DAT Test Breakdown

DAT or Dental Admission Test is a standardized test for prospective dental school students. It is a competitive exam administered throughout the year in America and the main purpose of it is to ensure that every student selected for the courses of dental training is worthy of the same. Although dental schools and colleges have other admission criteria as well, this exam serves as the only criterion that sketches out the abilities of students required for dental training and compares them against each other. Hence, it provides a measure of comparison that makes the job of granting admissions easier.

It provides the students with an opportunity to prove their mettle to schools that are unaware of their skills. DAT is the only way that such schools can effectively predict the performance of students in dental schools. Hence, students can make the most of this opportunity by portraying themselves as above average students capable of undergoing the training given in dental schools.

Why is it important to understand DAT structure?


Although it is not viable to know what items would appear in the test, it is possible to predict its format, which gives a lot of input for the preparation. Understanding the format makes it possible to prepare for it in the required way. Not only will a student familiarize himself with the syllabus, but he will also find out about the skills, types of questions and time required to answer the questions.

Features of DAT


  1. It is a computer-based test.
  2. It can be taken in Thompson Prometric test centers.
  3. There are four sections, which are:
  • Survey of Natural Sciences
  • Perceptual Ability Test
  • Reading Comprehension Test
  • Quantitative Reasoning Test
  1. All questions asked are in the form of multiple-choice questions.
  2. The total time taken to take the test is 4 hours and 30 minutes.
  3. There is an optional break of 15 minutes after the completion of two sections.
  4. 15 minutes are allotted to a tutorial in the beginning and 15 minutes for post test survey in the end.

Process of Construction of the DAT Testing Items

The testing items undergo several levels of checks and revisions before being included in the examination. At the initial stage, Science and Mathematics instructors, special consultants and staff of American Dental Association contribute towards the questions in the exam. These items are reviewed to meet the requirements of test. These questions are then pre-tested in DAT without being scored. This is again followed by revision of the testing items according to the psychometric standards. The questions undergo an analysis on the level of difficulty and discrimination index, whereupon the items are either incorporated in the actual examination or discarded.

Detailed Explanation of the Test Format

The test has four predefined sections for testing students’ skills. These are explained below.

1. Survey of Natural Sciences

This is a 90 minutes long test and has a total of 100 testing items. It is further divided into three categories as follows:

  1. Biology – This test contains a total of 40 testing items. The content of the testing items comes from topics like Cell and Molecular Biology, Life Diversities, Vertebrate Anatomy and Physiology Developmental Biology, Genetics, Evolution, Ecology and Behavior.
  2. General Chemistry – There are 30 testing items here based on General Chemistry. The content asked in this category is based on a wide range of topics like Gases, Liquids, Solids, General concepts, Acids, Bases, Solutions, Thermodynamics, Thermochemistry, Atomic and Molecular Structure, Nuclear Reactions and Laboratory Techniques.
  3. Organic Chemistry30 testing items are found here and these are based on Organic Chemistry. The topics included are Chemical and Physical Properties of Molecules and Organic Analysis, Stereochemistry, Nomenclature, Acid-Base Chemistry, Aromatics and Bonding, Individual Reactions of Major Functional Groups and Combination of Reactions to Synthesize Compounds.

Since the content asked in this section requires the knowledge of science subjects at the undergraduate level, this test is called the achievement test. However, the questions asked require students to possess various skills apart from cognitive abilities to answer them to perfection. Reading comprehension questions and questions based on problem solving skills are also included in this section. Hence, students must exhibit a wide range of skills to answer these items correctly.

2. Perceptual Ability Test

The Perceptual Ability Test, also called PAT, is tested in 60 minutes and there are a total of 90 testing items in this section. Out of these, only 75 questions contribute towards your score, while the rest of the 15 testing items are unscored pretest items included for the purpose of testing questions for future exams.
The testing items included in PAT are two-dimensional and three-dimensional problems. There are six subtests in this section, which contain 15 questions each. These are apertures, orthographic projections, angle discriminations, paper folding items, cube-counting items, and spatial form development items. These questions require the students to possess skills like angle-discrimination, block counting, paper folding, form development, and object visualization. Such skills are considered necessary to judge how students can perceive minute differences.

3. Reading Comprehension Test

This is also a 60 minutes long test and there are three reading passages here, which are followed by 16 or 17 questions each. The passages are about 1500 words long and are taken from topics related to dental science, clinical science etc. These topics may be new to students taking the test, but the questions can be answered without any prior knowledge of the subject matter.

This test predicts if students will be able to read and understand textual information as is required to be read by dental students. The students are required to understand the concepts and ideas presented in the passage and answer the questions.

4. Quantitative Reasoning Test

This test must be completed in 45 minutes and there are a total of 40 testing items in this section. There are two subtests, which are:

  1. Mathematics Problems – This subsection contains 30 questions and are based on Algebra, Numeric calculations, Conversions, Probability, Statistics, Geometry and Trigonometry.
  2. Applied Mathematics (Word) Problems – This subsection contains 10 word problems.

The purpose of conducting this section is to assess the basic mathematical knowledge acquired by students, which is considered necessary for dental college studies. It does not, however, require them to learn advanced mathematics problems.

Scoring of the Sections

The scores received in the DAT are derived from the number of points gained from correctly answered questions. No marks are deducted for incorrect answers and therefore, students can go ahead to guess the answers when they are in doubt. All questions carry equal marks.

The standard scores range between 1 and 30.  For Survey of Natural Science, separate sub-scores are reported for the 3 subsections along with a total score. Separate scores are reported for Quantitative Reasoning Test, Reading Comprehension Test and Perceptual Ability Test as well. An Academic Average score is reported in the score report, which is the total score excluding the PAT score.

Groundwork Required for DAT

Students can either prepare for the examination independently or under the guidance of an expert. Whichever method they choose, they should remember that studying for the test is not an overnight job. It requires regularity, commitment and focused learning for about three months. Since two of the tests are achievement tests, you should brush up the content of undergraduate level to fare well in them. Moreover, many schools lay significant emphasis on the score of PAT and the Reading Comprehension tests. Hence, there is no doubting the fact that all the aspects of DAT require good amount of preparation.

Reassure Yourself to Take the DAT

The profession of a dentist is extremely rewarding since it provides immense job satisfaction by serving people along with a handsome salary. However, the road to becoming a dentist is not easy and requires years of struggle. Taking DAT well by understanding its features is only the beginning.

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