How to Study for the DAT (2024)

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Dr. Joel Meyerson
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    Hi! I’m Dr. Ari, creator of DAT Bootcamp, dental graduate from Columbia. In this guide I’m going to teach you everything you need to know to ace the DAT. It’ll take you from zero to DAT hero :)

    Over the years, I realized our DAT Bootcamp students have an unfair advantage. We’ve now helped 50,000+ pre-dental students ace the DAT and get into dental school. Because of this, we have unprecedented data and insight into what works - and what doesn’t work - when studying for the DAT. And I’m going to share it all with you in this guide.

    I’m going to go through some general DAT advice, the recommended materials to use, and a breakdown on how to tackle each section on the DAT.

    Register to Take the DAT

    First things first, you have to register to take the DAT. Be sure to follow the steps exactly as specified on the ADA’s website. Read the entire DAT Guide and checklists provided so that you don’t run into any trouble on test day. Be sure to register for the test early – seats tend to fill up fast. Read here to learn when you should take the DAT.

    DAT Section Breakdown

    The DAT is a 4.5 hour test that consists of 4 sections, tested in this order:

    1. Survey of Natural Sciences (100 questions, 90 minutes)
    2. Perceptual Ability (90 questions, 60 minutes)
    (Optional 30-minute break)
    3. Reading Comprehension (50 questions, 60 minutes)
    4. Quantitative Reasoning (40 questions, 45 minutes)

    Survey of Natural Sciences (100 questions)

    You’ll have 90 minutes to answer 100 multiple-choice science questions. The Survey of Natural Sciences consists of 40 biology questions, 30 general chemistry questions, and 30 organic chemistry questions, in that order.

    Biology (40 questions)

    The biology section is probably the toughest to prepare for because of the breadth of the material. You have many options to study for this section with Bootcamp.

    Read this post to learn how to use Bootcamp’s resources to study for DAT biology.

    New - DAT Biology Videos!
    If you prefer learning with videos, I highly recommend the Bootcamp Bio Videos. They cover everything you see in Bio Academy, and make learning biology a breeze. You can just use these with Bio Bites to learn all the bio you need.

    The Bootcamp Bio Practice Tests are the most important resource to focus on. If you’re short on time, focus on those and learn from the explanations.

    General and Organic Chemistry (30 questions each, 60 questions total)

    Both of these sections individually consist of 30 questions and are part of the Survey of Natural Sciences section too. For this section we will use Dr. Mike’s DAT Videos to learn the material . We will use the Question Banks to go through some challenging questions so we can continue to fill in our gaps of knowledge.

    Finally, we’ll use DAT Bootcamp practice tests to tie everything together.

    Tip: After you’re done reviewing OC, check out the OC Reaction Bites – this is a great resource for quick OC reaction practice whenever you want.

    Perceptual Ability (PAT, 90 questions)

    You have 60 minutes to complete 90 questions that test your spatial and perceptual abilities. The 90 questions are broken up into 6 sub-sections of 15 questions each, including: keyholes, top-front-end, angle ranking, hole punching, cube counting, and pattern folding (in that order).

    The good news is that anyone can learn how to beat this section. It’ll be frustrating at first, but if you stick with it and carefully review the solutions, you’ll begin to know what to look for. We’ll be using DAT Bootcamp PAT Academy, PAT generators, practice tests and explanations. Read our Ultimate Guide to the PAT Section for more information.


    PAT Academy:

    Watch these videos on the Keyhole section

    A 3D object is presented and you have to determine which aperture it will perfectly fit through, like a key in a lock.

    Always start by looking at the answer choices and try to match them up to the 3D object. Use the process of elimination, look for which answer choices will NOT work and eliminate them. Often these questions will be proportion-based, so you will have to judge distances and slopes.

    Top Front End (TFE)

    PAT Academy:

    Watch these videos on the TFE section

    Two 2D images of a 3D shape are provided and you are asked for the third 2D image. A solid line is a change in elevation that you can see; a dotted line is a change in elevation you cannot see. Check out these tutorials for an in-depth explanation:

    DAT Bootcamp TFE Tutorial

    Tackle these problems by focusing on one single piece of the image in the two given views. You should focus on any walls or unique looking pieces of the image. Using that information, try to determine which of the answer choices matches up correctly to that area. Eliminate answers that do not properly match. If you cannot eliminate any answer choices, choose a different piece to focus on and see if you can eliminate answers. Rinse and repeat until you have the correct answer.

    It’s important you DO NOT use the line counting method when practicing for this section. Line counting is an old technique that used to work on older versions of the DAT. However, line counting will eliminate either none or only one of the answer choices on the updated DAT. You need to be able to visualize the 3D object.

    Angle Ranking

    PAT Academy:

    Watch these videos on the Angle Ranking section

    Start using DAT Bootcamp’s Angle Ranking Generator

    A set of four angles is presented and you have to rank them from the smallest angle to the largest angle.

    This section is probably the most frustrating to get better at. Play our Angle Ranking Generator game to keep getting new angles to rank. Try to spend the least amount of time on this section. You are much more likely to get other questions correct if you spend more time on them. Spending more time on an angle ranking question doesn’t usually mean you’ll have a better chance at answering it correctly.

    Hole Punching

    PAT Academy:

    Watch these videos on the Hole Punching section

    Start using DAT Bootcamp’s Hole Punching Generator

    A square piece of paper is folded multiple times and hole punched. You must unfold the paper and determine where the holes lie on the paper.

    Draw a 4x4 grid on a piece of paper before you attempt to do these problems. Then, starting with the last fold, unfold the paper one step at a time. Anytime you see a hole punch in the paper, mark where it is located on the 4x4 grid. Continue to unfold the paper one step at a time until you have your solution on the grid, and then match it up with one of the answer choices.

    Cube Counting

    PAT Academy:

    Watch these videos on the Cube Counting section

    Start using DAT Bootcamp’s Cube Counting Generator

    A set of ~15 cubes are presented and you must determine how many cubes have x amount of sides exposed. Usually one figure is presented for 3 questions.

    To tackle these problems, make a 2-column chart shown below:

    Then, go one-by-one to each cube and determine how many sides each cube has exposed. Make a tally each time you count the number of sides a cube has exposed on the right. The bottom of a cube is never counted as an exposed side. In addition, there are no floating cubes; every cube must be supported by another cube underneath them.

    Pattern Folding

    PAT Academy:

    Watch these videos on the Pattern Folding section

    Start using DAT Bootcamp’s Pattern Folding Generator

    A flat 2D image is shown and you have to fold the image into a 3D shape. It’s important to note that you have to fold the image INTO the plane of the paper, NOT up and out of the plane of the paper. Again, the trick here is to focus on just one aspect of the shape. Try to match one of the shapes in the answer choices to the image in the question. Then, determine which piece would be connected to that piece.  Don’t try to fold the entire image in your head, just focus on figuring out the orientation of 2 pieces at a time and eliminate answer choices that don’t work.

    Reading Comprehension (RC, 50 questions)

    RC Academy:

    Watch these videos on Reading Comprehension

    You’ll be presented with three ~1500 word scientific passages with 16-17 questions per passage. You’ll have a total of 50 questions and 60 minutes to complete this section.

    Reading is a tough section to prepare for, and it’s best to prepare for this section over a long period of time. The good news is that if you are able to read this study guide, you already have the skills to pass this section. We’ll be using DAT Bootcamp RC Academy and practice tests.

    The reading on the DAT is different from the SAT/ACT. It focuses more on detail-based questions rather than conceptual/application questions. Often, the question will refer to a specific part of the passage, and the answer can be read directly from the passage without any comprehension. It’s more of a text-based scavenger hunt than a reading comprehension test.

    Every day, navigate to our reading comprehension classroom page and pick out an article or two to read. The best way to improve your reading is by reading similar content that will be found on the exam. It doesn’t take that long to read these passages. Try reading them before class gets started, while you wait in line at Starbucks, or even as you’re eating lunch.

    There are a lot of strategies to tackle reading comprehension, and Dr. Joel goes over the most popular ones in the RC Academy. You’ll have to practice and find out what works for you. For me, I read the entire passage and then answered the questions, very plain and simple. It worked best for me, but you may find another strategy works better for you.

    Others use a method called search and destroy, where you don’t read the passage and go straight to the questions. This is a true text-based scavenger hunt. Once you read the question, you quickly scan the passage and look for keywords that the question refers to. Then you read that specific part of the passage and answer the question. Questions that require some comprehension are marked and answered after all of the detail-based questions have been answered, because by then it’s likely you read the entire passage. Students have plenty of success with search and destroy; I didn’t like it because it put too much pressure on me when I couldn’t find an answer. Try it out and see if it works for you.

    Quantitative Reasoning (QR, 40 questions)

    40 math questions are presented and must be answered in 45 minutes.

    The math on the DAT is the same math you practiced in high school. It focuses on algebra, word problems, and data analysis. There is no calculus. The best way to prepare for this section is to just jump in and practice using the QR question bank. If you haven’t practiced math in a while, check out our QR Academy, it will help cover the foundations. Finally, do the DAT practice tests at the end.

    QR is the only section where you'll have an on-screen calculator. Math questions on DAT Bootcamp have the exact same calculator, click the Exhibit button in a math question to bring it up.

    Since this is a time-intensive test, we will tackle this section in two runs. First, go through the exam and answer all of the easy questions. If you see a problem and you immediately know how to do it, solve it right there. If a problem looks difficult or you’re not sure of how to solve it- guess, mark, and move on. Second, after you answer all the easy questions and get to the Review screen, click Review Marked to go back and try answering the marked questions. This way, you’ll get all the easy points and at least put down an answer to all the questions.

    Use a DAT Study Schedule

    Now you know all the sections of the DAT and how to study for them. My #1 recommendation now is to use our DAT study schedule, it will tell you exactly what you need to study day-by-day to ace the DAT and get into dental school. This study schedule will walk you through using all of DAT Bootcamp to its full potential.

    Becoming a dentist is a difficult, yet rewarding journey.

    It will require a lot of work and sacrifice on your part.

    But I can tell you firsthand, the moment your first patient smiles and says “thank you” – will make all the years of studying more than worth it.

    We here at DAT Bootcamp can’t wait to help you achieve your dream of becoming a doctor of dentistry.

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    Hannah Brein, DAT Bootcamp Student