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BMAT Section1: Finding the Principle

Updated: Sep 25, 2022

These questions styles pose an ethical scenario in the passage of text. Unlike the UCAT, your role is not to identify what you should do. Within the passage there will be a strongly worded principle for managing the ethical dilemma. Identify the principle in tha passage and then find which answer demonstrates the same principle. The questions may vary slightly, ”Which principle supports the argument”, or “Which answer demonstrates the same principle as the passage.”

The language used is a give away when finding the principle of the argument. Look for strong and descriptive language, word such as should or should not, must or must not. Strong emotive words or phrases which indicate the authors opinoin are also a clue "It does not excuse", "The government should not", "It does not justify". All of these are strong emotive phrases and following these, you should find a fairly succinct principle.

Once you have found it, reduce it either to a formula like sentence or a short phrase. This is demonstrated in the following examples.

BMAT: Finding the Principle, example 1:

Lets take this apart. We have to deterine the principle from the passage and not let our own views inform our answer. Principle questions can contain poliarising content, information which people feel strongly about - don't be pulled into that trap.

The author talks about placebos as an ideal therapy, so the author will be arguing for placebo treatment, but this is not the principle. The next clue is that those who would argue against placebo treatment "Should recognise" this strong language usually preceedes a principle. This is followed with "A doctor may prescribe one in the genuine hope that this will offer thier patient a real therapeutic benefit." and the very strong statement that "In the interest of providing the most desirable outcomes, it is clear that placebos should be used as a treatment offered by the NHS."

Now we have identified the important information, we can reduce this down to a principle:

Giving patients X, is ok if there may be a real benefit.

I have said X, because this is about the principle, NOT, about placebos. Now we can look at the answers and see which agrees with our principle. Hopefully it is easy to see the only one which could agree with this, is D. A and B are not discusssed in the passage and actually the passage talks about them having a "Powerful effect" and no side effects. Nor does the passage discuss doctors only using treatments which are proven. It is possible that under the pressure of exam conditions, one might select C as this is mentioned in the passage, however the author is arguing against this. Most importantly, none of the answers apart from D, appears in the strongly worded argument the authormakes, forhow this ethical situation should be handled.

BMAT: Finding the Principle, example 2.

This example is a harder and more emotive question, it is however made easier by the possible answers. Although most of the recent BMAT questions of this style have been easier, I have included this to help work through harder questions, because you never know!

The passage begins talking about teaching kids where food comes from and then make the strong statement that "This is an unwise policy from which schools should refrain." Note the words "Unwise" and "Refrain.". We now have the first part of what will form our principle, that this should not be done, but we need a why to form a full principle.

It goes on to say "Many children and thier parents are unprepared for the harsh, yet obvious reality." and on the finally "...many children are simply not ready to face this reality at such a young age without damaging consequences."

If we put this together, the school should not do X, if it is damaging to children.

While none of the answers say this exactly, it is easy to see the answer must be D, because it is essentially the same message just rephrased. Additionally, all the other answers are advocating something the passage has described as harmful and has argued against.

BMAT: Finding the Principle, example 3

More recent BMAT papers have contained less convoluted passages, the one above is an example.

In the first sentence I have underlined there are some string words, "People may try to justify thier behaviour..." and goes on to say that manufacturers are already rich from ripping of the public and ends by saying that this does not excuse shoppers encouraging piracy. This can be nicely summarised as one wrong does not justify another, or if X does something wrong, that does not excuse Y doing something wrong.

The easy mistakes with this question lay in the answer, because several of them pick up on things which are specifically in the passage and this highlights why it is important to work out the principle of the passage, before attempting to answer.

Answer A reflects the part of the passage that talks about brands ripping the public off. However, charging higher prices when demand is high, does not reflect the princople "X doing something wrong, does not excuse Y doing something wrong.". Answer B does refelect this, his girlfriend cheated, this was wrong, but it did not excuse him spreading lies about her afterward, so this is the correct answer. Answer C also mirrors the passage about shops ripping customers off, by setting high prices so they can reduce them in sales, but does not relfect the principle, which includes two wrongs. The remaining answers similarly do not relfect the principle identified.

Strategy for finding the principle

  • Look for strong language the principle or part of it will usually follow

  • Look for descriptive or emotive language (Word which trigger and emotional response) this is usually what the author is arguing for

  • Put together what the author is arguing for and why, then condense this into an X/Y principle

  • Find the answer which most closely paraphrases the principle

  • Beware of traps, where answers pick up on parts of the passage, but do not reflect the principle.

Good luck and remember, the key to mastering any strategy is to practice it!

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