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How the DAT Works

DAT Content

The DAT is multiple choice and computer-based. It has four distinct sections, each with its own time constraint and purpose (sample questions are from the ADA guide):

Natural Sciences

The natural sciences section is the most substantial. Test takers have 90 minutes to answer 100 questions in three areas: biology, organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry. Sample question:

An enzyme is added to an aqueous solution of ATP, DNA, albumen, fat and glycogen; the reaction mixture is incubated for 10 minutes. If an analysis of the mixture reveals the presence of all of the above compounds plus glucose, it can be concluded that the enzyme hydrolyzed some of the:

A. albumen

B. fat

C. glycogen



Quantitative Reasoning

This section tests several math concepts, including algebra, geometry, word problems, geometry and basic skills. Its 40 questions must be completed in 45 minutes. Sample question:

Evaluate the expression 5 x 10-3 x 3 x 107.

A. 1.5 x 10-10

B. 1.5 x 10-4

C. 1.5 x 104

D. 1.5 x 105

E. 1.5 x 1010

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension involves reading a passage from a scientific essay and answering questions about its content. This section tests the ability understand language, and it asks the test taker to interpret tone, analyze information, pick out the main idea and put ideas in context. There are 50 questions to complete in 60 minutes.

Perceptual Ability

Perceptual ability is also known as spatial reasoning. It tests the ability to perceive in three dimensions, discriminate different angles and viewpoints, and see shapes within shapes, among other space-oriented skills. This section requires completing 90 questions in 60 minutes.

The end result is one score for each section. Those four scores are then combined in various ways to get the eight DAT scores that schools look at when considering a candidate:

  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Perceptual Ability
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Total Science
  • Academic Average

Each score is a number between 1 and 30. There's no absolute minimum score for admission to a dental program. Academic Average scores of accepted students range from 16 to 24 at different schools [source: DSB]. In general, a score over 19 is believed to give a candidate a pretty good chance of getting in.

But the average DAT score is 18 [source: PsychometricSuccess]. So the question is, how can a candidate break through the average to become a noteworthy candidate?

The answer is, prepare, prepare, prepare.