This article originally ran on ASDA’s blog, Mouthing Off, on April 21, 2017.
Preparing for the DAT can be one of the most exciting, yet challenging times during a predental’s journey to dental school. You may become overwhelmed trying to find the best study materials or choosing a DAT preparation course. What most students do not realize is that success comes from not only how you utilize materials, but your time as well. One effective strategy is to adopt the mindset of an athlete training for a major event, such as a marathon.
Same as a runner would plan for a marathon, working out an effective schedule is your first step. Select the date of the exam, allowing yourself at least two months of study time for “training.” Your study schedule should be organized and detailed. It is important to determine exactly how many hours to dedicate to each DAT section. Consider beginning with three hours of study in the morning and another three hours in the afternoon or evening. Increase your study sessions gradually each week. This will help you keep a healthy pace and avoid exhaustion. You will find that your study time will have increased dramatically. If your plan began with three-hour study sessions, you should be at around six-hour sessions towards the end of your plan. It is helpful to alternate the subjects that you cover in those study sessions. If you focus on biology and inorganic chemistry in the morning, try organic chemistry and math in the evening. This avoids monotony and keeps you focused.
As you are scheduling your study sessions, make sure to include time for breaks. This will give your mind and body the necessary time to reenergize. I recommend including some form of activity or exercise during these breaks like bike-riding, running, or swimming. These serve as great stress relievers.
One factor that many students take for granted is the benefit of a good night’s sleep. Going into “sleep debt” will slow you down and halt your momentum. Get eight hours of sleep each night, especially before exam day. This will help you perform more efficiently and effectively.
Last but not least, properly fuel your body for these “marathon sessions.” You will need stamina to maintain your momentum. It is vital that you consume whole, nutritious foods like salmon, kale, shellfish and potatoes and at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Don’t forget, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Try steel-cut oatmeal, cooked with one scoop of whey protein, and topped with fresh fruit. A highly processed breakfast will make you sluggish and provide little sustaining energy. Try planning out your meals the night before in order to avoid last-minute, unhealthy meal choices.
This rigorous training will demand sacrifice and discipline. Your routines, diet and social life will be temporarily changed. Like any marathon, you will be challenged both mentally and physically. If you follow these steps, you can increase your chances of crossing the finish line and moving one step closer to dental school.