Dentistry can be a satisfying and lucrative career choice. The United States has 57 four-year dental schools, and admission is a highly competitive process and involves taking the Dental Admissions Test. Like other standardized tests, the DAT is complex and challenging, so students planning to take the test need to have a strategy for studying and preparing ahead of time. Preparing well will help you get the highest possible score on the DAT.

Understanding the DAT

Get to know the test and understand the areas you should study. The DAT is a five-hour standardized test: 60 minutes for perceptual ability testing, 60 minutes for reading comprehension, 90 minutes for science, 45 minutes for quantitative reasonin; and the remaining time for tutorials and an optional post-test survey.

Sign on with a test-prep service or get a test-prep book. Two major standardized-test preparation services are Princeton Review and Kaplan. Both have extensive DAT programs available both online and in a classroom setting. They also offer practice tests and strategy sessions. Other test-prep companies can be located through a simple online search. Public libraries and bookstores have DAT preparation workbooks, flash cards, study guides and other materials readily available.

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Form a study group with other students preparing for the DAT. Undergraduates looking to apply to a dental school should already have taken a strong natural sciences curriculum, including courses in inorganic and organic chemistry, physics and biology. The science portion is made up of 100 multiple-choice questions, divided into sections on biology and both inorganic and organic chemistry. Get together with other students in those classes and review your coursework in those areas to be ready for the DAT science portion.

Tackle the perceptual ability task, which measures 2D and 3D visualization ability. It includes 90 questions challenging the test taker to figure out which keyhole opening a particular 3D object will pass through, a "top-front-end" test showing two sides of an object and asking the student to decide what the third side would look like, and a mental test to decide where holes punched in a folded piece of paper would be when the paper is unfolded. Practice tests are likely the best way to gain familiarity with each of these tasks.

Prepare for the quantitative reasoning test by reviewing college mathematics. Algebra, geometry and trigonometry are all included in the DAT, and so is simple mathematical calculation. Online and book practice tests will help get you in shape -- or back in shape -- for these problems. You can also find a study partner or tutor if you need to brush up on your math.

Don't overlook the need to prepare for the 50-question reading comprehension portion of the DAT. It's there to measure your ability to read for content -- in other words, whether you will be able to plow through the highly technical reading assignments you'll be given in dental school. Practice tests will give you an idea of the format of the test. You'll be asked to read three selections and answer questions about content, identify the main idea of the written material, and infer meanings.


  • Plan to take the DAT more than once. The most recent four scores are sent to schools, so you should take the opportunity to retest in quest of your highest possible score.

About the Author

Laura Sky Brown has been writing professionally since 1986. She was automotive editor at "Automobile Magazine," "Classic Automobile Register" and Inside Line and was a "Twins Magazine" columnist. Brown has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Michigan and studied journalism and media law at the University of Strasbourg (France), where she obtained a diploma in French studies and translation.