DAT Sections Breakdown: Times & Scores

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Written by John Reed
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The DAT tests a wide variety of subjects, ranging all the way from Biology to Mathematics. 

As well you are required to possess various skills, which will largely determine your success not only as a dental student but even as a dentist.

So as challenging as some sections may seem, apply yourself and attempt to understand the information therein because a simple concept could be the one thing standing between you and the dental school of your dreams. 

Let’s take a look at exactly what you can expect from each of the DAT sections, shall we? 

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Quick Summary

Exam Section

No. Of Questions

Time Length

Tutorial (optional)

--

15 Minutes

Survey of Natural Sciences

• Biology
• General Chemistry
• Organic Chemistry

100 Qns.

90 Minutes

Perceptual Ability Test

90 Qns.

60 Minutes

Scheduled Break (optional)

-

30 Minutes

Reading Comprehension

50 Qns.

60 Minutes

Quantitative Reasoning

40 Qns.

45 Minutes

Post-Test Survey (optional)

--

15 Minutes

TOTAL EXAM

280 Qns.

5 Hrs. 15 Min.

What Are The DAT Sections?

The Dental Admission Test comprises 4 sections, namely:

  1. Survey Of Natural Sciences
  2. Perceptual Ability Test
  3. Reading Comprehension
  4. Quantitative Reasoning

The Survey of Natural Sciences section contains 3 subtests: Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry. So in essence, the entire DAT test can be considered to have 6 sections in total.

Each of the 6 DAT sections is scored out of 30, and these sectional scores are then combined into the Academic Average that accounts for a student’s DAT score.

The true purpose of the DAT exam is to measure a student’s ability to think critically and apply concepts to different contexts. So let’s see how that is done in each of the DAT sections, shall we?

1. Survey Of Natural Sciences

Also known as SNS, this is the first section of the DAT, and test-takers have 90 minutes to work on the 100 questions present in this science section.

The section itself contains 3 subtests: Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry, and the 100 science questions are distributed amongst these 3 subjects.

a) Biology

This is the first part of the SNS section, and there are 40 Biology questions on the exam: Qn 1 – 40. 

The Biology topics tested in the DAT exam are:

  • Cell and Molecular Biology – 25%
  • Structure and Function of Systems – 25%
  • Genetics – 20%
  • Developmental Biology – 11%
  • Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior – 11%
  • Diversity of Life – 8%

The scope of material covered in DAT bIology is quite vast, so the first thing you should keep in mind is not to get lost spending too much time on the details. 

The questions asked are pretty integrated, so you would need to learn the interaction between biological systems, rather than learning a biological concept in isolation.

Firstly, having a strong understanding of the basic fundamentals will make it easier for you to answer direct questions related to various concepts.

Besides that, you would also need to learn how to answer questions requiring you to make inferences or conclusions based on connections between those core concepts.

It is recommended that you spend 20 minutes on the 40 Biology questions, which translates into 30 seconds for each question.

b) General Chemistry

This is the second part of the SNS section, and there are 30 General Chemistry questions on the exam: Qn 41 – 70.

For this section, you need to have a good understanding of both theoretical concepts and practical mathematical applications of various inorganic Chemistry concepts such as thermochemistry, states of matter, stoichiometry, kinetic, etc.

A calculator will not be provided for this section during the exam, and so one of the skills you need to develop is how to manually do the necessary calculations quickly and accurately.

Rather than purely focusing on how to perform each mathematical step, though, try to understand what each variable represents, what are the implied proportionalities, and what truly are the reasons behind those relationships.

This conceptual understanding will not only help you answer questions correctly, but will also make it easier for you to memorize equations and commit them to memory. 

The General Chemistry topics tested in the DAT exam are:

  • Stoichiometry and General Concepts – 10%
  • Atomic and Molecular Structure – 10%
  • Liquids and Solids – 10%
  • Solutions – 10%
  • Acids and Bases – 10%
  • Thermodynamics and Thermochemistry – 7%
  • Oxidation-Reduction Reactions – 7%
  • Chemical Kinetics – 7%
  • Periodic Properties – 7%
  • Laboratory – 7%
  • Gases – 6%
  • Chemical Equilibria – 6%
  • Nuclear Reactions – 3%

On the DAT, every single question carries the exact same value regardless of its difficulty level, and that also applies to the General Chemistry section.

As such, it is important to manage your time wisely so you do not end up getting too engrossed in time-consuming questions. 

It is recommended you spend 37 minutes working on the 30 General Chemistry questions.

Should time run out, it is much better to have spent 2 minutes answering 4 questions correctly rather than having spent 3 minutes on a single question. So time management is particularly important for this section.

c) Organic Chemistry

This is the last part of the SNS section, and there are 30 Organic Chemistry questions on the exam: Qn 71 – 100.

DAT Organic Chemistry doesn’t require you to have many reactions and mechanisms memorized. Rather, you simply need to have a conceptual understanding of the content tested.

The Organic Chemistry topics tested in the DAT exam are:

  • Individual Reactions of the Major Functional Groups and Combinations of Reactions to Synthesize Compounds – 30%
  • Chemical and Physical Properties of Molecules – 17%
  • Mechanisms – 17%
  • Aromatics and Bonding – 10%
  • Acid Base Chemistry – 10%
  • Stereochemistry – 10%
  • Nomenclature – 6%

At first, the Organic Chemistry content tested on the DAT may appear to be very different from what you studied.

That is because the nature of this exam places more focus on generalizations, patterns, and critical thinking, rather than brute memorization. So it may seem difficult to grasp at first, but with time, you will find that this is actually a much easier way to learn.

Make a point of studying concepts, rather than memorizing a long list of specific reactions. 

When you need to apply memorization, though, focus on the general types of reactions for each functional group, rather than on individual reactions.

It is recommended that you spend 30 minutes on the 30 Organic Chemistry questions, which translates into 60 seconds for each question.

After spending 40 minutes on Biology, 37 on General Chemistry, and 30 on Organic Chemistry, you can then have 3 minutes to spend reviewing any questions you skipped or marked in the SNS section, before moving on to the next DAT section. 

2. Perceptual Ability Test

DAT Perceptual Ability Test

Also known as PAT, this is the second section of the DAT, and test-takers have 60 minutes to work on the 90 questions in this section. 

The section itself  consists of 6 subsections, namely:

a) Keyholes / Apertures

b) Top-Front-End / View Recognition.

c) Angle Ranking / Angle Discrimination.

d) Hole Punching / Paper Folding

e) Cube Counting

f) Paper Folding / 3D Form Development

The 90 PAT questions are distributed evenly across these 6 subsections, so you have 15 questions in each subsection.

For most students, this is one of the most challenging sections in the DAT.

The PAT section is designed to test your spatial visualization skills, including your ability to interpret 2D and 3D representations of objects. 

Although challenging, you will find yourself constantly applying this skill not only in dental school but also in your dental career.

From constructing mental images of teeth from X-rays, to dealing with casts and fillings, there are numerous occasions where you will have to apply these spatial visualization skills, and so the sooner you master that, the better off you will be. 

3. Reading Comprehension

This is the third section of the DAT, and the section comes in the form of 3 passages, each containing 16 – 17 questions to give you a total of 50 questions.

Test-takers have 60 minutes to work on the 50 Reading Comprehension test questions, so you have about 20 minutes to spend on each passage. 

The science-based passages in this section are generally obtained from published works and the idea is to test your ability to read, understand and analyze scientific texts. 

As such, it is important that you become familiar with the vocabulary and format of such texts, while also training yourself to figure out the author’s tone. Is the author trying to speculate, persuade, or simply inform the reader? 

Not only that, but you also need to familiarize yourself with the various types of Reading Comprehension questions that may appear on the exam. 

a) Global Questions

These assess your general understanding of the passage as a whole. You may be required to identify the passage’s main idea, thesis, or conclusion.

b) Detail Questions

Being the most common type of question asked in this section, you may be asked to provide clarification on specific statements in the passage.

c) Tone Questions

These ask about the author’s bias, and you are required to infer whether the author makes their argument based on scientific evidence and anecdotes or whether their arguments are subjective or objective.

d) Function Questions

These require you to evaluate the author’s arguments so you can explain how certain information was presented or why certain bits of information were included in the text. 

e) Inference Questions

These test your ability to deduce meaning and draw conclusions from a passage.

f) Title Of The Text Questions

These questions will ask you to decide on which would be a befitting title for the passage or even a single paragraph within the passage. 

4. Quantitative Reasoning

This is the fourth and last section of the DAT, and test-takers have 45 minutes to work on the 40 Quantitative Reasoning test questions.

This section is designed to test your proficiency in mathematics, as well as assess your problem-solving skills. 

The content tested in this section includes:

  • Data Analysis, Interpretation, and Sufficiency – 35%
  • Applied Mathematics – 25%
  • Algebra – 22%
  • Probability and Statistics – 10%
  • Quantitative Comparison – 8%

In the QR section, you will have 30 questions on mathematics, and 10 questions based on applied mathematics or rather, word problems. 

Unlike the Survey of Natural Sciences section, you will be provided with a basic calculator for the Quantitative Reasoning section. This will appear on the computer screen at your testing center. 

Nevertheless, students are often advised to get good at making numerical calculations manually as this will save you plenty of time, as opposed to if you decided to use the provided calculator, which is pretty time-consuming.

Besides, you are expected to get through the SNS section without a calculator so developing the ability to manually do calculations fast and accurately will overall prove to be helpful in the DAT exam.

You have slightly over 60 seconds to work on each question, so it is important to develop your time management skills by taking plenty of practice tests prior to the actual exam. 

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This is the best bang for your buck when it comes to premium DAT prep programs.

Pros

The best PAT section content in the industry.

Representative practice tests that are close to the real thing.

Beautifully illustrated videos that get right to the point.

Cons

No mobile app available

Use code at checkout: TESTPREPPAL

DAT Test Sections By Score

Every dental student knows that you will need to know which DAT scores to obtain in each section, to give you a competitive chance at getting into the various dental schools. 

Here are the 2021 cumulative percentile distributions as computed by the American Dental Association, which is the body that administers and regulates the DAT exam. 

50th Percentile Score

75th Percentile Score

90th Percentile Score

Survey of Natural Sciences

17.5

20

22

• Biology

17.5

20

22

• General Chemistry

18

20

23

• Organic Chemistry

17.5

20

23

Perceptual Ability Test

18.5

20.5

22.5

Reading Comprehension

19.5

22

24.5

Quantitative Reasoning

17.5

20

23

Academic Average

18

20.5

22

FAQs About DAT Sections

How Many Questions Are On The DAT?

There are 280 multiple-choice questions on the DAT exam.

What Is The Hardest DAT Section?

The hardest DAT section, according to a majority of test-takers, seems to be the perceptual ability test section.

This is because perceptual ability isn’t necessarily something you study. Rather, it is a skill you either possess inherently or must work hard to develop. 

If you struggle with the PAT section of the DAT, you can overcome this by working on lots of practice questions, which will help you gradually develop your visualization skills.

You may also consider getting some handy strategies from the various DAT prep courses available.

Are DAT Sections Multiple Choice?

Yes, DAT sections are multiple choice.

This is a great thing because even when you cannot figure out the correct answer, you can work your way backward by eliminating the wrong answers and gambling with the remaining answer choices.

There is no penalty for guessing on the DAT exam. So if you ever are truly in a bind, simply guess and move on to the next questions. Try not to leave any questions unanswered.

Categories DAT
John Reed
The chief editor of TestPrepPal.com. I am an alumni of the university of Pennsylvania and my goal with the website is to help future graduates with their tests.

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