DAT vs. MCAT: Key Differences and How to Choose

March 18, 2024
6 min read


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 11/7/23

Are you at that crossroads in your healthcare career journey, caught between the DAT vs. MCAT route? Let’s simplify your decision. 

Making the right choice between the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a major decision on your path to a healthcare career. These exams pave the way to very different medical professions. Let’s get into how they compare and how to choose the right fit for you.

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DAT vs. MCAT: A Comprehensive Comparison

Is the DAT easier than the MCAT? Let’s get into it. ​​When comparing the DAT and the MCAT, one common question is which test is harder. Most people find the MCAT more challenging than the DAT for several reasons:

Female student studying anatomy

Content Coverage

The MCAT covers a wider range of topics, including physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, and sociology. In contrast, the DAT focuses on specific areas like perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning. The broader content of the MCAT can make it more difficult.

Length and Complexity of Passages

The MCAT includes longer and more complex reading comprehension passages in each section. On the other hand, the DAT has reading comprehension passages in just one section, and you don't necessarily need to understand the content to answer the questions. The depth and length of passages in the MCAT add to its difficulty.

Science Sections

The MCAT has science sections that delve deeply into scientific principles and concepts. While the DAT assesses scientific understanding, it doesn't include physics or biochemistry questions. The MCAT's science sections are known to be demanding and require a strong grasp of scientific knowledge.

Perceptual Ability Test

The DAT includes a perceptual ability test that assesses two-dimensional and three-dimensional visuospatial perception. This test includes questions on visual acuity and geometry-type visual problems. Some test-takers find this section particularly challenging.

Math Questions

The DAT has more math questions in its quantitative reasoning section, and you're allowed to use a calculator. In contrast, the MCAT includes a few math-related questions but doesn't permit calculators. The math component of the DAT can be less intimidating for those comfortable with mathematics.

Physics Requirement

While the DAT doesn't include physics questions, students applying to dental school often have a physics course requirement. The MCAT assesses physics knowledge, adding to its complexity.

Availability and Results

DAT offers flexibility with test dates and immediate unofficial scores for pre-dental students. In contrast, pre-med students have limited MCAT test dates and wait about a month for results.

By understanding the DAT vs MCAT difficulty, students planning to apply to dental or medical schools can choose the right test to study for. By making your decision based on your career aspirations and strengths, you’ll set yourself up for success. 

Understanding the DAT Exam

In this section, we'll break down the structure and different sections of the DAT exam. We’ll answer the commonly asked question “How hard is the DAT?”, and more. This information is crucial for anyone preparing for the exam and aiming for success on test day.

Female Dentist talking to patient

DAT Exam Structure and Sections

The DAT is made up of multiple-choice questions in English and is divided into four sections:

  • Survey of the Natural Sciences
  • Perceptual Ability
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Quantitative Reasoning

Survey of Natural Sciences 

This section on the DAT delves into the realm of biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry, challenging test-takers with 100 questions designed to assess their knowledge in these scientific domains. You have 90 minutes to complete them.  


This section includes 40 questions that evaluate your understanding of key biology concepts. The focus is on cell and molecular biology, diversity of life, biological systems' structure and function, genetics, and evolution and ecology.

General Chemistry 

You'll face 30 questions on general chemistry principles, covering topics like stoichiometry, gases, liquids and solids, acids and bases, chemical equilibria, thermodynamics, chemical kinetics, atomic and molecular structure, periodic properties, nuclear reactions, and laboratory techniques.

Organic Chemistry 

In organic chemistry, you'll tackle 30 questions about carbon-based compounds, covering topics like reaction mechanisms, properties of molecules, stereochemistry, nomenclature, and reactions of functional groups.

Perceptual Ability

This section tests your spatial reasoning and visual perception in 60 minutes with 90 questions across six subtests: Apertures, View Recognition, Angle Discrimination, Paper Folding, Cube Counting, and Spatial Relations/3D Form Development.

Reading Comprehension 

Reading Comprehension involves 50 questions, which you have 60 minutes to complete. These questions are based on three reading passages on various scientific topics, and your task is to read, comprehend, and analyze the passages in order to answer the questions.

Quantitative Reasoning 

This section assesses your math and problem-solving skills with 40 questions in 45 minutes, covering topics like algebraic concepts, applied mathematics (word problems), and probability/statistics.

Scoring Criteria and Grading

The DAT exam uses scale scores for evaluation, which are distinct from raw scores and percentiles. Scale scores are calculated using advanced methods to ensure fairness and comparability among candidates. There's no guessing penalty on this exam.

Some questions are experimental and don't count toward your score, as they’re actually used for research purposes. DAT scale scores range from 1 to 30, with no official passing score, as it varies by dental program. You can gauge your performance relative to others by referring to recent examination norms, which provide percentile information.

Understanding the MCAT Exam

If you're aiming for a career in medicine, it's crucial to grasp the ins and outs of the MCAT since it's a key part of getting into medical school.

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MCAT Exam Format and Sections

The MCAT relies on a computer-based format with 230 questions divided into four main sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

In this section, you'll answer 59 questions in 95 minutes, exploring how living organisms, down to cells and molecules, function. It delves into fundamental processes that define life, including cellular functions, genetics, evolution, ecology, organic and inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry, typically covered in early college courses.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

This section involves 59 questions to be answered in 95 minutes. It assesses your grasp of chemical and physical principles in biological processes. Topics include general chemistry concepts, biochemistry, introductory physics, organic chemistry basics, and some introductory biology concepts.

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

Here, you delve into the connections between psychology, sociology, biology, and human behavior, emphasizing their impact on health. You'll answer 59 questions in 95 minutes, covering psychological and sociological concepts related to health, societal influences on behavior, and introductory biology content.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

This unique section evaluates your reading, critical thinking, and argument analysis skills. It doesn't focus on science but rather on reading and reasoning. You'll answer 53 questions in 90 minutes, analyzing diverse humanities and social sciences passages.

Scoring Criteria and Grading

The MCAT exam provides five scores to evaluate your performance. These scores include one for each of the four sections and a combined total score.

  • Section Scores: Each of the four sections receives a score ranging from 118 to 132, with a midpoint of 125. You get individual scores for these sections.
  • Total Score: To calculate the total score, the scores from the four sections are added together. The total score spans from 472 to 528, with 500 as the midpoint.

Example: If a test-taker scored 128 on one section, 125 on another, 129 on the third, and 127 on the fourth, their total score would be 509.

Factors to Choose Between DAT and MCAT

When choosing between the DAT and MCAT, it's important to consider several key factors to make the right decision for your future.

Doctor typing on computer next to stethoscope

Career Path

Your choice between the DAT and the MCAT largely depends on your desired career path. If you aspire to become a dentist, you should take the DAT. On the other hand, if you aim to become a medical doctor, the MCAT is the appropriate exam. 

So, take time to reflect on dental school vs. medical school to choose a path that aligns with your goals.

Educational Goals

Consider your educational goals when choosing between the MCAT vs DAT. Dental schools require the DAT for admission, while medical schools require the MCAT. Your chosen field of study should align with your long-term career objectives.

Timing and Preparation

Think about your timeline for entering dental or medical school. DAT and MCAT exams may have different testing schedules, so plan accordingly. Adequate preparation time is crucial, so choose the exam that best fits your timeline.

Exam Content

Assess the content of each exam to determine which aligns with your strengths and interests. The DAT primarily focuses on natural sciences and perceptual ability, while the MCAT covers a broader range of topics, including biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and sociology.

Preparation Strategies for DAT and MCAT

When getting ready for the DAT and MCAT tests, how you prepare is really important. Let's look at some simple strategies to help you do your best and get into dental or medical school.

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Study Resources

Gather high-quality study materials, such as review books, practice exams, and online resources, specifically designed for the DAT or MCAT. Many test prep companies offer comprehensive study packages tailored to each exam.

Study Schedule

Create a detailed study schedule that covers all the necessary content areas for your chosen exam. Whether you’re taking the DAT or the MCAT—a study schedule that covers all the bases is key. 

Practice Tests

Regularly take full-length practice tests under timed conditions to simulate the real exam experience. Review your performance and focus on weak areas to improve your scores.

Content Review

Thoroughly review the content areas covered by the exam. Use flashcards, notes, and study guides to reinforce your understanding of key concepts.

Study Groups

Consider joining or forming a study group with peers who are also preparing for the same exam. Discussing challenging topics and sharing study strategies can be beneficial.

Test-Taking Strategies

Familiarize yourself with test-taking strategies, such as time management, process of elimination, and educated guessing. These skills can help you perform well under pressure.

Stay Healthy

Maintain a balanced lifestyle during your preparation. Get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly to keep your mind and body in optimal condition for studying.

Reach Out for Help

If you're struggling with certain subjects or concepts, don't hesitate to seek help from tutors, teachers, or online resources. Addressing weaknesses promptly can lead to significant score improvements.


Got questions about the DAT vs. MCAT dilemma? You're not alone. Let's get into some frequently asked questions, like “Is the DAT harder than the MCAT?” to help you navigate this important decision.

1. Is the DAT Test Easier Than the MCAT?

The DAT is generally considered to be less challenging than the MCAT due to its narrower content focus.

2. How Hard Is the DAT Test Compared to MCAT?

The MCAT is often perceived as more difficult than the DAT due to its broader content coverage and other factors.

3. What Is the Acceptance Rate of Dental School Students in Medical Schools?

Acceptance rates for dental school students into medical schools can vary significantly but are generally competitive. They depend on individual qualifications and the specific medical school's admission criteria.

4. Is the MCAT Accepted by Dental Schools?

No, dental schools typically require the DAT (Dental Admission Test) rather than the MCAT for admission. These tests are tailored to the specific needs of dental and medical school applicants.

Conclusion: Making an Informed Decision

To wrap up, when choosing between the DAT vs. MCAT, remember that the MCAT is usually more challenging due to its broader content. Base your choice on your career goals: DAT for dentists and MCAT for various medical fields. Your decision should match your aspirations and abilities. Good luck on your healthcare career journey!

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