Everything You Need to Know About the DAT

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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on August 3, 2023

Interested in dental medicine graduate programs in the US? If so, you will have to take a dental school exam. Here is a guide for international graduate students to prepare for the Dental Admission Test (DAT).

Two dental students practice on dummy replica patients.

If your dream is to become a dentist, you have probably heard about the Dental Admission Test, or DAT. As an international student, you may be wondering what is the DAT? Made up of multiple-choice questions, the DAT is an entrance test required for admission to dental schools in the United States.


October 2023 update 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prometric, the global testing services provider, initially closed selected test centers that administered the DAT exam. At present, Prometric has resumed testing in more than 98% of their global testing centers while continuing to monitor the situation. Reopened test centers will not require test-takers to wear a face mask, unless required to do so by building management or local government mandates. However, Prometric will continue to encourage the wearing of masks regardless of mandate or vaccination status. Test center policies and procedures are regularly updated with the most recent guidance from local governments, the CDC, the WHO, and epidemiology consultants from Johns Hopkins University.

For more specifics, please visit the Prometric COVID-19 FAQ website.

If your appointment for the DAT exam is affected, Prometric will notify you and guide you through next steps: you can choose to cancel or reschedule. You will receive a full refund if your exam payment was processed through Prometric. Generally, your appointment is rescheduled to a new date depending on when testing resumes. As a test-taker, you are encouraged to consider the test administration date carefully, as any last-minute requested changes may not be approved. Any cancellations or rescheduling will require a fee directly payable to Prometric or the administrator vendor. 

Make sure to arrive on time! If you miss a scheduled exam or arrive 30 minutes after the start time, you may not be able to sit for the exam and will forfeit the full testing fee. It is important to note that for you to sit for the exam, Prometric currently requires two valid non-expired IDs, including a government-issued ID, and another form of ID with your signature on it. 

If you are unable to travel to an official testing center because of illness or any emergencies, there is nothing to worry about. You can email your concerns to testingproblems@ada.org; in your message, be sure to provide your DENTPIN along with any appropriate supporting documentation to request a reschedule or cancellation of your appointment.

If you have any questions or need assistance, please reach out to a Shorelight representative


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The DAT college entrance exam mainly measures a student’s aptitude in natural sciences, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning as they relate to the study of dentistry. 

How hard is the DAT? That depends on your scientific know-how, and as with all grad school tests, how your English language comprehension might affect your ability to take the test, especially if you are an international graduate student

According to U.S. News & World Report, being a dentist is ranked among the best jobs in the US, so graduate admissions to dental schools are competitive. Here is everything you need to know about the DAT, including how long does the DAT take, how the DAT score is calculated, and what is considered a good DAT score. 

DAT Structure

Knowing what to expect before you begin the process of studying for the DAT can help you prepare for the hard work that goes into any standardized test

How Many Sections Does the DAT Have? How Many Questions Are on the DAT?

The DAT has four sections, which include:

  1. A 90-minute survey of natural sciences, including 40 biology questions, 30 general chemistry questions, and 30 organic chemistry questions.

  2. A 60-minute perceptual ability test (PAT) comprised of six subtests related to three-dimensional manipulation and spatial reasoning.

  3. A 60-minute reading comprehension section that includes three reading passages on various scientific topics. (International students may need to allocate more study time to this section if they have concerns about English-language comprehension.)

  4. A 45-minute quantitative reasoning section with questions covering algebra, data analysis, interpretation, sufficiency, quantitative comparison, probability, and statistics, as well as applied mathematics (word) problems.

A detailed DAT Candidate Guide is available from the American Dental Association (ADA), which includes links to sample questions and practice tests. 

How Long Is the DAT? When Can I Expect to Receive My DAT Scores?

The DAT takes a total of five hours and 15 minutes, including the optional scheduled break, tutorial, and survey. Since the DAT is a computer-based entrance exam, unofficial scores are provided upon completion of the exam. Official scores will be sent electronically to the schools you selected during the application process within three or four weeks. The official results will be available on your My Account page at ADA.org.

How Is the DAT Scored?

DAT takers receive six standard scores ranging from 1 to 30: 

  • The first four scores are based on individual test section results: perceptual ability, reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, and the survey of natural sciences. The survey of natural sciences includes 100 questions on biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry.

  • The last two scores represent your Academic Average, which is the average of your scores in quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. Your total science score is based on the total number of correct questions in the entire science section.

PRO TIP: Each question answered correctly on the DAT earns one point, which adds up to a raw score that will be converted into a scaled score. There is no penalty for wrong answers, so it is a good rule to never leave any questions blank (even if time is running out). 

What Is a Good DAT Score?

The DAT score ranges from 1 to 30. According to the test prep experts at Kaplan, competitive DAT scores that rank in the top 25% DAT score percentile are 19 to 20 points. So, a top score would be 21 or higher. The average DAT score is 19.

DAT Logistics

When is DAT Registration? 

You must apply to the ADA to obtain a DENTPIN®, which is an eight-digit code that enables you to take the DAT. It takes about one to three days for a DENTPIN application to process.

Once you have your valid DENTPIN, you can then take the DAT which is offered year-round by Prometric test centers in the US, its territories, and Canada. Plan your DAT date for when you will have had enough time to study, and in order to meet graduate school application deadlines

Please note that as of August 2023, the DAT is longer offered in the province of Quebec in Canada. 

How Much Does Taking the DAT Cost?

Non-refundable exam fees for the DAT are $525, each time you take it. Candidates who are students or graduates of dental schools not accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) must pay a processing fee of $350.

How Many Times Can DAT Be Taken?

You can take the test three times before requiring special permission to retake it. There is a 60-day waiting period between each exam before you will be allowed to repeat it, with a maximum of four attempts per year. After the fifth attempt, you can only retake the exam once in a 12-month period. Scores cannot be voided at the request of the candidate after starting the exam. If you come across any persisting issues with your testing experience on test day, you should notify the concern to testingproblems@ada.org and you will be provided the opportunity to retest, and should you accept, your initial scores will be void. Many graduate applicants take the DAT the year before they plan to apply to dental graduate programs. DAT scores are generally valid for up to three years, but policies may differ depending on the dental school you apply to.

How to Study for DAT

Knowing when to take the DAT depends on how much time you can commit to studying. 

University of Illinois Chicago students, like Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) candidate Michael Carrera, recommend starting early. 

“Start preparing for the DAT around the middle to end of your junior year in undergrad,” he says. “Check out the SDN (Student Dental Network) forums for the latest and most effective materials/methods for studying for the DAT.”

Using a DAT candidate guide, like the one available from the ADA or the DAT Destroyer, provides helpful DAT practice questions. Wondering how far in advance to study? A typical course recommended by Kaplan takes a total of 200 to 250 hours, which breaks down to at least three hours per day, five days per week, for three months (13 weeks). Of course, you can study more hours per day to shorten the duration of preparation, if that works best with your learning style. It all comes down to the amount of time you can dedicate to studying for the DAT and the programs’ application deadlines.

Good luck and keep smiling!

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