Words From Your Peers

Advice for Approaching the DAT

Posted by Joseph Marsallo on February 22, 2023

In the grand scheme of applying to dental school, tackling the Dental Admissions Test (DAT) can seem like the most daunting task of the entire process. A five-hour exam that seems to define your chances of getting in would make anyone at least a little nervous, but that’s okay. The DAT is just one part of your application that can help show a school that you are prepared to become a dentist. Although it’s not the only thing that schools will look at, it is still very important. Here’s what I did to prepare for the DAT and boost my confidence for applying to dental school.

Tools to Help You Study for the DAT
The first thing most people think about when they consider taking the DAT is, “How should I study?” There are a couple of programs out there that students use to prepare, but I used DAT Bootcamp and thought it was a great preparation tool. It provided videos that reviewed each subject and there were multiple sets of questions and notes available for me to access. Along with this, there are several practice exams for each section as well as full-length exams. I found the practice exams most useful; I would highly recommend taking a couple of full-length practice exams before test day. This will ensure you are acclimated to taking a long test and can familiarize yourself with the flow of the DAT. Furthermore, the practice exams contain very similar style questions to the real exam, so you will not be thrown off when it matters most. One final note about the practice exams, when you’re taking one, it’s very important to review the concepts that you get wrong. Don’t just take it for the sake of getting a score; take it with the intention of seeing how you can improve.

Another thing I did in my preparation was add some personalized review on top of the DAT Bootcamp materials. I knew that the Perceptual Ability section would be challenging and that repetition was crucial to making myself feel comfortable with these questions, so I made a habit of doing 60 questions a day (10 from each category) to track my progress. This helped me develop strategies for each category, and my familiarity helped alleviate the time crunch that comes with this section. I also knew that the quantity of biology information would make that section a challenge as well. After I completed all of my biology modules, I reread one chapter of biology every day leading up to the exam. Coming back to these concepts enabled me to refresh myself on everything I’d learned, ensuring I wouldn’t miss easy questions on the exam. Reading aloud and pinpointing high-yield topics proved very advantageous for my DAT; I cannot recommend this strategy enough.

Determine When and How Long You Should Study
Students will also wonder how much time to dedicate to studying for the DAT. Studying does take a bit of time; some students will study during the summer and some will study during the semester. My exam was in mid-September, so I studied from June to August and then during the first few weeks of school. I did conduct research three days a week during the summer, which made studying tight at times, but ultimately it was nice to have something to take my mind away from the books for a bit. 

I wouldn’t recommend studying during the semester; my first few weeks of school didn’t give me much time to enjoy myself. Studying for the DAT definitely demands a good amount of time, so I would recommend not rushing into the exam. Remember, you want to avoid retaking the test, so be sure you map out a study plan that will make your hard work worth it. It is safe to plan out at least 2-2.5 months of dedicated studying (4-6 hours a day) to ensure that you’ll be ready.

Don’t Forget Your Health and Wellness
A final suggestion, I would have in preparing for the DAT is to take care of yourself. It can be a stressful process and no matter how smart you are, you won’t perform at your best if your head isn’t in the right place. Be sure to give yourself breaks and take time to do what you love. Two days before my exam, I got together with my friends for a group dinner and it was awesome to just laugh and let my mind relax for a bit. It will also be important to get enough sleep and eat healthy while you’re studying. Eight hours a night of sleep can make a world of difference in retaining material. Foods like eggs, blueberries, walnuts and vegetables ensured that my brain was in peak condition. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your body in good condition while you’re preparing for the exam; studying can be draining and in order to maximize your efforts, be sure to prioritize your health.

If you’re reading this article, you’re already off to a great start in terms of succeeding on the DAT. It will take a lot of discipline and sacrifice, but the DAT is a great way to show schools that you are ready to take on dental school. Just remember that this test won’t determine how good of a dentist you will be, it just has to get you to the next step of your journey. Putting in the effort to study will yield high results, so just take your time and put yourself in the position to do your best.

Good luck!

About Joseph Marsallo :

Joseph Marsallo

Joseph Marsallo
Predental Student, Biology 
Boston College 2023

Joseph Marsallo is from Syracuse, NY, and is currently a senior at Boston College majoring in Biology. He has wanted to be a dentist his entire life, but outside of school, Marsallo enjoys working out, reading and spending time with his dog, Sadie.