Rock the DAT Part 4: Quantitative Reasoning and Reading Comprehension

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Study Glasses

This is the fourth and final article of the Rock the DAT series. My last article covered the PAT and I gave a brief overview of the Dental Admissions Test (DAT) in the first article of this series. If you are only here for the quantitative reasoning (QR) and reading comprehension (RC) portions of the exam then you have come to the right place!

First, the full disclosure on my own DAT performance. I was happy with my overall score, though I think that I could have done better with even slightly smarter preparation. I managed a 23AA, 23TS, 28BIO, 26PAT, 23GC, and 21OC. But my QR score was a 17 which is a little below the national average ~18.

I was worried that I would have to retake the exam because of my QR score! Luckily, most schools are okay with a lower QR score, but anything lower could have been problematic. I was asked about it at a couple of interviews but no one seemed to care too much.

Have a well thought out study plan

My misguided study efforts led me to aimlessly watch Khan Academy videos with no purpose or direction. I hoped that I would absorb the important concepts via osmosis. Of course nothing really stuck because I was not applying the concepts in a meaningful way.

So that was mistake numero uno. My second mistake was solving problems without understanding the underlying concepts. In fact, I often failed to solve a problem in the Math Destroyer correctly, looked for the answer at the back of the book, saw that I was wrong and moved on to the next one. No bueno muchachos. Sorry, I’m in a Spanish mood right now.

That method works okay for something like biology. The secret to a great score there is simply exposing yourself to as much material as possible and memorizing mountains of facts. With mathematics though, such a method is absolutely doomed to fail.

Please take my advice: Do not under any circumstances learn a mathematical concept and then not practice it. You. Will. Fail.

Know what to expect

If I could go back in time I would take a completely different approach to mathematics. I would first start by outlining the concepts that will be covered on the actual exam:  (http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Education%20and%20Careers/Files/dat_examinee_guide.ashx):

Mathematical ProblemsAlgebra (equations and expressions, inequalities, exponential notation, absolute value, ratios and proportions, and graphical analysis); Numeric calculations (fractions and decimals, percentages, approximations, and scientific notation); Conversions (temperature, time, weight, and distance); Probability and Statistics; Geometry; and Trigonometry

The problems on the actual exam will typically be testing only one concept per question. You may get a question dealing with inequalities, or a problem that expects you to determine the area of a given figure. Advanced multi-step problems are uncommon and should probably be skipped. Spend your time on equally valuable but far easier single-concept problems.

I recommend the Math Destroyer for those who need more math practice like I did. Each practice test examines multiple mathematical concepts. It is probably best to practice problems associated with each concept in isolation before taking practice exams which test your overall quantitative reasoning ability, especially if you haven’t taken a math course for a while. Taking some time with a textbook and some Khan Academy videos can be tremendously helpful when covering individual topics.

Find your weaknesses

Figure out where you are rusty, and really focus on developing those skills. If you are struggling with statistics, spend some time working with P values and linear regressions. The QR section does not require an in-depth understanding of complex mathematics. It is really just a broad examination of basic concepts.

As you work through your outline of mathematical concepts check off the topics you feel comfortable with. Keep working on those that you have not yet mastered. I did not do this. Instead I spent many hours aimlessly solving problems with virtually no method and little understanding of where my weaknesses lay. Big mistake!

Your five step program to success

I could discuss the failures of my study method (or lack thereof) at length, but I won’t bore you with any more details. Just know that the right approach as I see it is as follows:

  1. Assess the examination. What will you be expected to know?
  2. Assess your math skills. What do you know already, and what do you need to work on?
  3. Brush up on concepts you don’t understand.
  4. Practice your weakest math topics first.
  5. Work through practice exams.

Don’t put the cart before the horse like I did and start blazing through the practice exams with little idea of how to solve 50% of the problems. You will probably improve marginally that way, but it is a very inefficient use of your time and will not get you a good result. But maybe you are good at math unlike me. Good for you.

My final bit of advice is to use the DAT Bootcamp calculator which is exactly like the one you will see on the actual DAT exam and can be found here. I made the mistake of using a decent calculator during my early math studies, and there was a bit of a learning curve to using the DAT calculator for solving problems.

Reading Comprehension

Before we dive into the methods behind reading comprehension, I should give a brief overview of the types of questions you may be asked on the exam.

Question TypeDetail
ComprehensionTests the reader’s understanding of the passage.
DetailQuestions about specific details discussed in the passage.
ExceptDetail questions which have been negated, i.e. which answer is false.
FunctionDemands that the reader be able to assess the effect of a particular phrase on the rest of the passage.
InferenceJudgments, decisions, and conclusions which must be reached by the reader based on information present in the passage.
Strengthen / WeakenSolutions are provided which better strengthen or weaken the original argument and the reader is expected to choose accordingly.
SequenceExpects readers to identify the correct chronological order of events.
ToneQuestions which demand that the reader infer apparent bias from the author.

The VicViper method

There are a few different approaches to the reading comprehension portion of the DAT. Student Doctor Network user VicViper got a perfect 30. He read through the questions first and scanned for key terms that may appear in the reading passage. He then skimmed the article looking for any key terms encountered in the questions.

This strategy is great for answering detail questions and except questions. But it leaves a lot to be desired for the other types of questions listed above. You can find his reading comprehension strategy on the SDN forums.

The Problem First method

Another method is to read all of the problems first, then read the text and answer the questions as you encounter their answers while you are reading. This sounds like a terrific strategy, and it probably is for some people. However, you will have to remember 15 or 20 questions. That is a lot to retain as you are concentrating on a complex bit of scientific literature.

In theory you should be able to answer the remaining questions after having read the passage. In my own experience however, you are caught juggling the questions you are trying to remember while trying to comprehend the passage.

I’m a vanilla guy

The method I used is what many refer to as the vanilla method. Read the passage in its entirety, and then answer the questions. Skip any questions you can’t answer quickly, and if you need to, refer back to the passage to answer them later.

I found this method to be very reliable and I was consistently scoring around 23 on DAT Bootcamp. The advantage to this method is that you focus on one thing at a time. I believe this makes you faster in the end.

Some people have slight variations on the methods above, especially the vanilla method. I have seen people who develop methods of writing in margins and numbering paragraphs. But remember that the actual DAT exam is on a computer monitor, not a piece of paper.

Whatever you choose, stick with it!

Whatever method you choose, be sure to stick with it and practice it consistently. The worst thing you can do is practice one way and then switch to a different method just before taking your exam. I have seen this happen before, and it usually leads to low scores and bad feelings.

Hopefully this primer will help you get started with your QR and RC studies. If you have any questions or feedback be sure to comment! You can also contact me through the website any time by clicking on the contact link at the very bottom of the page. Good luck on your DAT exam. If you study with purpose and are consistent in your methods you will be absolutely fine!

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