Test Prep Insight is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
How Hard Is The DAT?
Whether you are serious about becoming a dentist or simply exploring career options, many students wonder how difficult the Dental Admission Test (DAT) is.
Like the MCAT for pre-med, LSAT for pre-law, and the GMAT for business school, the Dental Admission Test (DAT) is a requirement for students who are considering a career in the dental field. When establishing your study plan in preparation for the exam, you’ll probably find yourself with questions regarding the difficulty of DAT. In this guide, we will take a look at how difficult the exam is and the reasons why many perceive it to be hard.
The short answer is that, yes, the DAT is reasonably difficult. It is a 5-hour test (including optional, but highly recommended breaks), comprised of four sections:
Survey of the Natural Sciences – Divided into subsections of Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry, with each having approximately 40, 30, and 30 questions respectively.
Perceptual Ability – Covers apertures, view recognition, angle discrimination, paper folding, cube counting, and 3D form development.
Reading Comprehension – 3 reading passages and 50 questions that test your comprehension and analysis of scientific content.
Quantitative Reasoning – Math problems in the areas of algebra, data analysis, interpretation, probability, statistics, etc., plus a mathematic word problem.
Each correctly answered question on the DAT gives you one point towards your raw score. Raw scores are then converted to scaled scores, which are reported to dental schools. With scaled scores ranging from 1-30, these scaled scores provide dental schools with the information needed to accurately relate your performance and abilities to those of all other test takers, which they will utilize during their admissions decisions.
Candidates will receive 8 score reports in total. These include: (1) 6 separate section scores; (2) an Academic Average (AA), which is the average score of Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning; and (3) a Total Science Score, which is taken from all questions in the Survey of Natural Science section.
The average scaled score for most sections on the DAT is 17, which is the 50th percentile. This means that if you score a 17, you are scoring better than 50% of all test-takers. Scoring becomes much more competitive in the 75th percentile, where a score of 19 or 20 puts you ahead of three-quarters of DAT test-takers. The cream of the crop will come in at the 98th percentile or better, with scores of 22-23, putting them in the top 2% of test-takers.
While the section scores on the DAT average 17, it is important to note that the Academic Average score required for admittance into most dental schools is 19. This DAT Academic Average will be used by dental schools in conjunction with your overall undergrad GPA as a primary factor for admission. More stringent admissions at prestigious schools, like the UCLA School of Dentistry and Harvard School of Dental Medicine require an AA of 23.2 and 23.8, respectively.
What Makes the DAT Difficult?
What makes the DAT difficult is the large amount of subject matter that it covers, as well as the length of the test. The exam covers an array of subjects, encompassing a large amount of information. It is a 4 hour and 15-minute exam, not including the recommended breaks, that is broken into 6 sections. That might sound like a long time, but past DAT examinees have expressed that the time passes quickly, requiring them to guess on some questions to finish in time.
Many students report needing to study for several months in order to achieve optimal scores, with other students claiming they were able to receive a score that was sufficient for admission with a month or less of study time.
Preparatory materials often recommend that the average student take 8-12 weeks to prepare in total, or around 200-250 study hours. Using these approximations, you can create your own study plan based on the number of questions and scoring load of the sections, and your own pre-existing familiarity with each subject.
Which Section do Students Find Most Difficult?
Most students who take the DAT report that despite the inherent difficulty of the chemistry material, the biology section is by far the hardest to prepare for, simply because of the enormous amount of material that can be tested on.
Some feel that the Quantitative Reasoning is the most difficult section, due to the fact that it is the last section on the test, and by that point you feel fatigued from all of the chemistry, biology and perceptual ability questions you’ve already answered. Past DAT examinees have also expressed frustration over being able to complete the Quantitative Reasoning section in the 45 minutes allotted.
How to Make the DAT Less Intimidating?
There are a number of resources available to help prepare for the DAT. Dental students often enlist the help of DAT Prep Courses such as those offered by Kaplan and Princeton Review to ready themselves for the exam. These courses are designed to provide you with comprehensive resources and professional support while preparing for the DAT.
With many courses to choose from, their general offerings include online class and/or video instruction, testing strategies, full length practice tests with detailed explanations, comprehensive workbooks and interactive workshops. Many have mobile apps for those who like to learn on the go, and some offer tutoring packages for those needing more individualized attention.