What is the DAT Exam? When Should I Take it & How Is It Scored



If you have made up your mind to pursue a career as a dentist, you will need to fulfill several prerequisites to qualify to study dentistry. One such requirement is taking the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which assesses your academic aptitude and scientific knowledge. It is essential to understand the DAT thoroughly to ensure you take the necessary steps to ace the exam and get into your desired dental program. In this article, we will provide you with all the essential details regarding the DAT exam. For more information about DAT registration, preparation, and scores, please go to the ADA’s site.

What is the DAT?

The DAT is a standardized exam used as a benchmark to evaluate candidates' potential to excel in dental school. The four-hour test consists of several sections that assess your aptitude for problem-solving, critical thinking, and scientific knowledge. The DAT's objective is to test your scientific comprehension and critical thinking abilities in subjects such as biology, chemistry, and mathematics.

What does the DAT cover?

The DAT comprises four primary sections: natural sciences, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning. Various scientific ideas, such as biology, and chemistry, are covered in the natural sciences section.

Biology (40 items)

Cell and Molecular Biology: cell metabolism (including photosynthesis, enzymology), cellular processes (including
membrane transport, signal transduction), thermodynamics, mitosis/meiosis, cell structure and function, experimental
cell biology, biomolecules, and integrated relationships
• Diversity of Life: viruses, Archaebacteria, Eubacteria, Fungi, Protista, Plantae, Animalia, and integrated relationships
• Structure and Function of Systems: integumentary, skeletal, muscular, circulatory, lymphatic/immune, digestive,
respiratory, urinary, nervous/sensory, endocrine, reproductive, and integrated relationships
• Genetics: molecular genetics, human genetics, classical genetics, chromosomal genetics, genetic technology,
developmental mechanisms, genomics, gene expression, epigenetics, and integrated relationships
• Evolution and Ecology: natural selection, population genetics/speciation, animal behavior, ecology (population,
community, and ecosystem ecology), and integrated relationships

General Chemistry (30 items)

• Stoichiometry and General Concepts: percent composition, empirical formulae, balancing equations, moles and
molecular formulas, molar mass, density, and calculations from balanced equations
• Gases: kinetic molecular theory of gases, Dalton’s, Boyle’s, Charles’s, and ideal gas law
• Liquids and Solids: intermolecular forces, phase changes, vapor pressure, structures, polarity, and properties
• Solutions: polarity, properties (colligative, noncolligative), forces, and concentration calculations
• Acids and Bases: pH, strength, Brønsted-Lowry reactions, and calculations
Chemical Equilibria: molecular, acid/base, precipitation, calculations, and Le Chatelier’s principle
• Thermodynamics and Thermochemistry: laws of thermodynamics, Hess’s law, spontaneity, enthalpies and entropies,
and heat transfer
• Chemical Kinetics: rate laws, activation energy, and half-life
Oxidation-Reduction Reactions: balancing equations, determination of oxidation numbers, electrochemical
calculations, and electrochemical concepts and terminology
• Atomic and Molecular Structure: electron configuration, orbital types, Lewis-Dot diagrams, atomic theory, quantum
theory, molecular geometry, bond types, and sub-atomic particles
• Periodic Properties: representative elements, transition elements, periodic trends, and descriptive chemistry
• Nuclear Reactions: balancing equations, binding energy, decay processes, particles, and terminology
• Laboratory: basic techniques, equipment, error analysis, safety, and data analysis

Organic Chemistry (30 items)

• Mechanisms: Energetics and Structure - elimination, addition, free radical, substitution mechanisms, and other
mechanisms and reactions
• Chemical and Physical Properties of Molecules: Spectroscopy (1H NMR, 13C NMR, infrared, and multi-spectra),
structure (polarity, intermolecular forces (solubility, melting/ boiling point, etc.), and laboratory theory and techniques
(TLC, separations, etc.)
• Stereochemistry (structure evaluation): Chirality, isomer relationships, and conformations
• Nomenclature: IUPAC rules and functional groups in molecules
• Individual Reactions of the Major Functional Groups and Combinations of Reactions to Synthesize Compounds:
Alkene/alkyne, aromatic, substitution/elimination, aldehyde/ketone, carboxylic acids and derivatives, and other. For each area listed above, the following sub-areas apply: general, one-step, and multi-step

Perceptual Ability (90 Items)

The Perceptual Ability Test is comprised of six subtests that assess the candidate’s ability to accurately perceive object
dimensions and mentally manipulate objects in space. This includes, for example, the ability to differentiate among angles,
or imagine how three-dimensional objects appear when viewed from different angles.The perceptual ability section is centered on testing candidates' spatial awareness and visual acuity, and it features problem-solving questions designed to assess mental rotation, cube counting, and pattern folding, among other things.

Reading Comprehension (50 items)

The Reading Comprehension Test contains three reading passages on various scientific topics. Prior understanding of
the science topics is not a prerequisite to answering the test items. The reading passages require the ability to read,
comprehend, and thoroughly analyze basic scientific information

Quantitative Reasoning (40 items)

• Mathematical Problems: algebra (equations and expressions, inequalities, exponential notation, absolute value,
ratios and proportions, and graphical analysis); Data Analysis, Interpretation, and Sufficiency; Quantitative
Comparison; and Probability and Statistics

How is the DAT scored?

How is the DAT Academic Average score determined?

The Academic Average is the rounded average of a candidate’s scale scores in Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Quantitative Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension


How is the DAT Total Science score determined?

 The Total Science scale score is based on a candidate’s performance on the Survey of Natural Sciences section. The Total Science score is NOT the rounded average of a candidate’s scale scores in Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry.


Does the DAT contain unscored questions?

Yes. A small number of questions on the test are experimental and are not scored. The data collected on unscored questions may be used in later test construction procedures, to ensure that these questions are appropriate before they become scored items. Unscored questions are presented in the same manner as scored questions


 How are DAT results reported? 

DAT results are reported as scale scores. Scale scores are neither raw scores (i.e., the number of questions answered correctly) nor percentiles. DAT scores range from 1 to 30. A scale score of 19 typically signifies average performance on a national basis.

What is the ideal time to take the DAT?

It is important to take the DAT at the right time to increase your chances of getting into the dental school of your choice.

The ideal time to take the DAT is during the summer before your application year. This gives you ample time to prepare for the exam and also allows you to retake it if needed before the application deadlines. Most dental schools have rolling admissions, which means that the earlier you submit your application, the better your chances of securing a spot. Therefore, taking the exam early can increase your chances of getting accepted to your preferred dental school.

It is recommended to take the DAT only after you have had significant coursework in biology, general and organic chemistry,  This ensures that you have a strong foundation in these subjects and are well-prepared for the exam. Additionally, it is important to take the exam when you are well-rested and have no distractions, as the exam is lengthy and requires your full attention.

In summary, taking the DAT in the summer before your application year, after sufficient coursework in relevant subjects, and when you are well-prepared and focused, can maximize your chances of getting accepted to dental school.

Get ahead in your dental school applications by taking the DAT early. Most dental schools recommend taking the exam during your junior year of college or at least one year before the admissions deadline. However, if you want to maximize your scores, why not consider taking the DAT before your junior year or even during the summer? Start preparing early and give yourself an advantage in the admissions process.

Don't take the DAT exam until you're fully prepared. Aim to pass it on your first try and avoid the need for a retake.

 How can students prepare for the DAT?

One of the most important factors when preparing for the DAT is time management. You should plan your study routine well in advance and commit to it consistently. Online DAT prep courses, study guides, and exam practice resources, are great tools that can help you successfully prepare and give you an insight into what to expect on test day. Solidify your subject knowledge by working through textbooks, practice questions, Because time management is key, ensure that you work through practice tests timed to mimic the exam format, which will help you to familiarize yourself with the kinds of questions that are typically posed.


The Dental Admission Test represents a crucial step that aspiring dentists must take in their journey to attain the skills and knowledge necessary for a career in dentistry. Preparing thoroughly and well in advance is essential to achieve the scores required to be accepted into a dental program. Take time to develop a solid study routine that includes perusing books, taking exams, and reviewing online resources. Ensure that you remain self-disciplined and committed to your study plan, and you'll reap the rewards in the long run.

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