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When To Take The DAT?
By Connor Reed Updated on January 3, 2024
Summer Holloway, DMD Summer Holloway, DMD

When To Take The DAT?

Figuring out the best time to take the DAT is often the first topic students need to tackle once they decide dental school is in their future

When it comes to starting your career as a dentist, one of the first steps is taking the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). As you prepare for this exam, you’ll want to know when it is offered and when would be the best time for you to take the test in your application cycle. In this guide, we will provide you with the information you need to make that decision.

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When Is the DAT Offered?

One of the best things about preparing for the DAT is knowing that the exam is administered year-round at testing centers nationwide. There are close to 500 approved Prometric testing centers throughout the United States, its territories and Canada, so there should be one relatively close to where you live.

dat testing center
An inside look at a Prometric testing center

Prior to registering for the DAT, candidates are required to obtain a Dental Personal Identification Number (DENTPIN®) from the American Dental Association. When planning your timeline, keep in mind that your testing appointment should be scheduled 60-90 days in advance of your desired exam date.

Once you have registered, that registration is valid for up to six months.

To accommodate candidates who may work full time or have family commitments, most Prometric testing centers have appointments for those needing to take the exam in the evening or on a weekend. Due to the test being computer-based, the scheduling options are quite flexible.

When Should You Take The DAT?

It’s important to wait to register for the DAT until the time is right. This isn’t a test that you should sign up for just anytime. One thing to keep in mind when you are deciding when to take the test is that you can only take the DAT three (3) times (without needing to apply for special permission to take it again).

Plus, you do need to wait 60 days before you can retest. So before jumping in and registering, there are a few different checkpoints that can indicate that it is a good time to sign up.

Many feel that a good time to register for the DAT is after you have completed your prerequisites in organic chemistry, biology, and general chemistry. In order to perform well on the test, you need to have a really solid base knowledge of biology and other sciences since a large portion of the test is science related.

The stronger your knowledge in the sciences, the better you will be prepared for the exam.

when should you take the dat

It’s important that you take the DAT about a year before you plan to start dental school. A common time for registering for the DAT is at the end of the spring semester of your junior year of college.

At this time, your knowledge of the sciences should still be fresh in your memory. This initial exam date will also allow you sufficient time to wait the required 60 days, study, and retest in the event you don’t score well.

Another factor to consider when scheduling your exam is when your dental school applications are due. Be sure to familiarize yourself with all of your dental school’s requirements before scheduling your DAT.

How to Properly Prepare for the DAT

Start by reading the DAT Official Guide, which can be found on the ADA website. There you will find information relating to the content covered on the exam, testing procedures, as well as application and scoring details.

Reading and agreeing to this document is a requirement before you can apply to take the exam, however, we also recommend that you read it early in your study plan so you can accurately prepare.

When you are getting ready to take your DAT, it is recommended that you spend approximately 3 to 4 months preparing. Past students have found it helpful to study a minimum of 5 days per week, 3 hours each day (roughly 200-250 hours).

However, you will need to customize your study schedule to accommodate your individual need and circumstances. Be sure to take occasional breaks while studying. Get away from technology, take a walk, stretch. These breaks will help you reset, and will be good for both your physical health and mental well-being.

Familiarize yourself with the four sections of the DAT, develop a study plan that fits your needs. You may find that you need to spend more time studying in a particular area of weakness, but not so much in an area where you feel you have a good grasp on the subject.

Take practice tests, and utilize the many resources available to you, including DAT prep courses and DAT prep books. The DAT is a very difficult exam, and as such, you should strongly consider investing in a commercial prep course.

Courses such as DAT Bootcamp, DAT Booster, and Kaplan can have a real impact on your final score.

Organization of the DAT Exam

The DAT contains four different sections that you will need to be familiar with. Each section contains information that you should have covered in school, given you have taken and passed all of the required courses.

Survey of Natural Sciences

This section covers the basic sciences and contains a total of 100 questions. Those questions are broken down into 30 chemistry, 30 organic chemistry, and 40 biology. You will have 90 minutes to complete the entire section and you will receive a score for each category.

Make sure you move quickly and answer each question. It’s better to take a guess if you are unsure of an answer to leave it blank.

Perceptual Ability Test (PAT)

This section is all about reasoning and spatial ability. There are 90 questions covering six different areas. You will have 60 minutes to complete this section and will see questions about 3D form development, view recognition, angle discrimination, cube counting, apertures, and paper folding.

This section can be tough so be sure you do a practice run, focusing on each of the categories.

Reading Comprehension

The reading comprehensions consists of three passages with a total of 50 questions. You will have 60 minutes to complete it. There are a wide range of possible topics that could be covered.

You won’t be able to study for this section, as the passages change but there are prep books and courses that are helpful in teaching you effective ways to answer the questions without spending too much time reading.

Quantitative Reasoning

This is a math section and has 40 questions that you will need to answer within 40 minutes. You will have access to the basic four-function calculator on your computer screen. Topics include algebra, data analysis, probability and statistics.

Final Thoughts

By developing and sticking to an effective study plan and utilizing the resources available to you, you will hopefully find yourself feeling ready to tackle the exam. While you’re allowed to take the test up to 3 times (without the uneasy task of asking for special permission from the ADA to take it again), you certainly don’t want to go there. Take the time to properly prepare, pass the exam, and begin your new career as a dentist.


When do you take the DAT?

You should take the DAT about a year before you plan to start dental school. A common time for registering for the DAT among students is at the end of the spring semester of your junior year of college.

When can I take the DAT?

You can take the DAT year-round at any Prometric test center. Unlike the MCAT and other exams, there are few limits on when you can sit for the DAT.