The Dental Admissions Test (DAT) is a difficult and complex entrance examination. The average successful dental school matriculant will have earned between a 19AA and a 20AA on the DAT. The average DAT score falls somewhere between a 17AA and an 18AA. Don’t know what AA means? Fear not. I will cover that shortly!
When I got started with the DAT I saw a lot of people on forums and websites posting scores which meant absolutely nothing to me. They posted numbers like 19TS, 25PAT, 16GC, etc. At the time I found it quite difficult to locate a good resource just to explain what these scores meant. I saw many DAT breakdowns with scores posted by applicants from across the web, but finding a breakdown of the DAT itself proved rather difficult back then. So, I will spend just a moment covering the DAT itself. Feel free to skip ahead if you already know all about the DAT’s scoring, sections, and time allotment.
Breaking down the DAT
The DAT is divided into six subjects: Biology (BIO), General Chemistry (GC), Organic Chemistry (OC), Quantitative Reasoning (QR), Reading Comprehension (RC), and a Perceptual Ability Test (PAT). Each section is scored independently with values ranging between 1 and 30. There are two additional scores which are determined differently but still scored from 1 to 30. The Academic Average (AA) is an average of all scores together minus the PAT and the Total Science (TS) is an average of just the OC, GC, and BIO scores.
Each section has its own time allotment and set number of questions which is as follows:
- Natural Sciences (Organic Chemistry, General Chemistry, and Biology): 100 questions in 90 minutes
- Perceptual Ability Test: 90 questions in 60 minutes
- Reading Comprehension: 3 passages with 50 questions in 60 minutes
- Quantitative Reasoning: 40 problems in 45 minutes
The test format is multiple choice, and test takers are required to take the DAT at a secured test proctoring center which is approved by the ADA (American Dental Association). Many students take the exam at a Prometric testing center which is where many professional and pre-professional students take their licensure and entrance examinations.
You will not be permitted to bring anything into the testing center with you, but you may keep your belongings in the lockers they provide. You will be given two sheets of laminated scratch paper to use during the exam. The testing center will likely have cameras at every testing station. Proctors can monitor your movements and to review suspicious behavior to watch for signs of cheating. They will also probably frisk you and check your sleeves and pant legs for hidden items or notes written on your wrists or ankles. Dress comfortably and don’t plan to bring anything into the examination with you. Most importantly, be prepared!
I took the DAT in June of 2015 and studied intensely for about two months. I spent a lot of time beforehand gathering useful study materials and researching methods others had used to perform really well on the exam. In the end I was satisfied with my score (23AA, 23TS, 23GC, 21OC, 28BIO, 25RC, 26PAT, 17QR), though I still felt that I could have done better, especially on the math portion. I have some few ideas of what I could have done differently, and also what I did well. I hope that this guide will prove useful to future DAT takers!
Many students have no idea where to even begin studying for the DAT. They repeatedly procrastinate and push back their exam registration date. Let’s face it, the DAT is tough and knowing where to start is itself a major feat. I used the following materials to prepare, you will find that these are the materials many of the top scorers have used themselves. Also, Ari at DAT Bootcamp has a great study guide if you are so inclined. Before I go any further I should point out that I do not make a commission by listing any of these study materials nor have I been paid or asked to mention them in this series of articles covering the DAT.
Campbell’s Biology 10th Edition (for reference mainly, no need to read the whole thing)
Cliff’s AP Biology 3rd Edition. With the Cliff’s AP Biology text it is essential that you get the 3rd edition and not the latest 4th edition which does not cover the topics as well for the DAT as the older 3rd edition did!
Being an avid reader will help. You should also choose a method and stick with it. For example, some people swear by reading the entire passage. To follow this method, simply highlight important information in the text before answering the questions (this is how I scored a 25). Pretty simple, right? Just like studying for an exam really.
Others insist that reading the questions first helps them to identify the answers in the passage itself (SDN user VicViper scored a perfect 30 using this method). Unfortunately, some passages are simply harder than others, and so it is difficult to compare one person’s RC score directly to another because of this fact. Whichever method you do choose however, be consistent, and absolutely do not change your mind the day before the exam!
Multi-Subject Practice Tests and Problem Sets
A quick note on Feralis’ Biology Notes: They are a generous contribution from a student who has been immensely helpful and influential in the pre-dental community. That said, I did not use his notes except to see if I was missing anything obvious in my own preparation. If they work for you then that is great. But I did not find them necessary. You may benefit from structuring your own studies around them though.
Wait, there’s more!
When I started writing this guide to the DAT I had intended it to be only a single article. But it soon ballooned into a much larger project than I had anticipated, so I have broken it up into four sections. The second article covers basic science preparation, the third article covers the perceptual ability test, and the last article covers reading comprehension and quantitative reasoning. I hope that they will prove helpful for someone!