Dental

How To Study For The DAT: A User’s Guide

Attention Pre-dents! This is your go-to guide for everything you need to know about the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and how to study for it. While taking this monstrous test is a daunting task, I believe anyone can do well on it if you go into studying with the right resources and mind-set.

Test Breakdown

The test consists of 4 sections:

  • Survey of the Natural Sciences (100 questions total, 90 minutes)
    • Biology (40 questions)
    • General chemistry (30 questions)
    • Organic chemistry (30 questions)
  • Perceptual ability (90 questions, 60 minutes)
  • Reading comprehension (50 questions, 60 minutes)
  • Quantitative reasoning (40 questions, 45 minutes)

Your classes in undergrad should do a great job of preparing you for the natural sciences section, but the other three sections are very unique to the DAT and may require a bit more work outside of school.  The PAT (Perceptual Ability Test) section is often what students struggle with the most, as it consists of a series of challenging questions that test your spatial visualization skills. It is very difficult to describe the types of questions asked, which is why it is important to find a great resource for this section in particular.

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When do I take the test?

Most students take the test the summer after their junior year of college if they plan to start dental school right after they graduate. However, there are a handful of students who take the test right after their sophomore year of college. This is a great option for students who have already finished biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry by this time. Students who want to start dental school right after they graduate have to apply during the summer before their senior year. Therefore, it can be stressful juggling studying for the DAT and filling out applications at the same time. Because of this, many students decide to take the test the summer after their sophomore year. Scores are good for up to three years after the date of the test giving ample time to apply to dental school. In addition, this gives students the option of taking the test again a year later if they need to. 

Another option would be to take the test at the end of the spring semester of their junior year, but it is difficult to take classes and study for the DAT at the same time, so keep this in mind while deciding when to take it. Alternatively, some students who decide to take a gap year take it during that time. It all depends on what works the best for you! Just be sure to dedicate time to study for this important test.

When should I start studying and for how long?

The answer to this is different for everyone. The majority of students take 2-3 months to study for the test, either taking a class or self-studying. To determine how long to study, start by making an outline for a study schedule based on how quickly and efficiently you study. Be sure to factor in breaks and any important events you might have during your study period. A DAT class might be a good idea for those who struggle with making a strict study schedule. Everyone has a different method for studying so my advice is find what works for you and stick with it!

What resources are best for each section?

Biology

A great resource is the CliffsNotes AP Biology review book. They are very cheap and have practice questions at the end of every section. The biology portion is very broad making it difficult to narrow down what to study so do as many practice questions as possible. The Kaplan DAT book also has a good biology review section with practice questions. The best thing about this book is that it comes with two practice tests that are completely online allowing students to have a simulation of what test day will be like. Another resource is the DAT Destroyer, which has hundreds of questions for each of the science sections. Finally, many students recommend the biology review on DAT Bootcamp, which includes two sets of condensed biology notes and a taxonomy cheat sheet. When it comes to biology, go through as many practice questions as possible and hope for the best. No matter what, there are going to be many questions that you do not know but do not stress because this is how it is for nearly everyone.

General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry

Chad’s videos all the way! I have not talked to a single dental student that did not use Chad’s videos to review general and organic chemistry. He does a great job of giving a clear and concise review of the subjects and access to the videos is very affordable. Chad’s videos can be found on the website called CourseSaver.com, which has review videos for each of the science sections. The DAT Destroyer is also a great resource for these sections. Just like with biology, it consists of hundreds of practice general and organic chemistry questions taken from past DAT exams. There are several options on the DAT Destroyer website, and I recommend the combined general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology and quantitative reasoning book. This is the best value and it gives you plenty of great practice questions for each of these sections. The DAT Bootcamp is also a great resource for this section, especially Mike’s videos. Similar to Chad, Mike gives a concise overview of all the topics in general and organic chemistry that a student may encounter on the exam. There are also hundreds of practice questions included to further help students prepare for the test.

Perceptual Ability

It is important to find a good resource to study for this section. As stated before, it tests your ability to visualize 3D objects in a 2D space. It consists of questions like hole punching, angle discrimination, cube counting, and paper folding. What are all these crazy questions you ask? This is why you need study material! Crack the DAT is one of the best resources for this section. It is a computer program that comes with several videos that teach you how to tackle each type of question asked on the PAT. It also includes several practice questions that simulate exactly how you will see the questions on the day of the test; on the computer with a timer ticking away in the corner. The PATBooster is another newer resource that many students find to be extremely helpful. An online resource that provides several high-yield PAT questions, it analyzes a student’s weak spots and generates question sets in order to help them improve in these areas.

While this section may seem daunting, it becomes one of the most doable sections with practice. Time can be an issue with this section, so be sure to practice with the correct time allotted and work on getting faster and faster as you answer questions. Also, be sure to practice with a whiteboard similar to the laminated boards given on test day. I did not find out until the week of my test that you cannot erase anything you write on these laminated boards, so I frantically practiced the questions during that week without erasing anything on my whiteboard. Another tip is to use the tutorial time during the test to write out your grids for hole punching so that you have them ready to go before the test even begins. However, be sure to call your test center ahead of time to make sure that this is allowed. Some test centers do now permit students to write on the laminated boards until the test has begun, so be sure to check on this before beginning to practice this technique. The DAT Bootcamp also has strategies for conquering the PAT section and many students like this resource just as much if not more than Crack the DAT.

Reading Comprehension

The best way to study for this section is to do practice questions. It is very similar to many other standardized tests where you receive a set of passages and must answer questions about each specific passage. Crack the DAT, the Kaplan book and DAT Bootcamp all have numerous practice questions for this portion of the test. DAT Bootcamp has received a lot of praise for helping students work on timing with this section. Overall, the best strategy to use for this part of the test is search and destroy. There is not enough time to read the passage in its entirety so go straight to the questions and try your best to find the answers hidden within the passage. This section is very straightforward for students who are able to utilize their reading comprehension skills.

Quantitative Reasoning

This is the math section. The questions are very similar to math questions on the SAT or ACT, so a basic review of algebra and statistics is a good place to start. Crack the DAT, the DAT Destroyer, DAT Bootcamp, and the Kaplan book all include questions for this portion of the test. The DAT Destroyer does offer a book entirely made of questions just for this section, which might be good for students to buy if they are particularly struggling. Again, there is little time, so be sure to set a timer when practicing math problems. Four function calculators on the computer are provided on the day of the test, but it takes quite a bit of time to punch in each number and command. Be sure to take this into account when practicing at home.

Do I need to take a class?

Students who are able to make a schedule and stick with it often decide not to take a class. While most of these resources are quite costly, the most expensive option is to enroll in one of the many DAT prep classes. Therefore, the less expensive option would be making a study schedule and buying a few study materials. That being said, many students want the accountability of paying and going to a class every day, making it worth their while to pay the high cost. Kaplan and iPrep Dental are two of the most popular online classes that students use. Most college campuses have a Kaplan center or another test prep center where students can go take a class in person. This is a very personal decision and one that must be made off of personal study habits and available finances.

What score should I aim for when I’m studying?

Do not aim for a certain score while studying. Aim to do your best! Going into studying with the goal of giving it your all will always end in the best result. One final thing to look out for while studying is not to become discouraged by low scores you may get on your practice tests. Most practice tests score lower than the real test, so do not feel pressured to push your test date back if you are not getting an ideal score on. Set a date, make a schedule, and go for it!

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Kelsey Gwin is a third year dental student at UAB. She is originally from Orlando, Florida and went to undergrad at the University of Florida (go Gators!). In her free time she enjoys watching Netflix, traveling, and hanging out with friends. She is a huge theater nerd and loves keeping up with all ... Kelsey Gwin is a third year dental student at UAB. She is originally from Orlando, Florida and went to undergrad at the University of Florida (go Gato...
This is awesome. I too have thought about the struggle of taking classes while studying for DAT. Thankfully, the DAT can be taken a little after you apply to dental school. For example, I believe if you submit your application June 4/5 and take the DAT June 10th, you will have enough time to turn those scores in to complete the application. I hope I have the correct mindset on this matter as I have asked several times before about this process.
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