There’s no getting around it: to get into dental school, you’ll need to excel on the DAT, so a DAT study schedule will be essential. Given the competitiveness of dental schools, as shown by dental school acceptance rates, this is not a requirement you can afford to neglect. You’ll want to get a great score the first time around because if your score is not what you would like, you’ll have to wait 60–90 days to take the test again. As you may not receive your DAT scores for up to four weeks after completing the test, you’ll need to consider this waiting period in your schedule as well to ensure that they arrive in time for the application deadline.
In this article, we introduce the DAT, explain any differences between the American and Canadian versions of the test, and propose a 5-week (1 month), 15-week (3 months), and 25-week (6 months) DAT study schedule.
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What Is the DAT?
The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is a computer-based, standardized, multiple-choice test. The test is required by all dental schools in the United States and is administered in English by the American Dental Association (ADA).
To attend dental schools in Canada, taking the Canadian DAT (Dental Aptitude Test) is generally required, although a few schools will accept your US DAT results. The Canadian DAT is administered by the Canadian Dental Association. Many US and international dental schools accept scores from the Canadian DAT.
The DAT is an admission test created to give dental education programs a means of evaluating a first year candidate’s readiness for and likelihood of success in a dentistry program. The test measures overall academic ability and comprehension of a range of topics in the sciences and other subject areas. Test results are combined with other admissions components to help admissions officers understand how applicants’ qualifications compare with program requirements. When applying to dental schools, your GPA, DAT score, and even your CASPer test score will influence your chances, along with your dental school personal statement, dental school application experiences (such as shadowing), and interview.
Although there are similarities between the US DAT and Canadian DAT, there are some important differences as well. If you decide to use or purchase products such as courses or materials to prepare for the DAT, be sure to choose only those that are suited to the specific test, that is, Canadian DAT resources to prepare for the Canadian test and American DAT resources for the US test.
Sections of the US DAT
There are 280 questions on the US DAT, categorized as follows:
Sections of the Canadian DAT
There are 210 questions on the English DAT and 160 questions on the French DAT (no reading comprehension test).
The questions are categorized as follows:
Important note: the way the Canadian DAT is conducted has recently changed. In the past, the test was given twice a year, in November and February, and it was scored using computer-readable scoring sheets and paper booklets. However, it is now available year-round via computer at professional testing facilities operated by Prometric.
Also note that the Manual Dexterity Test formerly required is currently suspended due to COVID-19 and related logistical problems.
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When Do I Have to Take the DAT?
Although you can register for the DAT at any time, you should do so well ahead of dental school application deadlines. You should take the test at least a year before your entry to dental school, ideally toward the end of your junior year, in the spring semester, or once you have completed your prerequisite courses, such as biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. As these subjects will be tested on the DAT, finishing those courses before you take the test will contribute to higher performance.
Once you have registered, you’ll have 6 months to sit for the test, regardless of whether you have signed up for the US or Canadian version. You can retake the DAT up to three times in your lifetime unless you obtain special permission from the ADA. In Canada, there is no limit to the number of times you can take the DAT, but certain conditions still apply.
How Much Time Do I Need to Study for the DAT?
How much time you need to study for the DAT truly depends on you. Various factors will influence your decision, such as how well you tend to perform on exams, particularly standardized tests; how well you know the study areas (how many related courses you have taken and how well you did in them); how much time you have available after factoring in other responsibilities (coursework, studying for undergrad exams, part-time jobs, and dental school extracurriculars); and how much time you can handle per study session (some students can focus for long periods, while others may need to break up their session with more rest periods, exercise, or multimodal learning, such as videos or audiobooks).
However, as the ADEA reports that many sources recommend 200–250 hours of study time, you can use that as a base number to calculate the number of weeks or months you will require. They suggest three months, five days a week, three hours a day, but you can adjust this to fit your own needs. First, consider your study profile:
Nevertheless, it’s essential not to underestimate your actual needs. For example, to achieve 300 hours of prep in two months, you would have to dedicate around 35 to 40 hours a week – the equivalent of a full-time job. Some dental students set themselves a five- or six-week study schedule, which would require about 50 hours of study time per week. This leaves precious little time for anything else, such as courses, other studies, work, meals, and sleep! While this may be feasible if you have literally nothing else to do, it won’t work for most students. For one thing, you do need to set aside some time to disconnect and decompress. For another, this schedule comes with significant risks; if you fell sick for a week or even a few days or had a family emergency or some other disruption in your life, your whole schedule could be derailed.
That is why we recommend at least three to four months to study for the DAT. If you use our suggested 15-week schedule below and start four months ahead of your test date, you will be done with the large part of your studying well in advance. This schedule provides the possibility of a day off here or there to rest or focus on other responsibilities. It will also allow you to re-adjust toward the end of the 15-week period; if you need more time to focus on specific subject areas, you will have that flexibility, and if all is going well, you can use the extra time for review.
Note: if you do have a lot of free time left over, don’t stop studying! An extended break may cause you to forget some of what you have learned, which is counterproductive. You will also need to work up your stamina in the weeks leading up to the test to be able to withstand the effort required for this lengthy test.
DAT Study Schedules
Below you will find three proposed DAT study schedules: 15 weeks (about 3 months); 5 weeks (1 month); and 25 weeks (6 months). The 15-week schedule is presented first because 3 months is the time recommended by ADEA to study for the DAT, and it is the most detailed. The two other schedules present a more condensed study period (1 month) and an expanded study period (6 months).
Note: you do not have to follow the exact same structure of these proposed study schedules, but you can use them as models to plan out what will work best for you.
15-Week DAT Study Schedule (3 months)
This 15-week DAT study schedule requires you to put in 20 hours of work each week, for a total of 300 hours. It should represent a manageable schedule, especially for full-time students or those who have jobs or family responsibilities and cannot dedicate all their time to DAT prep.
With any schedule, it’s essential to time your study sessions to ensure that you are actually benefiting from the hours you are devoting to the activity: if you plan to study for four hours/day Monday to Thursday, aim to study in a place that is free of distractions and work without interruption for a manageable block of time. You might do two hours, take a 20-minute break, and do another two hours, for example. Whatever you decide, keep an honest, accurate log of your hours so that you know you have definitely put in the time you set aside at the beginning of the week.
It would also be a good idea to consider how strong your study methods are before you begin. Learning how to study in medical school or dental school is not easy and acquiring high-yield study techniques long before you take the DAT will enhance your performance on any exam but especially on standardized tests like the MCAT and DAT, which are as much tests of endurance as they are of knowledge and competency.
DAT Practice Test
Like medical students who take the MCAT diagnostic test, as a dental student, you will need to take a DAT practice test as a first step. This stage is essential because it will help you identify the content areas where you need to improve the most. Don’t worry about trying to excel on the practice test; it’s just a tool to help you determine what you need to include in your study plan.
Also note that the questions you encounter on any practice test will not be on the real DAT, so do not aim to memorize answers. Instead, you will need to develop a robust understanding of the content, the way the test is structured, and the types of questions you will face.
Once you have your baseline scores, you can make a study schedule that covers all four sections on the DAT, starting with your weakest areas.
Focus your efforts this week on your weakest subject or subset for 20 hours. For some students, this may be biology; for others, it may be perceptual ability tasks or reading.
Study the way the content is presented and structured in the DAT practice test you took. The test uses multiple-choice, single response questions. Some test items include an exhibit (image). The DAT also incorporates tools you must use to answer certain questions. A periodic table is provided during the General Chemistry part of the test, and a calculator is provided for the Quantitative Reasoning part. You may also mark questions to review later, highlight text to jog your memory when you return to a question, and strike out text to eliminate answers or irrelevant information.
Take this first week to learn more about your weakest subject area(s) by exposing yourself to the content in different ways: by reading your textbooks, watching videos, listening to podcasts, doing practice questions, and asking questions of your professors and classmates if you don’t understand a concept. Let your curiosity drive your learning this week and aim to know more about the difficult subject areas than you did the week before – without pressure.
After each daily study session, make a few notes summarizing what you studied, what you learned, and what you still have questions about. At the same time, log your study hours.
This week, continue to work on your weakest subject or subset for 20 hours.
Practice answering DAT practice questions that are presented and structured in the same way as the questions on the actual DAT as multiple-choice, single response questions.
Continue to use a multimodal learning approach, but this week, focus on tracking down answers to questions you got wrong or didn’t understand. Up the ante and challenge yourself to find the information. Start a running list of questions you have that you want to answer. Identify whether you are lacking basic knowledge in any area; for example, if you struggle with calculation in general chemistry, you may need to develop that skill. On the other hand, this is not the time to drill down too much in any one area: most general chemistry questions on the DAT are conceptual, so at this point, you just want to identify those skills you need that are lacking while not neglecting the rest of the required content in this area.
Second Practice Test and Summary
Remember to keep a log of your time and daily study sessions, but also plan to summarize the results of your practice test. Did you score better or worse? Did you perform better in weak areas compared to when you first took the test? Did you uncover new challenges? Make notes of everything you need to work on in the next week.
Continue to follow the same approach as in WEEK 2. This week, you’ll want to find answers to those questions you missed on your second practice test.
In WEEK 4, take a break from studying your weakest area and choose one of the other areas. If reading comprehension was not your weakest area, you might want to concentrate on this section of the test this week. Why? Because boosting your reading ability and focus at this point will help you with every other aspect of your studies for the DAT.
Read a whole variety of materials, with an emphasis on complex, advanced texts in any subject area. There is no need to limit your reading to topics in dentistry, as the DAT presents passages on a wide range of topics. You can certainly read about the dental profession and related issues as well, as this will be necessary when preparing for dental school interview questions, for instance, but it need not be your entire focus; in fact, a narrow reading range may limit your ability to take in the variety of content you may encounter in DAT passages.
Third Practice Test and Summary
Take a third practice test and summarize the results. How was your recall of topics you covered in the first two weeks, without studying them for a week? Was your performance better or worse? Make a new list of tasks to add to your DAT study schedule next week.
Focus on a third section of the test this week. For example, if you have not worked on quantitative reasoning or perceptual ability tasks, devote the week to one of them. Keep in mind that perceptual ability is not a content area, as mathematics is in quantitative reasoning. Working on perceptual ability largely involves practicing with the same type of conceptual reasoning puzzles as those presented on the DAT. So, whichever week you devote to this area, you can also continue reviewing other areas as well.
Focus on the final and fourth section of the test this week. Devote the week to the section you have not looked at yet.
Fourth Practice Test and Summary
Take a fourth practice test and summarize the results. By now, it is likely you will be seeing your performance improve. Cross off any resolved issues on your running list of questions.
Between WEEK 6 and WEEK 7, take a break from studying for a few days to refresh and renew. Ideally, disconnect from technology, connect with nature, attend a concert, play a sport, go for dinner with friends, visit family. This will be a much-needed and beneficial pause that will restore your mind and help you prepare for strenuous next steps.
You’re midway through your study period now, so it is time to take stock of where you’re at. You have as many weeks remaining to study as you have just completed. Ask yourself whether you think that continuing at your current pace will lead to success, or whether you need to redouble your efforts. If it seems like you need more time, now would be the moment to make a change. Don’t overdo it, though; you could start by adding a half an hour a day, for example.
During this period, you’ll study all four sections of the DAT each week, focusing on one section per study session. As you progress from WEEK 7 through WEEK 10, pay more attention to areas where you still struggle, without neglecting the others. Keep up your intensive reading and continue doing puzzle activities that will help you with perceptual ability tasks.
When you take practice tests, you should see steady improvement by now in your performance. With each test, you should be aiming to surpass your previous score consistently. This is also a good time to take another full-length practice test both to compare with your baseline and train for the real DAT. As previously noted, practice is particularly important for the Perceptual Ability Test. The DAT score ranges from 1 to 30, and a competitive DAT score for most dental schools is above 21.
At the end of WEEK 10, take a brief break from studying (1 day) to relax.
During this period, you’ll want to devote 50% of your time to studying your remaining weak areas and working with practice questions on only that section. You can split the remaining 50% of your time between the other three sections that you find easier. If you struggle in two areas equally, devote about 70% of your study time to them. The point is to give yourself more time to improve in areas you find most challenging.
At the end of WEEK 14, take a break from studying (two or three days) to rest.
You will plan the final week of your DAT study schedule according to what makes the most sense for the days and weeks leading up to your actual test. For some students, taking many practice tests will be desirable, while for others, engaging in a full review of their study materials will be more helpful.
If, at this point, you find yourself suffering from cognitive overload or exhaustion, you might want to consider a longer break to sleep, boost your nutrition, and engage in physical activities. If you are experiencing any testing anxiety, it would be important to seek support. Having a DAT study buddy or study group can motivate you and help you stay on task throughout the study period, but a companion will be especially helpful as the test approaches to encourage and calm you.
You can also reach out to dental school admissions consulting services for guidance on many aspects of your dental school journey. A dental school advisor can provide beneficial strategies for managing both your study schedule and anxiety as well as numerous other aspects of the admissions process, like how to prepare for your dental school interview.
Depending on when your DAT is scheduled, if you have stuck to your study plan, you should have some time left over. Use it to keep working on all your areas of difficulty, review, and practice tests.
Take and ace your DAT!
5-Week DAT Study Schedule (1 month)
This 5-week DAT study schedule requires you to put in 50 hours of work each week, for a total of 250 hours. This schedule might be suitable for students who are high achievers in natural sciences courses such as biology and chemistry, excel in mathematics and quantitative reasoning skills, have strong reading comprehension skills, and have previously been successful on standardized tests. This schedule will also suit students with very limited time in their schedules who plan to set aside a full month to study intensively for the DAT instead of spreading it out over a longer period. However, this is not an easy schedule; it will be both mentally and physically taxing, so carefully consider whether you are really up for it.
DAT Practice Test
Start with a DAT Practice Test to establish your baseline. In a one-month schedule, you may want to start and end with the official ADA test to save it for when it will be most effective. Remember, the purpose is not to memorize the questions because they won’t appear on the DAT you take. Rather, focus on recognizing what you do well and where you need to increase your efforts.
Begin by reviewing your weakest area, as indicated by the results of your diagnostic test. For example, say this was the Natural Sciences section. Focus on studying your biology and chemistry content. Intensively review this area all week.
At the end of this week, test yourself on practice questions in this area.
Make a list of areas where you improved as well as questions you have or areas of continued weakness.
Move on to your next weakest area, as indicated by the results of your last practice test. For example, say this was the quantitative reasoning material. Focus on studying your mathematics content. Intensively review this area all week.
At the end of this week, test yourself on practice questions in this area.
Make a list of areas where you improved as well as questions you have or areas of continued weakness.
Move on to the passages dedicated to reading comprehension. Use practice passages and tests as well as reading for the natural sciences and other areas to improve your performance on this section of the DAT.
Cross off all areas where you improved and concentrate on areas of continued weakness.
At this point in your condensed schedule, you’ll want to be studying all four areas of the DAT, including practicing your perceptual ability tasks as much as possible by solving similar puzzle questions. You should also be doing a lot of practice at this point and sitting for extended periods of time answering questions to simulate the length of the real DAT.
Make a list of areas where you improved as well as questions you have or areas of continued weakness. By now, you should be feeling really confident and not making many mistakes when you check your answers.
DAT Practice Test
Start and end this week with a DAT Practice Test to determine your progress. If you’ve gone through the official test(s) more than once, you’ll want to use supplementary practice passages and tests throughout this week while continuing to review. If you are ready for your test, you will feel confident and make very few errors. This is when you should adjust your efforts and pace depending on whether you feel fully prepared or still uncertain.
With this intensive schedule, you should be taking a break every 3–4 days to rest your body and mind. When you aren’t studying, you should be eating, sleeping, and doing physical exercise as regularly as possible. This schedule is a bit of a sprint, and you will start to feel the fatigue set in. Importantly, once you’ve completed your 5-week study schedule, take at least two days off to recharge completely before doing a final review and taking the DAT.
25-Week DAT Study Schedule (6 months)
A 25-week DAT study schedule would suit students who want to extend their DAT preparation over a longer period. They may have less time available to study or require more time to study as a learner. Students may wish to study for their DAT as they complete their dental school prerequisites, such as biology and chemistry, as these subjects are included on the test. Overall, a longer timeframe can be beneficial, especially for certain students. It does have its drawbacks, though. One may be the effect on the retention of material over many months; students may find they forget certain concepts after they leave them and study other topics for a while. More time also makes it more difficult to remain focused and measure real progress over months.
Basically, the 6-month schedule is not much different from the 3-month (15-week) schedule. You would follow the same steps as outlined above but repeat them twice. In other words, you would follow the 3-month schedule and then start over again at the 3-month mark. The difference would be in the last 6 weeks or so, when you would devote much less time to content you do well on and focus 80% of your study time on practice and review of your weakest areas.
To accomplish 300 hours of dedicated DAT study time over 25 weeks, you would need to study 12 hours per week. Perhaps the most essential (and challenging) aspect of a longer timeframe is sticking to the required hours per week and not missing any sessions, thinking that you have plenty of time. Whatever DAT study schedule you set for yourself, it will only be effective if it IS a schedule, that is, time you dedicate to the DAT that you commit to respecting.
1. Do I have to take the DAT to get into dental school?
Yes, the DAT is required for entry into US and Canadian dental schools.
2. How many questions are on the DAT?
There are 280 items on the American DAT, 210 items on the English Canadian DAT, and 150 questions on the French Canadian DAT because the Reading Comprehension section is excluded.
3. How long is the DAT?
The US DAT is about 4.5 hours, and the Canadian DAT is about 3 hours long.
4. Can I use an American DAT prep package to prepare for the Canadian DAT?
No. Although there are similarities between the US DAT and Canadian DAT, if you decide to use products such as courses or materials to prepare for the DAT, choose Canadian DAT resources to prepare for the Canadian test and American DAT resources for the US test.
5. What’s a good DAT score?
In both Canada and the US, a good DAT score is between 20 and 23 out of a possible score of 30. A score of 21 is considered competitive for admission to dental school.
6. When should I take the DAT?
You should aim to take the DAT at least a year before your entry to medical school, usually in the spring semester of your junior year.
7. Can I retake the DAT?
You can retake the DAT after 60–90 days, so you should factor this in when considering dental school application deadlines. In the US, you can take the DAT a maximum of 3 times.
8. Can I take the DAT from home?
No, you must register and reserve a spot at one of the Prometric Test Centers in the US and Canada.
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