Dental Admissions Test (DAT) - Dental School Entrance Exam

Dental Admissions Test (DAT) - Dental School Entrance Exam
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Table of Contents

  1. What Is the Dental Admission Test?
  2. What Score Do You Need to Pass?
  3. How Difficult Is It?
  4. How Many Times Can You Take It?
  5. Does It Guarantee You a Spot in Dental School?
  6. References

The Dental Admissions Test, or DAT, is a standardized test intended to gauge how well a particular applicant will perform in dental school. The exam has 280 multiple-choice questions and takes a little more than five hours to complete. It measures participants’ knowledge of the natural sciences as well as their reading comprehension, perceptual ability and quantitative reasoning.  

Taking the DAT is one of the key requirements for gaining admittance to dental school in the United States. The higher your score, the more impressive your application.

The test is not pass-fail, so takers aim to gain as high a score as they can to improve their chances of getting into their preferred dental school. Test scores range from 0 to 30, and an applicant can take the exam up to three times to try to get improved scores.

However, a high DAT score does not guarantee acceptance to dental school. Many other factors, including several non-academic criteria, also have an impact on whether you will be granted a spot in a dental program.

What Is the Dental Admission Test? 

The Dental Admission Test is a standardized multiple-choice test administered by the American Dental Association, or ADA. It is commonly abbreviated as the DAT. It was introduced in 1945 as a way to assess the abilities of new dental school applicants across the country without relying solely on school records, since many applicants at that time were veterans whose records were years out of date.

Test day is broken up into five time blocks, including a 15-minute break midway through the exam. There are two other optional time blocks, a 15-minute tutorial before the test starts and a post-test survey. The exam itself is divided into four question sections:

  • Survey of Natural Sciences: 90 minutes, 100 questions about biology (40 questions), organic chemistry (30 questions) and general chemistry (30 questions)
  • Perceptual Ability: 60 minutes, 90 questions
  • Reading Comprehension: 60 minutes, 50 questions
  • Quantitative Reasoning: 45 minutes, 40 questions
The current version of the test takes 4 hours and 15 minutes to complete in total, not including two optional 30-minute breaks.

Each of the six sections is scored out of 30, then combined into the Academic Average (the mean, or average, of all of your scores). Some sections are given greater weight during the application process than others.

Applicants can take the DAT at designated testing centers located in major cities all over the US and Canada, but they must book their test date in advance. The ADA charges a non-refundable $495 fee to do this.

Prior to 2011, DAT scores were self-reported by each dental school applicant during the application process. Now, each applicant's scores are pulled directly from the ADA's Testing Services Center database when a transcript is issued, eliminating opportunities to misrepresent scores. The DAT testing fee includes the cost of sending up to 5 official transcripts to schools of your choice.

What Score Do You Need to Pass? 

An Academic Average score of 19 is considered to represent average performance and serves as the unofficial passing cut-off. Few to no candidates score a perfect 30. Most candidates who are successfully admitted to dental school apply with a score somewhere in between these two benchmarks. 

Also, the DAT uses scale scores, not raw scores or percentiles. Questions that are considered more difficult are scored differently than those that are easier, and some questions are not scored at all. 

Even if you know roughly how many answers you got right, it is impossible to predict what your score will be. It is recommended that test-takers focus on completing as many questions as possible to maximize their score, marking particularly difficult questions for review later in the testing period if time allows.

How Difficult Is the DAT? 

The DAT is a rigorous exam, but it is not intended to test advanced scientific knowledge. A relatively general understanding of scientific concepts is enough to score well. Still, some study will be required. The ADA recommends at least 3 to 4 months of study time.aspx) (200-250 hours in total) before you take the test, preferably with a buddy to help you. 

The true purpose of the test is to measure a candidate's ability to think critically and apply concepts to different contexts. This means that the best type of studying you can do is taking practice tests, which you can purchase directly from the ADA. The more you familiarize yourself with the types of questions being asked in this test, the better prepared you will be to answer them when you take the real exam. 

Average scores for each category of the DAT in 2019 were: 

  • Quantitative Reasoning: 17.93
  • Reading Comprehension: 20.77
  • Biology: 18.30
  • General Chemistry: 18.92
  • Organic Chemistry: 19.02
  • Survey of the Natural Sciences: 18.54
  • Perceptual Ability: 19.14

How Many Times Can You Take It? 

Applicants can take the DAT up to three times. If an applicant is not able to obtain a satisfactory DAT score in those three attempts, they may request additional chances from the ADA.

The ADA has complete discretion on whether to grant these additional opportunities, and no applicant is guaranteed to get one. However, an applicant can be granted as many chances as the ADA is willing to give them.

If you do take the test more than once, be aware that a record of all your previous attempts will appear on your computerized dental school application alongside your latest score. This means that it is important to make a serious attempt to score as well as possible each time you take the DAT.

Does It Guarantee You a Spot in Dental School? 

Taking the DAT is a requirement for applying to dental school, but a high score will not be enough to convince a dental school to admit you. Many of the people applying to your dental school of choice will have outstanding DAT scores that make them very attractive candidates. If your score is at or below the average score of 19, consider taking the test again to improve your performance.

Also: DAT scores are only valid for 2 to 3 years.pdf) following the test date. The validation time depends on the school you are applying to.

There are no guarantees from the DAT about securing a spot at a top dental school – or any dental school. The test is but one component of the admissions process.

If you take the DAT but do not successfully secure a spot in a dental school within that time, you will need to take the test again to continue applying. This additional attempt will also count toward your three lifetime attempts. If you have already used all three of your allotted attempts and your final score expires, you must request permission from the ADA to take the test again. 

Lastly, DAT scores are far from the only requirement for dental school admissions. You will also need to:  

  • Take prerequisite college courses in certain disciplines, such as chemistry, biology, and physics. 
  • Submit grade transcripts to help dental schools assess your GPA. 
  • Prepare letters of recommendation from influential people in your community. 
  • Consider shadowing practicing dentists at a dental office and reporting on your experiences.

References

Dental Admission Test (DAT) User's Manual 2019 Data. American Dental Association. Date fetched: September 4, 2021.

Dental Admission Test: Frequently Asked Questions. American Dental Association. Date fetched: September 4, 2021. 

Dental Admission Test (DAT). American Dental Association. Date fetched: September 4, 2021.

Study Tips for the Dental Admission Test (DAT).aspx). American Dental Education Association. Date fetched: September 4, 2021.

Dental Admission Test (DAT) 2021 Candidate Guide. American Dental Association. Date fetched: September 4, 2021.

ADEA Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (ADEA AADSAS®) Application Instructions 2018.pdf). American Dental Education Association. Date fetched: September 4, 2021.

Applying for Dental School. American Dental Association. Date fetched: September 4, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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