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What Is The DAT? (Complete Guide)
By Connor Reed Updated on January 3, 2024
Summer Holloway, DMD Summer Holloway, DMD

What Is The DAT? (Complete Guide)

A detailed guide all about the Dental Admission Test (DAT), including what it is and what’s included on the exam

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is one of the first steps on your path to becoming a dentist. Along with your undergrad GPA, extracurriculars, and dental school interviews, it is a critical component of your application to dental school. You need to crush this all-important exam. Yet, many people don’t know the first thing about what is on the exam, or how it tests you. We break down all the essential elements of the DAT in this guide.

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What Does DAT Stand For?

Let’s start with the simple stuff. DAT is an acronym for the Dental Admission Test. Put simply, the DAT is the dental education admission test for those interested in attending dental school.

The DAT is used as one of the many dental school admissions requirements, and is designed to provide dental schools with a means to assess its program applicants’ potential for success. It is administered year round by Prometic test centers in the United States and Canada.

What Is The DAT?

Before you can apply for a dental school you need to take the DAT. Since most undergraduate schools or programs that prepare someone for entering the dental profession are not highly standardized, the DAT gives dental schools a easy way to evaluate a potential entrant’s academic capabilities, as well as physical ability to perform the duties and tasks required of a dentist.

dental school

Generally speaking, the DAT is widely considered to be an extremely challenging test, and is equally as difficult as other postgraduate pre-admission exams such as the MCAT and GMAT.

It is scored from 1 to 30 on each of six sub-sections that cover biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning.

Although many candidates find the chemistry section materials to be the most academically challenging, the biology section contained within the Survey of Natural Sciences is actually one of the hardest parts to prepare for.

When preparing for the biology section, many students find themselves a little overwhelmed due to the sheer volume of material.

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What Is On The DAT Exam?

The DAT is broken into four primary sections consisting of:

  • Survey of Natural Sciences
  • Perceptual Ability Test
  • Reading Comprehension Test
  • Quantitative Reasoning Test

Survey of Natural Sciences Test

This is the first section of the DAT and you are given 90 minutes to complete it. The section contains 100 questions covering all of the basic sciences. The questions are divided into 30 chemistry questions, 30 organic chemistry specific questions, and 40 questions covering biology.

The key to this section is to move quickly and answer every question. The 90-minute time limit means you have to maintain a fast, steady pace as you will need to answer more than one question per minute.

Perceptual Ability Test

The Perceptual Ability Test (PAT) test covers your spatial reasoning and physical dexterity. You are allotted 60 minutes for the PAT.

The test is more so designed to gauge your clinical skills, rather than your academic abilities. Each question will look like a puzzle or brain game, so it is crucial to practice extensively for this test (DAT Booster is a good option to help you prepare).

The PAT section is made up of 90 questions that deal with paper folding, view recognition, angle discrimination, 3D form development, apertures, and cube counting. This test can be incredibly difficult without adequate practice, so make sure you dedicate enough time to studying the tasks you will need for the PAT.

For many, it is the hardest section of the overall test.

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Common PAT problem

Reading Comprehension Test

The third section of the DAT is Reading Comprehension (RC). This section is based around three passages of text with a corresponding 50 questions. The RC must be completed in just 60 minutes.

This section can cover a wide variety of subjects and content, including the sciences and economics. Due to the depth and breadth of the subject matter you may be tested on, you will not be able to create a study guide for the exact content.

You will, however, be able to find resources that will contain passages similar to what you will encounter on test day. These resources will also cover how to skim the passages, outline your study topics, and provide tips for effective time management. These resources will help you become more organized and assist you getting through the questions for each passage in less time.

Quantitative Reasoning Test

The Quantitative Reasoning (QR) section of the DAT is designed to test the math skills that will be required in dental school and in actual practice. This section contains 40 multiple-choice questions, and you will have 45 minutes to complete it. The subjects tested in the QR section, and the overall scoring weight and typical number of DAT questions asked for each subject are as follows:

  • Algebra 22.5%, 9 questions;
  • Numerical Calculations 15%, 6 questions;
  • Conversions 7.5%, 3 questions;
  • Probability and statistics 10%, 4 questions;
  • Geometry 10%, 4 questions;
  • Trigonometry 10%, 4 questions;
  • Word problems 25%, 10 questions.

Many of the questions in the QR require knowledge from more than just the one subject content area, especially the Word Problems category, which accounts for 25% of the section score. Since you will only have just over one minute for each math question, it’s important to be able to use efficient test-taking strategies to ensure you have enough time to complete each question.

Many students find the timing of the QR section to be the most difficult to manage during the DAT, and this is compounded by the fact that QR is the last section, which means many students are exhausted by this point in the test.

A basic on-screen calculator is provided, which can add, subtract, multiply, and divide as well as take square roots, percentages, and reciprocals. This can prove to be very helpful if you can use it efficiently.

Preparing For The DAT Exam

One of the best ways to prepare for the DAT exam is with a commercial prep course. Some students can get away with just using a DAT prep book, or maybe even no studying at all, but for the rest of us, the most efficient, affordable and effective means of preparing for the DAT will be a review course.

Our team of test prep experts has purchased and reviewed a number of the most popular courses available today, and ranked the best ones on our list of best DAT prep courses. We would suggest you check out this list, do some research, and purchase a prep course that fits your learning style and budget. This will give you the best chance of success on the DAT.

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Example of DAT study materials

Prep courses are often the best means of preparing for a major standardized test like the DAT because they offer students a multitude of study resources, such as video lessons, live classes, flashcards, and more. Kaplan DAT and Princeton Review DAT are a good place to start since they are well-known, respected prep companies.

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What is on the DAT?

The DAT exam consists of four main sections that test your knowledge in the disciplines of biology, chemistry, reading comprehension, perceptual ability, and quantitative reasoning.

When is the DAT exam offered?

The DAT exam is offered year-round. However, it is recommended you sign up at least 60 days before you plan on sitting for the exam.