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[ANSWERED] How Hard is the DAT Really?

The Dental Admission Test (DAT), like any other standardized exam, isn’t easy and requires preparation.

But just like with anything in life, if you put in the work, you can definitely succeed.

Fortunately, there are courses you can take to increase your chances of getting a great score on the DAT.

But, how hard is the DAT really?

We try our best to answer that question in the following lines.

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How hard is the DAT?

No one I know, myself included, can give you a straight answer when it comes to this question. Why?

Because we are all different. And what I term as difficult, can be extremely easy for you and vice versa.

But in some cases, we can share the same opinion, and that will count.

So if I tell you DAT isn’t hard, and you decide only to study for a few days before the test, chances are you will probably not going to pass it. It’s simple as that.

But if you adopt a thorough review schedule for a couple of weeks, you’re likely to get a high score.

Therefore, from these two scenarios, I can say that the difficulty of the DAT depends on your past and present capabilities.

Past because if, for instance, you have always been good in sciences, then mastering concepts will be easy and fast. So, you wouldn’t have a problem passing the test. And the vice versa is true.

Present because the examination trends of the DAT change from year to year. So, you need to be well prepared.

Some students argue that it really isn’t the test that’s hard, but the grading that complicates everything.

And I find some truth in this argument because sometimes you might know the answers to most of the questions, but a few wrong answers will significantly affect your score.

So, the secret lies in trying to be as perfect as possible. That’s why you should focus on thoroughly reviewing the prep materials and understand the correct way to approach questions.

The best part is that some questions are general, so you can at least try to figure out the answers.

But they aren’t that easy to allow you to guess the answers from your basic knowledge. And that’s the essence of the test, right? To teach you that nothing comes easy in life!

There are also a lot of tricky questions, which you must get right for a high score.

Think of it like this; if you want to score 20+, then you only have a chance to wrong 2-3 questions.  And although this depends on the general difficultness of the test, you shouldn’t aim for less.

So, keep this in mind in your study plan.

If you are lucky, the scaling might favor you even with several wrong answers, and you manage a score of 17-19.

Also, it’s important to remain open-minded. Remember, no matter how smart you study, there’s always room for surprises. Some questions might just hit you below the belt, and there’s really nothing you can do but pray for a non-linear scaling.

So, the best thing you can do for yourself is study as hard as you can to help you gain the confidence to face the test. That way, it would be easy to face whatever question that comes your way, with the mind of a winner.

The truth is, sometimes, it’s the fear of being inadequately prepared that keeps screaming at you, “how hard the DAT test is!”

How to Study for the DAT

First, understand that you can’t properly study for something you don’t understand.

  • Know the DAT Sections

The DAT comprises of four major sections. And they include;

  1. Survey of the Natural sciences
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Biology
  1. Perpetual ability
  • Quantitative reasoning
  1. Reading comprehension

Take time to go through each section and know what will be expected of you on examination day.

Which section is the toughest?

Knowing this will help you come up with a realistic study schedule.

  • Select the Correct Review Materials

You should always have a primary test preparation material. This can be in the form of books (check our top DAT review books) or courses.

I know the current marketplace is filled with various options. But you don’t have to purchase everything you lay your eyes on.

I have given great suggestions in the previous article on the “DAT study schedule for 2 months“, so have a look and see which resource works out for you.

Personally, I think you can’t go wrong with the Princeton Review course. They are running a time-limited discount now, check it out here.

Once you select the main review material, you can now pair it up with one or two more resources, and you will be good to go.

Remember, the type of study material you select should match your needs. For example, if you don’t have much time left before the exam, a material without a lot of unnecessary details makes the perfect pick.

Also, if you’re always out and about, you can add Flashcards to your list of resources, so that you can review the concepts anywhere, anytime.

  • Work on Your Time-Management Skills

Whether you like it or not, you will have to take your test within the designated time or risk leaving some questions unanswered, which could negatively impact your score.

So, whenever you take a full-length practice test, ensure to take it in one sitting and time yourself.

Remember, in the actual exam; you will have around 4 hours 30 minutes to answer the questions. Ensure you can comfortably answer everything within this time before exam day.

In fact, your focus should be to have around 10 minutes left before the end of the exam.

As you practice, you will realize the sections that drag you behind, and you will know how to work to go about it.

  • Eat and Drink Healthy

Ever heard the phrase “water is life?” it’s time to take it seriously if you haven’t been before.

Water helps with the circulation of blood, and that’s important in keeping both your body and mind working.

Have a bottle of water on your study table for easy access now and then.

Also, try as much as possible to prepare your meals at home. If you must order, then let go of the junk list.

Green vegetables, whole grains, and natural protein will do you some good.

For snacks, consider nuts, natural yogurt, and fruits.

Remember, to be productive; you must feed your system healthily.

That’s it for now. For comprehensive coverage on how to study for DAT, check out our 2-months study plan article.

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Things to Know Before Passing the DAT

  • The DAT Score

Your DAT score will be an average of the sections’ score. And they all range from a scale of 1-30. With 1 being the lowest and 30 the highest.

So this will include your results from the General Chem section, Organic Chem, Biology, Quantitative Reasoning, Perceptual Ability, and Reading Comprehension.

The Canadian DAT is, however, scored differently, so research on to prepare adequately.

  • Your DAT Results            

You won’t access your official results immediately after the test. Instead, you will be given a preliminary result, which you can’t use to apply for admission to dental school.

The official results will become available in 3-4 weeks. And once they’re out, copies will be sent to the dental schools you had selected in your application.

If, by any chance, you want to add schools to the earlier-on list, then you will be charged $36 for each school.

That’s why it’s important to conduct thorough research and come up with a full list of dental schools you want to join before submitting your application.

Well, not unless you don’t mind spending extra bucks later.

  • DAT Retake

If, by chance, you don’t score as expected in the DAT, you will have a chance to retake the test.

In fact, you can take up to three tests without seeking permission from the ADA.  But from the 4th retake upward, you will have to apply to the ADA for permission.

  • DAT timed exam?

Being a computer-based test, the DAT is timed and usually takes 4 hours 15 minutes. You can also use the extra 15 minutes (meant for a tutorial at the start).

Some individuals choose to forgo the 15 minutes break, which I advise against.

Your mind requires refreshing, and that could make you more productive in the subsequent sections.

  • The Scope of DAT material

As already mentioned earlier, the DAT comprises four sections.

The Survey of Natural sciences contains 100 questions; 40-Biology, 30-organic Chem, 30-General Chem.

Perceptual Ability contains 90 questions, the Reading Comprehension 60 questions, and Quantitative Reasons 40 questions.

You will have to perform well in all sections for a good average final score.

A poor score in one section can greatly impact your results, so try to balance as much as possible.

No section should be overlooked.

What to do the day before DAT?

By the time you get to the day before the DAT, you must have invested hundreds of hours in your studies over the last couple of weeks or even months.

So, you basically shouldn’t be worried about understanding various terminologies or concepts.

But that doesn’t mean you approach the test day without a plan. Below are some useful ways you can strategically and knowledgeably spend your day;

  • Confirm all the DAT testing Details

Spare an hour or 30 minutes of your time to visit the DAT website to jog your memory on various exam-day rules and regulations.

Sometimes you might be assuming that you remember everything only to forget a minor detail on test-taking day. And that can mess up your day.

Go through the list of all the prohibited items and ensure to remove them from your backpack. It’s always good to stay informed so that you can do everything rightly, from the start.

  • Pack Wisely

The day before your exam is the best time to pack everything you will need the following day.

Just like the list of prohibited items, there’s also a list of required items (optional and mandatory).

Pack the mandatory items separately from the optional ones. This way, it will be easy for you to access them whenever necessary.

Also, remember to pack your personal hygiene products.

Don’t forget to pack some food/snacks. Remember to carry healthy snacks to help you restore energy.

Yes, water is necessary and so cereals, but they alone can’t boost your energy levels. A glass of fresh orange juice, for example, will do wonders.

  • No Practice Tests

No matter how tempting it might get, don’t take any full-length practice test the day before the DAT.  You might panic and perform poorly, which will affect your stamina the next day.

Instead, if you must study. Go through your Flashcards and notebook to master a few concepts here and there.  Though I don’t advise students to do this, it might be necessary, especially if yours is a short memory, and you tend to forget ideas learned in the earlier weeks pretty fast.

But, this should be in the morning hours.

  • Relax

You have been studying a lot for weeks, and it’s only fair that you rest to re-energize your body and mind just before the actual test.

Use the time on that leisure activity you love so much but haven’t been able to engage in lately, due to your tight schedule.

It could be that favorite TV show, a sport or social activity.

Anything that helps to get your mind off the DAT should be welcome.

You can also spend time with family and friends, but only if they ooze positive energy.

Stay away from anything/anyone with a touch of negativity.

  • Sleep Early

Talking of relaxing, I don’t mean you stay up late chatting, drinking, and watching.

Instead, ensure you take diner pretty early than usual, take a lengthy shower and head straight to bed.

A good night’s sleep will ensure you wake up fresh and rejuvenated on exam day.

And that also means sleeping in a comfortable place. The last thing you want is to suffer from a painful neck or back as you tackle the questions.

  • Eat Healthily

This might not make sense to you, but what you feed on a day before the test has a great impact on your next day’s level of concentration.

If you take alcohol, for example, you will have to deal with a hang-over. And fatty food will leave you feeling like a zombie.

A light diner full of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats will come in handy.

Also, remember to shop for snacks and ingredients for a heavy healthy breakfast. You need all the energy you can get to smash that “monster.”

How hard is the DAT vs. MCAT?

Technically speaking, MCAT is considered harder than the DAT because it accommodates the Physics section and has a lot of science-based passage questions.

But then, DAT does have a more complex biology section that you can’t find in MCAT.

Also, the Perceptual Ability section in DAT is a bit difficult to comprehend for most individuals.

That said, the primary reason as to why I am saying DAT is easier than MCAT is because dental schools are averagely less competitive than Medical schools.

And this means that it’s easy for dental students to receive higher percentiles as opposed to their medical counterparts.

That isn’t to say that DAT is easy, and you don’t have to study to score highly. On the contrary, if you want to secure admission in a top dental school of your choice, then you must work hard and earn it. No other way around it.

Also, as far as the test preparation time is concerned in both DAT and MCAT, it all depends on how good you’re in the sciences.

If your background is great, then you can master the crucial content within a matter of 2-3 weeks. And if not, then months would do.  What matters are the end results.

So, as you can see, you simply have to work hard and smart in both DAT and MCAT.

If, for instance, you’re good in physics than biology, then you might find MCAT a bit lenient for you, and the vice versa can be true.

What I don’t want to buy, however, is the common assumption that people usually have. Like for instance, it’s easy for students who performed poorly in MCAT to score highly in DAT.

This isn’t true, as many dental school students also wouldn’t have a problem getting into medical school, were it not for a matter of preference.

So, if you want to join either medical or dental school, base your decision on your passion and not merely on how difficult the tests are.

If you want to pass DAT so badly, then you can work hard and earn a great score. And at the end of it, everything will be worth it.

FAQs About How Hard is The DAT

How hard is it to get a 20 on the DAT?

When it comes to DAT, the little mistakes can cause your score to drop gradually. For example, getting 2-3 questions wrong can get you a score of 16 down from 20.

So, it’s usually difficult for students to balance their scores throughout the four sections.

That’s why it’s important to get mentally disciplined before sitting for the exam to avoiding making silly mistakes. Memorizing is key.

If you get a question wrong in your practice tests, review to find out why and avoid making the same mistake more than twice.

What is a good score on the DAT?

An average score in DAT is around 17 in each section, which will give you the 50th percentile.

So, a good score has to be above that and be around the 70th percentile for most competitive dental schools.

To be on the safer side, however, ensure to evenly distribute your scores across all sections, as most schools find this attractive.

Also, don’t forget to check the admission requirements for most schools. They all aren’t the same.

How many times can you take the DAT?

When it comes to DAT, you can only take it three times, without seeking special permission from DAT. And for this, you’ve to wait for at least 90 days.

If you have to retake the test more than 3 times, then you’ve to apply for permission from DAT.


DAT might not be as easy as those nursery tunes, but it isn’t impossible to crack either. All you need is a strategy to help you study adequately, and you can confidently face the test.

Also, the level of difficulty one experiences during their test prep and actual exam depends on how good they’re in sciences.

For example, an awesome science background will make it easy for you to understand concepts and vice versa.

But whichever group you belong to, you stand an equal passing chance with resilience and dedication.

So, because of this, I can say DAT is doable for any passionate dental student.

Does this sound like you? If yes, go out there and smash it!

Categories DAT
John Reed
My name is John Reed and I am the chief editor of TestPrepPal.com. I am alumni of university of of Pennsylvania and want to help future graduates with their tests.

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