prescription by doctors can be harmful, not that antibiotics cause increased resistance or that new antibiotics are needed, which would be secondary arguments in my opinion. In other words, the author is already claiming that antibiotics may cause increased bacterial resistance, and further proof for this would not strengthen the argument that over-prescription can be harmful in any way, it only just gives more evidence of the link between antibiotics and bacterial resistance.

Therefore, you need to choose the argument that if true, strengthens the idea that over-prescription is harmful. In this case, A makes the most sense because if it is indeed true that the governments will not allow routine sales of a new antibiotic except for emergency situations, this shows us that the routine sales of antibiotics are regulated by the government for a reason, with that reason (in this case) being that there is a risk for antibiotic resistance, which could be avoided if the government does not allow for the routine sales of antibiotics.

So, to summarise, if it’s true that governments do not allow routine sales of a new antibiotic, this leads us to believe that, in relation to this topic, routine sales of an antibiotic may lead to antibiotic resistance, so the routine sales are only allowed in emergency situations, therefore strengthening the idea that over-prescription is harmful.

This was hard to explain but I hope it makes sense!

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Thank you so much! Do you have any tips to correctly identify the main argument for this type of questions?

It’s difficult to say because it really depends on the question! But I tend to notice the following patterns:

  1. The main argument tends to be claimed within the first sentence, and it usually comes back around at the end in some form (meaning most of the paragraph is filler just to confuse you)
  2. There is no one main claim/argument, rather, the entire paragraph discusses a topic and you need to infer the general theme/argument yourself

There are other situations too, and I would suggest not getting too stuck on the details because they may be there to confuse you, instead try to analyse the answers and see what makes them different, and eliminate each wrong answer one by one until only one fits the argument perfectly.

In this particular case it was quite tricky though! The first part gave the argument that over-prescription was harmful, and the second part was discussed how new antibiotics are needed, and the first argument never really came back at the end like it usually does. So thinking about this example again, I think we can say that there were two main arguments here, and answer A could also be explained in the context of new antibiotics needed, perhaps because the restriction of routine sales might encourage pharmaceutical companies to carry out more research (since a lack of routine sales would decrease their sales, therefore encouraging more research for new antibiotics).

However overall, I still believe that the main argument here was about over-prescription, because it seems that the argument for new antibiotics needed is brought about through the issue of antibiotic resistance due to over-prescription in the first place.

I wouldn’t worry too much about this though because remember that it’s likely different this year, and it’s not typical to find a question with two main arguments!