The DAT Exam

What is the DAT Exam?

If you are looking to get admitted into a dental school in the United States or Canada there is one hurdle you must overcome- The Dental Admission Test also known as the DAT exam. This is a multiple-choice test that is mandatory for admission into most US and Canadian Dental Schools. DAT judges your scientific understanding and your academic and perceptual ability. It is a computer-based multiple-choice exam that can be given at almost any day of the year.

Everything you think you need to know about the DAT exams has been compiled here for your convenience.

Pre-requisites for the DAT exam

Candidates willing to sit for the DAT exam must have completed at least a year of collegiate education inclusive of courses in biology along with general and organic chemistry. Candidates can sit for the DAT exam anywhere between the beginning of the third year or the beginning of the first year.

human tooth
Photographer: Yingpis Kalayom | Source: Unsplash

How to take it?

A preliminary step you must complete before applying for the DAT exam is to be committed to taking the exam within the given time period.

Application for the DAT Exam is a two-step process. The first step is to receive approval from the Department of Testing Services at the ADA. Once you have completed the first step and received your DENTPIN, the next step is to apply to sit for the DAT exam.

Remember that once you have received approval to take the DAT you will only have 6 months to sit for it. No, you will not be able to extend this time period, nor will you be receiving a deadline. Therefore, you should perform the preliminary step for mental preparation.

Fee structure

In 2020, the free for the exam is $415. Now, this is a steep amount, but worry not! If you are a U.S citizen or even a resident alien, the ADA may provide you with a fee waiver, given that you are already receiving some sort of financial aid from your educational institution or are facing some form of financial hardship. However, do note that the fee waiver only covers 50% of the cost. Fee waivers are numbered and are usually given out on a first-come-first basis. You can directly apply for the application fee waiver from the ADA website. While the fee includes reporting of official score to all your selected dental schools, irrespective of the number, the fee waiver is only a partial one.

The process for applying for a fee waiver is pretty straightforward. If DAT fee waivers are available, then you will be provided with a form to fill out your financial information. Once you have done that, your application will be reviewed and you will be notified via email on whether your report has been granted, or not.

Keep in mind that your application for a fee waiver will only be considered if you are a first-time candidate and your application is in written form.

DAT exams are administered almost every day all year round at test centers powered by Prometric Incorporated. After getting your application approved by the ADA you have a 6-month period within which you HAVE TO sit for the exam.

The $415 fee is nonrefundable and nontransferable. While you can sit for a retake 90 days after the first time you have taken it, you will have to apply and pay the fee again. While rescheduling your DAT exam is possible, it comes with a hefty fine that depends on how close to the test date you cancel.

Rescheduling the DAT exam

In order to cancel or reschedule the testing appointment, the candidate must contact the Administration Vendor well before the actual testing date. The additional fees mentioned above must be directly paid to the Administration Vendor. You will be notified with a confirmation once your testing appointment has been rescheduled or canceled.

dat exam fee structure
The fee structure for rescheduling the DAT exam

If you have already attempted the exam thrice then you will have to apply to get permission to be able to sit for the exam again. Application for permission to sit for retake must be submitted to ADA’s Department of Testing Services and you will have to submit some additional information, including-

  • Evidence that you indeed plan on applying to dental school within the next 18 months- this can be a letter from college/instructor/ university health professional advisor on the school letterhead stating that you are indeed applying for dental school.
  • A rejection letter from a dental school
  • A letter from a dental school admission officer asking and encouraging you to retake the DAT exam. This letter must be with the school’s letterhead.

Yes, retaking is neither cheap nor straightforward. So, make sure to prepare well the first time around to avoid retakes! To help you with your prep here is a breakdown of the question pattern and what to expect from each section.

Question Pattern

The DAT is a timed exam that lasts half a day. It runs for 5 hours and 15 minutes including all the optional breaks and tutorials. Without the inclusion of the breaks, the test lasts for 4 hours and 15 minutes. Each section is timed individually. Here is a rundown of the entire test.

dat exam number and time

The DAT exam has been divided into 4 sections, with each one testing a different aspect of your academic and critical thinking ability.

  1. Survey of Natural Sciences- This is a test of achievement and academics. It includes all the content covered by a first-year course in biology, general and organic chemistry. This section of the exam consists of 100 items. Structure of this section is as follows-
    i. Biology- 40 items
    ii. General Chemistry- 30 items
    iii. Organic Chemistry- 30 items
    Each subsection in this section is individually marked as is of equal importance. Therefore, you must make sure to not spend too much time on any one section.
  2. Perceptual Ability Test- This test is for gauging your visual acuity. The perceptual ability section is further divided into six subsections. One section covers one-dimensional perception while the rest deal with three-dimensional perception. One point to note is that you will not be allowed to use any form of measuring instruments such as a scale or a pencil or even your own fingers.
  3. Reading Comprehension Test- this section of the exams tests your comprehensive skills. There are three comprehension passages with each passage containing about 15 to 17 items. The reading material is usually scientific and may contain topics that are reminiscent of what will be covered in dental school. During the exam, the comprehension section is presented in a split-screen format to make navigation easier. So, the questions will be on the top half of the screen whereas the passage will cover the bottom half. You will be able to scroll through your passage and simultaneously answer without the hassle of going back and forth.
  4. Quantitative reasoning test- Here your ability to interpret numbers, manipulate numerical relationships, and deal with quantitative matters will be measured. While you are not permitted to carry a calculator, a pop-up calculator will be provided on your screen during the exam.

The exhibit button on the DAT exam screen includes a periodic table to help guide you.

How to prepare

As the age-old saying goes- practice makes perfect! So, what is the number one tip on how to prepare for the DAT exams? The answer is simple- practice, practice, then practice some more. Yet, here are a few tips, tricks and a few reminders to help you with your prep.

  • Start early- the earlier you start the more time you get to study. Once you have filled out all the prerequisites, set a time for the test, making sure to give yourself at least 4 months to study.
  • Create a routine- and stick to it! Allocate three hours to study each day for at least 5 days a week.
  • Read the DAT guide
  • Practice sample tests- I have linked a few samples tests here.
  • If you need a fee waiver, make sure to submit your application early. They are given out on a first come first basis.
  • Take at least 2 timed mock exams.

How is it scored

You will not be penalized for answering incorrectly. So, there is no harm in making a guess every now and then instead of leaving a question blank because you are unsure. Scores are scaled according to the collective scoring of all examinees. The DAT exam usually ranges from 1-30 and while there are no passing or failing scores, 17 is considered the national average.

There are a few questions that allow the ADA to place different forms of the questionnaire on the same scale and score your testing. Moreover, there may be a few unscored questions. These can be considered beta testing questions where the responses from them are used to help develop the question pattern and quality later.

It takes about 3 to four weeks for the official results to be published after you have taken the test.

This covers everything you need to know about the DAT exams. For further information here you can refer to the 2020 Dental Admission Test guide here. Remember to give yourself enough time to prepare and don’t forget to practice, practice, and practice some more!

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