How to Study For the DAT - Prep Tips and Timelines

April 25, 2024
5 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

If you want to learn how to study for the DAT, how long you should study, and when you should take the test, continue reading as we go over helpful tips.

One major step in becoming a dentist is getting into a credible dental school. To get into a good dental school on time, you will have to take the DAT.  

The Dental Admissions Test, often referred to as DAT, is a test that dental school admissions officers use to determine whether you have the potential to be successful in dental school and the field of dentistry. Your DAT score, along with other factors like your GPA, is an important piece of information on your college application.

To aid in your DAT studies, we have made a list of helpful tips and answered some other frequently asked questions about how to best study for this critical exam!

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Tips for Studying for the DAT

Like the dreaded LSAT, the DAT can be daunting to think about for any student. There is a lot at stake, like getting into your dream college, and you’ll want to do your best both in your undergrad and on the test.

Even getting started to study can be intimidating and overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to even begin. That’s why we have put together a DAT study guide comprised of our top tips to ace each section on the DAT.

1. Do Research On What the DAT Tests You On

Before you start building a study plan, familiarize yourself with topics that will appear on the DAT. 

To have a study plan that will actually help you prepare, you’ll need to know what to focus on. This will provide a good foundation for you to begin creating your DAT study schedule. 

2. Pay Attention In Your Classes 

Pay attention in your undergraduate courses, as the DAT will cover topics and information that you will have learned in your classes. 

Specifically, pay close attention to Chemistry, Biology, and Organic Chemistry as they are major topics that appear on the DAT. 

3. Review Notes and Assignments 

While you pay attention in class, take detailed and organized notes. You will thank yourself later for doing this. 

Class notes are some of the best resources to use when studying. They are accurate, reliable, and accessible study materials. Keeping your notes organized will also save you so much time on sourcing other study materials. 

4. Build an Effective Study Plan

This is one of the most important tips on this list. Don’t overcomplicate your study plan, but make sure you are dedicating enough time to subjects weighted heavily on the test. 

Keep your plan simple and manageable, so you can follow it. 

5. Identify and Tackle Your Weaknesses

While it can be tempting to skip over questions or subjects you don’t understand, you unfortunately cannot pick and choose which sections you answer on the test. Subjects you may struggle with could be weighted heavily on the test as well. 

Maximize your potential score earnings by tackling areas of weakness, so you are prepared and equipped to do as well as you possibly can on the test. 

6. Take Practice Tests 

There are tons of practice tests available online. Utilize these resources to time yourself and identify areas on the test you may potentially struggle with. 

The American Dental Association offers individual modules or a full practice DAT test online. Don’t go into the test thinking, “Well, it doesn’t matter how I do because I can just retake the test.” 

While it is true that you can retake the DAT, this should be a last resort. Preparing and taking the test multiple times is time-consuming and stressful. Not to mention, it costs money too! 

The DAT is a 4.5-hour-long test that covers four different sections, so you want to be well-prepared on test day.

With thorough DAT preparation, you can go in ready with the mindset of passing on your first try.  Try your hand at our free mini-practice DAT test to see if you can answer five sample questions correctly!

7. Practice Time Management

Along with practicing DAT questions, you’ll need to practice your time management to ensure you answer as many questions as possible within the limited exam period. Take as many timed tests as you can to enhance your DAT timing skills. 

8. Simulate Test Conditions

Aside from completing practice tests under the same time restraints you’ll be in on exam day, you should simulate all test conditions and the environment. Do your practice tests in a private, quiet place. 

Take the same breaks you’d be allowed to on test day, leave your phone elsewhere, and only use the materials you’ll be given the day of the test (at least 2 double-sided sheets of grid paper and a permanent marker). This will ensure you feel comfortable under the test conditions and your nerves don’t get the best of you on the big day.

9. Seek Guidance 

If you still feel unprepared or simply want expert guidance to streamline your studies, seek the guidance of 99th percentile DAT tutors who know how to improve your score with maximum success and minimal stress!

How Long Should You Study for the DAT?

A good length of time to study for the DAT is between three to four months. If you want to break it down by hours, aim for 200-250 hours total.

Two months should be a sufficient amount if you spend enough time per week studying. To reach about 300 hours of prep in two months, you need to dedicate around 35 to 40 hours a week. 

If you have a busy schedule, consider beginning to study about three months before your test. 

When Should You Take the DAT?

The ideal time to take the DAT is during the latter half of your third year of undergraduate studies, typically in the spring semester. Alternatively, you can choose to take the test during the summer break between your third and fourth years.

FAQs: How To Study for the DAT

In the section below, we answer some of your frequently asked questions about studying for the DAT. 

1. How Do I Study Effectively for the DAT?

Some people may find studying independently at their own pace more effective, some may find one-on-one tutoring sessions most helpful, while others may find studying with a friend keeps them focused. 

2. Is One Month Enough Time To Study for the DAT?

One month is not enough time to study for the DAT as it is a challenging test that requires a significant amount of preparation. Two or three months gives you more time to cover all the necessary content.

If you only have one month to study, you'll need to dedicate a substantial number of hours each day to your preparation. However, starting earlier and giving yourself more time is the best approach for success on the DAT.

3. Is the DAT Exam Hard?

Yes, the DAT is known for being a difficult test. However, with proper preparation and a well-structured study plan, you can overcome the challenges and perform well on the exam.

4. When Should I Start Preparing for the DAT?

Ideally, you should begin preparing for the DAT at least two months before your intended test date. However, it's essential to start planning for the exam about a year before you want to start dental school. 

This timeline allows you to register for the test early, ensuring you have a seat on your preferred date. Keep college application timelines in mind, especially if you’re applying to more than one dental school

5. How to Find People to Study With for the DAT?

To find study partners for the DAT, consider the following avenues:

  • Your college: Colleges often have pre-dental associations, Facebook groups, or other forums where aspiring dentists can connect.
  • Online forums: Do a quick Google search to find online DAT study groups you can join through social media or Reddit.
  • Your prep courses: If you’re completing a DAT prep course, there may be a virtual space to converse with other course-takers. You can suggest creating a study group or see if any of your peers are already in one!

6. Are There Any Tips For Maintaining Focus And Reducing Stress During The Exam?

The biggest tip to maintain focus is to establish a DAT study schedule that aligns with your commitments. Knowing what you should be doing each day and what you’re aiming toward can keep you on the right track. 

Additionally, keeping a record of all of your scores to see just how much you’re progressing can be a major source of motivation. 

Furthermore, you should complete as many practice tests under test conditions as you can to reduce your stress. This way, being in this type of environment will not feel unfamiliar to you on test day.

7. What Should I Do If I Encounter Challenges With Specific Subjects, Such As Biology or Chemistry?

If you find you’re struggling with a particular section or subject of the DAT, dedicate more time to addressing these weaknesses. Look into prep books that focus on these subjects and prioritize practice in them. 

Create your own practice tests that consist of questions from these subjects and rigorously review your performance to identify and rectify mistakes. Additionally, consider seeking guidance from experts well-versed in mastering every facet of the DAT!

8. Do You Get a Calculator on the DAT?

Yes, you do get a calculator on the DAT, but only for the Quantitative Reasoning section. However, the provided calculator is quite basic and cannot perform complex functions like a scientific or graphing calculator.

Final Thoughts

Studying for the DAT can be stressful. But remember, you are not starting from scratch. Your undergraduate courses and assignments have prepared you with the knowledge and skills you need to succeed.

Finding your career as a dentist, whether it’s an anesthesiologist or an orthodontist takes time and dedication. The DAT is just one step in this journey.

You also have tried and true tips on how to study for the DAT that you can rely on now! By creating a productive study schedule, beginning your prep early, making sure to practice self-care, and getting proper sleep, you will be able to tackle the DAT. 

Good luck!

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