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2018 DAT Guide

DAT Overview

The exam is required by all dental programs and should not be taken lightly. While admissions offices will look at many factors, this exam will be one of the most heavily weighted. Your GPA scores are relative – amount of times a class is taken, how many credits the college/ university decides the course is worth, etc. The DAT, on the other hand, is scaled so that the scores are representative of how you did against everyone else taking it.

When to Take the DAT

If this exam is so important, how long should you prepare? When should you take it?

You will need to take the DAT at least a year prior to your projected dental school start date. Generally, students will take the exam after their junior year of college. That being said, most students will have completed the prerequisite courses in biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry by the end of their sophomore year. It wouldn’t be difficult to take it during the summer between sophomore and junior year, right? That doesn’t mean you should.

While that timeline will give you the ability to easily retake the exam if need be, this test has the ability to keep you out of dental school and you shouldn’t take this exam unless you are seriously prepared for it. In order to prepare, though, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into.

What is on the DAT

*Please note that sections/subsections are listed by their official name in the image. Many sections or subsections are better known by a different name; these will be listed in the description.

The subject matter may be difficult, but math and science aren’t necessarily too hard to study for. You’ve been taught these subjects on some level your entire academic career and a lot of the content can be memorized. The Reading Comprehension and Perceptual Ability sections are a little different. The only way to study for these is through practice.

Reading Comprehension

The passages in the Reading Comprehension section often have difficult language and complicated subject matter. While they don’t require previous knowledge of the subject, they do require a thorough understanding of the passage in a limited amount of time. Practice may not make perfect, but it is certainly going to make things a lot easier come test day.

You will face three passages covering a variety of science related topics. This section was designed to test your “ability to read, comprehend, and thoroughly analyze basic scientific information”.

Perceptual Ability

This section requires a little more…everything. There are six sub-tests within this section, listed in the image above. Some seem pretty straightforward; others may need a little further explanation.

As the name of this section suggests, all of the sub-tests are about perception. You are shown something and asked to determine how it will look or act in a hypothetical situation. Visualization is key for this section as is practice. Perception isn’t something you can learn through study; it’s something you learn through practice.


Apertures are better known as Keyhole questions. You are shown a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object to the left of five outlines of apertures or openings. Your task is to determine which aperture, or keyhole, the object would fit through. There is only one correct answer for each of these questions.


*question stem from Next Step’s free full-length DAT diagnostic

View Recognition

View Recognition, known as Top-Front-End, questions are a little different. You are once again shown a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object, this time with hidden edges shown as well. There will be three views of the object:

  1. The TOP VIEW; the view you would have looking down on the object. This will be shown in the top left corner of the image.
  2. The FRONT VIEW; the view you would have looking at the front of the object. This will be shown in the bottom left corner of the image.
  3. The END VIEW; the view you would have looking at the side, or end, of the object. This will be shown in the bottom right corner of the image.

You will be given two of the above views in the question and you will be asked to identify the third view from the four options/answers provided.


*question stem from Next Step’s free full-length DAT diagnostic

Angle Discrimination

In Angle Discrimination, better known as Angle Ranking, questions you will be shown four angles and asked to rank them from smallest to largest. That seems pretty straight forward, but viewing angles on paper can make it difficult to determine their size.


*question stem from Next Step’s free full-length DAT diagnostic

Paper Folding

Paper Folding is exactly how it sounds. The more commonly known name, Hole Punching, makes it a little more clear, though. You’ll be shown a sequence of images representing a piece of paper folded a number of times before a hole is punched into it. Your task is to mentally unfold the paper and determine where the holes would fall once the paper has been opened all the way. Each answer choice will show the same number and pattern of holes. They will each have a different set of holes filled black; you will need to determine which representation of filled black holes is correct.


*question stem from Next Step’s free full-length DAT diagnostic

Cube Counting

Cube Counting questions are the only ones without an alternative name. You will be doing exactly as the title suggests. You’ll be shown a figure comprised of several cubes stacked together. You are to imagine they’ve been cemented together and painted on all sides except the bottom they sit on. You’ll be asked how many cubes have a certain number of sides painted.


*question stem from Next Step’s free full-length DAT diagnostic

3D Form Development

3D Form Development, or Pattern Folding, questions show you a flat pattern to the left. This pattern will be folded into a three-dimensional figure. You will be asked to determine which of the four 3-D options given are the correct three dimensional representation of the two dimensional image.


*question stem from Next Step’s free full-length DAT diagnostic


Survey of Natural Sciences

This section consists of 100 questions covering the natural sciences: biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. The ADA is kind enough to provide students with the scope of material covered in this section. A brief breakdown of this is provided below, but you can view the entire scope of the DAT in the ADA’s DAT Guide.

Biology (40/100 questions):
  • Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Diversity of Life
  • Structure and Function of Systems
  • Developmental Biology
  • Genetics
  • Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior
General Chemistry (30/100 questions):
  • Stoichiometry and General Concepts
  • Gases
  • Liquids and Solids
  • Solutions
  • Acids and Bases
  • Chemical Equilibria
  • Thermodynamics and Thermochemistry
  • Chemical Kinetics
  • Oxidation-Reduction Reactions
  • Atomic and Molecular Structure
  • Periodic Properties
  • Nuclear Reactions
  • Laboratory

Organic Chemistry (30/100 questions):

  • Mechanisms
  • Chemical and Physical Properties of Molecules
  • Stereochemistry (structure evaluation)
  • Nomenclature
  • Individual Reactions of the Major Functional Groups and Combinations of Reactions to Synthesize Compounds
  • Acid-Base Chemistry
  • Aromatics and Bonding

Remember, these are just the overall topics covered within this section. To get an even deeper breakdown of the subtopics within each of the above listed topics, you will need to look at the ADA’s DAT Guide, which is a requirement to apply to take the DAT.

Quantitative Reasoning

This section consists of 40 mathematical questions, both mathematical problems and applied mathematics (word problems). You will be provided with a basic four-function calculator on-screen during this section of the exam.

You will be tested on the following mathematical topics:

  • Algebra
  • Data Analysis, Interpretation, and Sufficiency
  • Quantitative Comparison
  • Probability and Statistics

The ADA’s DAT Guide will provide some more information about the scope of this section.

How to Apply for the DAT

Unlike many other graduate school entrance exams, you are required to apply to take this exam by the ADA, the test-maker. To apply to sit for the DAT, you will need to:

  1. Acquire a DENTPIN®
  2. Read the ADA’s DAT Guide
  3. Apply to sit for the exam

How to Register for the DAT

As mentioned above, the DAT is unlike most other exams. Not just anyone can register to take the DAT; you are asked to apply to take the exam. You will need to follow the directions in the “How to Apply for the DAT” section above before you can complete this step.

If your application is accepted, you will receive an email with information from Prometrics, the company that administers the exam, with instructions for scheduling your exam. You will be eligible to test for 6 months after your application has been accepted, but you can only take the test one time for each application.

Your ID and your name must match exactly. Any changes you make to your information or your ID must be made at least two weeks prior to the test. You can reschedule your test appointment for a fee; the closer you get to the test date, the higher the fee.

DAT Fees

There are a variety of fees associated with the DAT exam. Everything from your prep materials to the exam to your travel will need to be included in your total calculation. This section will only cover the actual exam fees associated with the DAT exam.

DAT Exam Fee – $460

Rescheduling Fees –

1-5 days prior to scheduled exam – $100
6-30 days prior to scheduled exam – $60
31+ days prior to scheduled exam – $25

Score Report Fee* – $37 per report

Score Audit Fee (optional) – $65

*You have the option to include score reports to several schools when applying for the DAT. This fee applies to score report requests made after the application is submitted.

DAT Test Day

You are asked to arrive at the center at least 30 minutes prior to your test appointment to allow for check-in.  Two forms of ID will be required: a primary government issued ID and a secondary. The name on the ID and the name you entered on your application must match exactly or you won’t be allowed to test. During check-in, you will be asked to provide a biometric fingerprint scan and have your ID scanned for identification purposes.

You’ll be assigned a locker for your personal items, none of which will be allowed in the testing area; all you can have is your two forms of ID and your locker key. They are strict about this and will have you turn your pockets inside out before having you walk through a metal detector prior to entering the testing area. They will provide you with two laminated pieces of graph paper and low odor markers for use during the test. You can learn more about check-in procedures here.

There are rules of conduct you will be expected to follow; they are outlined in the DAT guide provided by the ADA.

The Test

Once you sit down for the exam, you will follow a schedule:

While you can’t bring a calculator in with you, a basic function calculator will be on screen during the Quantitative Reasoning section.

DAT Scoring

The DAT is scored on a scale from 1-30, but scores over 23 are rare. You are scored based on the number of questions you answer correctly, so answer as many as you can. Scores cannot be voided, but you can take the exam more than once. You simply have to wait 90 days to retake; there are no exceptions to this time frame. If you are questioning your results, you can have the test audited for a fee for 30 days after your test appointment.

Once you complete the exam on your test day, you will be provided with an unofficial score report. Your official scores will be released 3-4 weeks after your test date. If you test more than once, your most recent scores will be sent to the schools you chose.

Your score report may be confusing. It provides a variety of different scores including:

  • Your scaled score for each section of the exam out of 30
  • Your scaled score for each of the sciences covered in the Survey of Natural Sciences section (biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry) out of 30
  • Your Academic Average out of 30

While scores over 23 are rare, the average score is around 17. Your percentile ranking is determined by previous years’ scores, so it can fluctuate year to year, but 17 is typically the 50th percentile. A score of 19-20 is typically the 75th percentile and 22-23 is typically the 98th percentile. The score you want to aim for depends on the schools you are looking at.

Top Dental Schools

DAT Preparations

A test as important as the DAT should not be taken lightly. You need to make sure that you’re prepared. So, take all your prerequisites beforehand. Study for the science and the math and practice, practice, practice for the other two sections.

Ready to get started with the DAT? Next Step provides a free full-length DAT exam to be used as a diagnostic tool. Learn more and register here.

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