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If you’ve always enjoyed going to the dentist (or maybe just appreciated what he or she does!), are fastidious about dental hygiene and enjoy studying the sciences, then perhaps dental school is the path for you. However, in order to begin your journey as a dentist in training, taking the DAT exam is necessary. It is critical to learn more about the DAT before taking the exam, including what it is, registration, the test structure and components, grading and how to proceed after the test.

What is the DAT?

The Dental Admission Test, better known as the DAT, is an exam required for admittance to dental school in the United States and Canada. The exam is conducted by the American Dental Association, or ADA. It is one of the criteria for applying to graduate school, along with, but not limited to, admissions essays, undergraduate GPA and coursework, and a personal interview. All of these factors are seriously considered by the admissions board. Therefore, performing well on the exam makes you a stronger candidate and prospective dental student.


In order to take the DAT exam, there are several steps that must be followed.

  1. Read the DAT Examinee Guide (PDF). Read, print, and underline relevant information, and keep it handy! It offers a wealth of valuable information, and will help you learn more about the DAT before even signing up for the exam.
  2. Acquire a DENTPIN. A DENTPIN is a specialized username assigned specifically to you, encouraging security and privacy before, during and after the testing process. In order to obtain a DENTPIN, you must visit the following ADA .
  3. Next you can register online using a credit card. The cost is $385 and is non-refundable.
  4. Once your application is approved, the ADA will contact Prometric testing centers, informing them of your acceptance. One of these testing centers will administer the exam.
  5. You will receive an e-mail about scheduling a test day, which must be scheduled within six months of your application approval.

Once you have completed the aforementioned steps, it’s time to start studying!

Test Structure

So what is there to know about the DAT in terms of test structure? All the questions on the DAT exam are multiple choice and taken on the computer. The DAT is given in Prometric testing centers throughout the nation and is accessible at your leisure (within the six month testing period). There are four components to the DAT, in addition to break time, and optional section and a tutorial at the beginning of the exam. Without the additional sections, the exam last for 4 hours and 15 minutes, and with these sections, the total time is five hours. Let’s look at a section and time breakdown:

Section Time Allotted
Optional Tutorial 15 minutes
Survey of Natural Sciences 90 minutes
Perceptual Ability Test 60 minutes
Optional Break 15 minutes
Reading Comprehension Test 60 minutes
Quantitative Reading Test 45 minutes
Optional Post Test Survey 15 minutes

Now that you have a greater understanding of the organization of the DAT exam, the four sections and the time allotted for each, let’s explore the number of questions and general topics assessed.

Section Questions General Topics
Survey of Natural Sciences 100 items Biology (40 items)
General Chemistry (30 items)
Organic Chemistry (30 items)
Perceptual Ability Test 90 items Contains six subtests:
View Recognition
Angle Discrimination
Paper Folding
Cube Counting
3D Form Development
Reading Comprehension Test 50 items A variety of topics are covered in order to test reading comprehension
Quantitative Reading Test 40 items Mathematics- Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Probability, Statistics, Numeric Calculations and Conversions

For even more specific DAT content information, please consult the “Test Content and Test Preparation Materials” section of the DAT Examinee Guide.


Now that you can better answer the question “what is the DAT?” it is necessary to contemplate the grading system and dissect what the scores truly mean. Fortunately for you, there is no penalty for guessing wrong, so when in doubt, make an educated guess. There are only points to be earned, not lost.

The test is graded from 1 to 30, and there are no passing or failing scores. The average depends on the year and test, as the scores are scaled, but, a general national average can be deduced to a scaled score of 17, just a little over half.

Of course, the score achieved does affect your admittance to dental school, and what qualifies as a “good” score is based on the prestige of the school. That being said, getting into any dental school is quite the accomplishment, so fretting about scores is ill advised.

Test Day

On the day of the test, it is vital to understand the rules of conduct, which can be found in the DAT Examinee Guide. You must bring two original forms of identification (no copies allowed), for example: state license and passport. The primary ID must have both a picture and signature, while the secondary ID must have at least a signature. The secondary ID could be a credit or debit card, if you wish. Your name and address must be identical on these forms of identification, as well as on your DAT application. If you are unsure of what to expect on exam day, please visit the Prometric website to learn more about the DAT on test day.

After the Test

So you’ve worked hard, prepared diligently, and completed the DAT: what now? It is time to wait for your scores. Fortunately, there is minimal wait time, as you will receive unofficial scores upon completion of the exam at your local Prometric testing center. These results are scaled and are yours to keep. The official scores, however, will be posted three to four weeks after the exam, and then sent to your respective schools of interest. These are the schools that you have indicated on the DAT application, completed upon registration.

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