What Is The DAT? Everything You Need To Know

April 26, 2024
5 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/26/24

If you’re an aspiring dentist, you may be wondering, “What is the DAT?” To learn more about the test, DAT sections, and how to register for it, read on. 

One of the most important parts of your dental school application is the DAT exam. All dental schools require the DAT and often weigh DAT scores heavily in admission decisions.

This guide will share everything there is to know about this critical dental school exam to ensure you’re prepared! 

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What Is The DAT?

So, what is the DAT? The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is a multiple-choice standardized exam required by all Canadian and U.S. dental school applicants. It assesses a candidate’s potential to succeed in dental school and in their career as a dentist or dental hygienist.

If you’re applying to a prestigious dental school with a low acceptance rate, You’ll want to score high on the DAT to be considered a competitive candidate

What Is On The DAT? Sections Breakdown

To increase your chances of scoring high, you should take time to build an excellent study schedule and take DAT prep courses. But first, it’s essential you understand what’s on the DAT. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the format of the DAT, you may have lots of questions about how to study and what you’ll be tested on. Maybe you’re asking, “Is there physics on the DAT?”, “Does the DAT have a biochem section?”, or “Do I need to know anatomy for the DAT?” But don’t worry - all your DAT section questions are about to be answered!

While we’ll break down each DAT section in more depth below, this is the exam’s general format: 

DAT Section Number of Questions
Survey of Natural Sciences 100
Perceptual Ability 90
Reading Comprehension 50
Quantitative Reasoning 40

There are four main sections you’ll see on the DAT:

Survey Of The Natural Sciences

There will be 100 questions in this section divided into several subsections:


Out of these 100 questions, 40 focus on the following biology topics:

  • Cell and Molecular Biology: Cell metabolism, cellular processes, thermodynamics, cell structure and function, mitosis/meiosis, biomolecules, experimental cell biology biomolecules, and integrated relationships
  • Diversity of Life: Protista, Plantae, Animalia, viruses, Archaebacteria, Eubacteria, Fungi, and integrated relationships
  • Structure and Function of Systems: Skeletal, muscular, integumentary, circulatory, digestive, respiratory, urinary, lymphatic/immune, nervous/sensory, reproductive, endocrine, and integrated relationships
  • Genetics: Classical genetics, chromosomal genetics, molecular genetics, human genetics, epigenetics, genetic technology, developmental mechanisms, genomics, gene expression, and integrated relationships 
  • Evolution and Ecology: Population genetics/speciation, natural selection, animal behavior, ecology, and integrated relationships

General Chemistry

The DAT has 30 general chemistry questions on the following content:

  • Stoichiometry and General Concepts: Calculations from balanced questions, percent composition, balancing equations, moles and molecular formulas, molar mass, density, and empirical formulae 
  • Gases: Dalton’s, Boyle’s, Charles’s, ideal gas law, and kinetic molecular theory of gases
  • Liquids and Solids: Phase changes, polarity, intermolecular forces, vapor pressure, properties, and structures
  • Solutions: Forces, concentration calculations, polarity, and properties 
  • Acids and Bases: Brønsted-Lowry reactions, strength, pH, and calculations 
  • Chemical Equilibria: Le Chatelier’s principle, molecular, calculations, precipitation, and acid/base
  • Thermodynamics and Thermochemistry: Laws of thermodynamics, enthalpies and entropies, spontaneity, Hess’s law, and heat transfer
  • Chemical Kinetics: Half-life, rate laws, and activation energy
  • Oxidation-Reduction Reactions: Balancing equations,  electrochemical calculations, electrochemical concepts and terminology, and determination of oxidation numbers 
  • Atomic and Molecular Structure: Quantum theory, electron configuration,  bond types, orbital types, Lewis-Dot diagrams, molecular geometry, subatomic particles, and atomic theory
  • Periodic Properties: Periodic trends, descriptive chemistry, representative elements, and transition elements
  • Nuclear Reactions: Decay processes, balancing equations, particles, binding energy
  • Laboratory: Basic techniques, error analysis, equipment, data analysis, and safety

Organic Chemistry

This final subsection has 30 questions and is often regarded as the most difficult. It covers the following:

  • Mechanisms: Mechanisms and reactions, and energetics and structure - elimination, addition, free radical, substitution mechanisms
  • Chemical and Physical Properties of Molecules: Laboratory theory and techniques, structure, and spectroscopy
  • Stereochemistry (structure evaluation): Conformations, isomer relationships, and chirality
  • Nomenclature: IUPAC rules and functional groups in molecules
  • Individual Reactions of the Major Functional Groups and Combinations of Reactions to Synthesize Compounds: Carboxylic acids and derivatives, aldehyde/ketone, Alkene/alkyne, substitution/elimination, aromatic, and other (general, one-step, and multi-step)
  • Acid-Base Chemistry: Prediction of products and equilibria and ranking acidity/basicity 
  • Aromatics and Bonding: Concept of aromaticity, bond angles/lengths, resonance, hybridization, and atomic/molecular orbitals

Perceptual Ability

The perceptual ability section contains 90 questions. Unlike the other DAT sections, knowledge isn’t tested in this section. Instead, your spatial visualization skills are.

You’ll be expected to look at 2D representations of 3D items and interpret them correctly. These questions tend to be the most challenging for students. You’ll see the following types of questions in this section:


Also known as keyhole questions, these scenarios require you to look at a 3D object and choose which 2D shape choice would allow the perfect passage of this object. So, you must determine which answer the 3D object could be pushed through without difficulty. 

View Recognition

You’ll be expected to determine one of the missing viewpoints of a 3D object. You’ll be given two out of three views of a 3D object; the front, end, and/or top views will be provided. You’ll be asked to determine the missing view. 

Angle Discrimination

You’ll be shown four angles and asked to order them from the smallest to the largest interior angle. The angles will be shown in different directions with different side lengths.

Paper Folding

You’ll be given a 2D representation of the paper and instructions on how it’s folded. In the final instruction, a hole punch will be shown on part of the paper. You must determine where the hole punches would be if you unfolded the paper.

Cube Counting

These DAT questions give you a 3D representation of several cubes stuck together. You will be asked to count how many cubes would have a specific number of exposed sides painted. 

In these questions, the bottom of the cubes and the sides touching other cubes cannot be painted because they’re not exposed.

3D Form Development

The 3D form development questions give you a 2D representation of a flat piece of paper with markings indicating where it would be folded to create a 3D object. You must choose the correct object that would be formed if you folded the paper. 

Reading Comprehension

The reading comprehension DAT section consists of 50 questions divided over three reading passages on scientific topics. However, students don’t need prior knowledge of these topics to complete these questions. You’re meant to focus on the arguments and evidence to analyze the text.

Quantitative Reasoning

We hope you like math because you’ll be expected to answer 40 math questions on the DAT! These questions will cover:

  • Algebra (equations and expressions, inequalities, exponential notation, absolute value, ratios and proportions, and graphical analysis)
  • Data analysis, interpretation, and sufficiency
  • Quantitative comparison
  • Probability and statistics
  • Applied mathematics word problems

Students are given a basic four-function calculator on their computer screen to complete these questions. 

How Is The DAT Scored?

The DAT is scored using a scale score, meaning you aren’t given the number of questions you answered correctly or your percentile ranking. Instead, you’ll receive a score from 1 to 30 to reflect your performance. 

How Long Is The DAT?

The actual DAT testing time is four hours and twenty-five minutes in total. However, the total administration time is five hours and fifteen minutes. The DAT exam duration is broken down as follows:

Timed Section Time Allotted
Optional Tutorial 15 Minutes
Survey of Natural Sciences 90 Minutes
Perceptual Ability Test 60 Minutes
Scheduled Break (optional) 30 Minutes
Reading Comprehension Test 60 Minutes
Quantitative Reasoning Test 45 Minutes
Optional Post Survey Test 15 Minutes

This test schedule is important to keep in mind as you begin completing practice tests. You can recreate test conditions to reduce test anxiety and feel more comfortable with how long the DAT is!

How Much Does The DAT Cost?

Registering for the DAT costs $525. This fee is non-refundable, so it’s essential you pick the perfect test date!

How To Register For The DAT

Now that you know what the DAT is and what’s on it, you might be wondering how to register for the exam. DAT registration is simple and can be done in a few easy steps:

Step 1: Request Your DENTPIN

The first step in registering for the DAT is to visit the American Dental Association (ADA) and create your DENTPIN. Your DENTPIN is a unique identifier used throughout the application process.

Step 2: Sign Into Your ADA Account

Once you have your DENTPIN, you can sign into your AMA account and begin the registration process. You’ll pay the $525 fee at this point.

Step 3: Wait For Eligibility Confirmation

Once you’ve paid your registration fee, you’ll receive an email confirmation that you’re eligible to take the DAT. You’ll receive an eligibility number needed for the next step.

Step 4: Pick Your Test Time And Location

Using Prometric, you’ll pick your test location and time. Ensure you select “American Dental Association.” 

Source: Prometric

Once you’ve selected your state, you’ll specify that you want to apply for the Dental Admission Test, enter a city, postal code, or address closest to you, and pick your test center and time. 

Source: Prometric

You’ll enter your eligibility number to complete your registration. After you confirm your details, you’ll be officially registered to take the DAT!

FAQs: DAT Exam

If you have any remaining questions, you can find your answers below!

1. How Hard Is The DAT Exam?

The DAT exam is often compared to the MCAT and is thus reasonably challenging. It covers a large amount of subject matter and tests various skills. How hard the DAT is depends on your preparedness and proficiency in reading, science, and math. 

2. What Is A Good Score On The DAT?

Since the average DAT score is 19, a good DAT score would be 20. However, a good score also depends on your goals and the dental schools you want to apply to. 

3. What Topics Are On The DAT?

You can expect to see biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry content on the DAT.

4. How Many Times Can You Take The DAT?

You may take up to four tests per year but must wait at least 60 days between tests. After the fifth attempt, you may only take the DAT once a year.

5. What Is The Hardest Part Of The DAT?

Most students find the perceptual ability test to be the hardest part of the DAT.

6. When Should I Take The DAT?

It’s recommended to take the DAT during the junior year of your pre-dental college program or the summer after it. 

7. When Will I Receive My DAT Scores? 

You’ll receive a copy of your unofficial scores at the testing center. Your official scores will be sent to schools approximately three to four weeks after your test date. 

8. Has Anyone Ever Scored a 30 on the DAT? 

According to multiple sources and the ADA’s score distribution chart, no one has scored a 30 on the DA, although very few test-takers have scored 29.

9. Is There a Lot of Math on the DAT? 

Yes, there is a whole section with 40 questions dedicated solely to math! 

10. How Many Perceptual Ability Questions on the DAT? 

There are 90 questions in the Perceptual Ability section of the DAT. 

11. What Does “DAT” Stand For? 

“DAT” stands for Dental Admission Test, according to the American Dental Association. However, according to the Canadian Dental Association, “DAT” stands for Dental Aptitude Test. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the answer to “What is the DAT?”, you’re one step closer to actualizing your dream of becoming a dentist. Regardless of how far you are from taking the exam, ensure you know the breakdown of the DAT, material, and registration process. This will make your DAT experience as hassle-free as possible!

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