The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is the first of many tests you will encounter on your journey through dental school. Since U.S. undergraduate schools vary slightly in their predental curricula, the DAT serves as a standard of comparison for all applicants.
Read the DAT Guide
During the application process you will be asked to confirm that you have read the Dental Admission Testing Program Guide and agree to the rules and regulations contained within the document. The DAT Guide is available through the ADA. It is very important that you read the guide in its entirety to gain a complete understanding of the test.
Get Familiar with the Four DAT Sections
Survey of Natural Sciences
The basic sciences overall section contains 100 total questions, broken down into 40 biology, 30 chemistry and 30 organic chemistry. You will receive a separate score for each category and have 90 minutes to complete the entire section. It is important to move through the test quickly and answer all questions. There is no penalty for guessing on questions, therefore it is advantageous not to leave any questions unanswered. The questions are independent of each other and there are no multiple answers. Answer the questions you know immediately and mark the ones you do not.
Perceptual Ability Test (PAT)
The PAT section tests your spatial ability and reasoning. The questions are like mini mind games, so practice is essential. You will have 60 minutes to answer 90 questions in six areas including angle discrimination, cube counting, view recognition, apertures, 3D form development and paper folding.
Do a practice run and test yourself in each section. On test day, complete the easiest questions first. You are most likely to get those questions right. Mark the harder questions and revisit them if need be. Repetition is a must for this section. The more exposure you get to the perceptual ability section, the more comfortable you become with the material. Schools place emphasis on different areas of the DAT. Although admissions committees evaluate your PAT score, it is less indicative of academic abilities or future performance on national board exams, but may be used to gauge some clinical skills.
This is a great section to gain some ground and boost your academic average. When scores are reported, you receive three separate scores for the sciences. These three scores are also averaged with reading comprehension and quantitative reasoning to form your academic average. Therefore, you will have two major scores: academic average and spatial ability.
Reading comprehension covers three passages with 50 questions to answer in 60 minutes. The passages cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from science to economics. While you cannot study the content that will appear in the passages beforehand, practice is essential. The questions are factual, coming from the passages given to you. There are no inferences to be made because all the answers are found directly within the passages. To master in this section, consider using a prep book. A prep book contains tips on how to skim and outline the sections to best utilize your time. Avoid spending too much time hunting for one answer, and like before, answer as many questions as possible.
A basic four-function calculator is available on the computer screen for this section only. You will see 40 questions in 40 minutes covering algebra; data analysis, interpretation and sufficiency; quantitative comparison; and probability and statistics. Most often, there is a simple twist to the calculation. Practicing the various types of quantitative reasoning questions can help bolster your score. The more questions you do, the more repetition you see in the way the questions are asked. As with other sections, timing is everything. Work quickly and avoid lingering on a question.
Find Your Study Approach
Some students take a prep course or use prep books or software. Depending on the course you take, you may receive a review textbook, flashcards and access to simulated tests. Using a resource like that can help you focus on high-yield material and concepts that often show up on the exam. Make flashcards to practice recalling information quickly. While it is tempting, avoid wasting time studying concepts you already know. Focus your energy on the areas where you are weak and consistently missing questions. When it comes to the DAT, you will either know the answer or you won’t because the questions are not analytical in nature. Read this blog post to find a comprehensive list of study resources available and this post to learn about different study schedules to find what works best for you.
Get a DENTPIN®
The DENTPIN® is a unique personal identifier for applicants and students involved with the U.S. dental education system and standardized testing programs. You must obtain or retrieve a DENTPIN® from the ADA before proceeding with your DAT application. You must also obtain the DENTPIN to apply for admission to a dental school.
Schedule Your Test
Most students complete the DAT during junior year or shortly afterwards. While not as common, you can take the DAT as early as the summer after your sophomore year of college if you have taken biology, chemistry and organic chemistry. Doing that ensures your basic science knowledge is fresh. On the other hand, taking the DAT later in your college career may be advantageous since you may be further exposed to relevant information, especially if you continue to take advanced science courses. Regardless of which approach works for you, it is important to have strong DAT scores at the beginning of the application cycle.
Learn more about scheduling, rescheduling, costs and the locations of testing centers through the ADA.
Know where your testing site is located and how long it takes to get there. Arrive early and bring two forms of ID, including one government-issued photo ID. At the midway point in the exam, you will be offered a break. Take it! Use that time to stand up, eat a snack and stretch. You will come back for the second part feeling refreshed and ready to go again.
Download the Day of the DAT handout to make sure you are prepared for exam day.
Test Limit and Retakes
Dental school applications are not typically processed until they are complete, including DAT scores. If you have to retake the exam, you will have to wait 90 days. Take the exam early enough to allow sufficient time to improve your DAT if necessary. This is especially important because it is advantageous to have all materials submitted to ADEA AADSAS as early in the application cycle as possible. Also, you cannot take the DAT more than three times. Read this blog post on How to prepare to retake the DAT.