Last Updated on June 23, 2022 by Laura Turner
The Dental Admissions Test (DAT) is a 4 hour and 15 minute exam that tests both right and left brain dominant individuals and requires heavy preparation. It is broken down into six sections – biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning – and tests each subject individually with nearly no overlap in content between sections.
After three months of DAT prep scattered with an Evolution 101 summer course, I took my exam and scored an Academic Average of 25, PAT of 24. In this article, I will explain the ins and outs of the test, the resources I used to maximize my score, and how to beat test day anxiety.
The most important thing for the DAT, or any big exam, is to avoid comparing yourself to other test takers. This is a disclaimer that I am writing about what worked best for me as a student and Kaplan DAT instructor. As someone who requires repetition, flashcards, and eight different highlighter and pen colors, I realize my repertoire for test preparation varies greatly from other applicants.
Let me now break down the score of the DAT. The exam is scored on a scale from 1 – 30 with an average of 17. That means that with a score of 17, you are scoring greater than 50% of test-takers. Competitive scores of 19-20 put you in the top 25% of test-takers. Scores of 21 and above are in the top 10% of test-takers. The average Academic Average scores for some of the schools that receive the most applicants are listed below:
- University of California, Los Angeles – 23
- University of Southern California – 20
- Virginia Commonwealth University – 21
- Tufts University – 19.7
The DAT, very conveniently, has clear breaks in content. Even within the Natural Sciences section, the first 40 questions are always biology, the next 30 are chemistry, and the 90 minute section rounds out with 30 organic chemistry questions. Let this be your mindset as you take the exam too – try not to dwell on biology questions as you read your passages or think about the angles from perceptual ability as you finish your quantitative reasoning problems. Below is a breakdown with times of the DAT.
Natural Sciences – 90 minutes, 100 questions
- Biology – 40 questions
- Chemistry – 30 questions
- Organic Chemistry – 30 questions
Perceptual Ability – 60 minutes, 90 questions
- Keyhole – 15 questions
- Top-Front-End – 15 questions
- Angle ranking – 15 questions
- Hole punching – 15 questions
- Cube Counting – 15 questions
- Pattern Folding – 15 questions
Reading Comprehension – 60 minutes, 50 questions
Quantitative Reasoning – 45 minutes, 40 questions
After you have familiarized yourself with the exam format and general content, take a diagnostic exam to gauge your starting point. Ideally, your score should go up from here. Once you have your score breakdown and corresponding percentiles, you can organize a study plan which dedicates time to the subjects that proportionately need more of your attention.
Many students will ask how much time to dedicate to studying for the DAT. The prep courses advise 8-12 weeks to prepare and 200-250 hours of studying total. With that number, you can schedule studying around your work or school hours. Find the sweet spot between cramming and forgetting what you taught yourself at the beginning of your DAT journey.
I find that applicants normally study academic subjects and disregard the “practice makes perfect” sections like perceptual ability and reading comprehension. It is important to aim to dedicate an hour daily to the PAT. The more shapes, keyholes, and angles you are exposed to, the easier it will be to choose the correct answer on test day. I found DAT Bootcamp to be the most helpful and cost-effective resource for the PAT. There is a generator for each of the six PAT sections, allowing test takers an endless supply of practice problems.
In terms of preparing for the academic sections, I used a limited number of resources to stay cost-efficient and prevent feeling overwhelmed. If you are someone who needs guidance to stick with a schedule, like myself, I advise taking a class for the provided content material and structure. Ideally, the student will finish the 6-8 week course with all the content material completed and most of the flashcards memorized. I used Kaplan to guide me through the DAT and found their practice exams, flashcards, and textbook extremely helpful. Again, repetition is key, so even if you do not have a course to follow, try to take a practice exam every week in order to see your progress and areas that may need extra focus.
Practice tests are a vital part of the DAT study regimen. The test is long, and in order to prevent test-day exhaustion, you should practice how to sit sustained for 4 hours while simultaneously using brainpower. Once you have completed a test, go over the incorrect answers, and see why you may have missed them. This method of correcting exams allows students to see what types of questions they are missing most frequently. Each practice exam should refine your study topics.
In addition to the course, I used three other outlets that, when split with my test-taking peers, cost me less than $120. The invaluable chemistry and organic chemistry videos by Chad from Coursesaver, DAT Bootcamp for the most test-like practice questions, and DAT Destroyer for Quantitative Reasoning.
I find students who use too many books and resources are overwhelmed by the number of practice problems to complete, chapters to read, and tests to take. Find the programs that work for you and master as much of them as you can in the time you have given yourself to prepare.
Before Test Day:
On the days leading up to test day, it is normal to get jitters and have bouts of feeling unprepared. Let these feelings pass and power through until test day unless these feelings are backed by serious gaps in knowledge. If you feel that taking the exam would result in a less than ideal score, think about changing the test date so you feel prepared.
Take the day before your DAT to relax your mind and body. If you need, look over some flashcards, but try your best not to stress the day before the exam with practice problems or new content material.
Pack some of your favorite snacks and drinks for test day. It will incentivize you to take the break (your brain will thank you!) and give you something to look forward to. Bring along a sweater and wear comfortable clothing so your focus is on the exam and not your itchy sweater.
Upon completion of the exam, the computer will prompt you to take a survey. Once you finish the survey, your score will appear on the screen. You finished! Put this part of the application process behind you and reward yourself for a job well done.
Learn more about what you need to know to get into dental school with SDN’s free dental school application guide.
Samya Faiq is an incoming medical student at University of California, Davis School of Medicine. She completed her preclinical year at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and worked in Neurological research at Boston Children’s Hospital. Samya is interested in women’s health with an emphasis on mental health in immigrant populations.