For me, the two most impactful factors that got me to this score were the materials I used and the way I learned / practiced. 99% of my time was spent with DAT Bootcamp. As for how to learn, I think there is a way to intake information that is the most conducive to understanding, remembering, and being able to dynamically apply it: start broad, conceptual, and real and only AFTER that, go into the specific, mechanistic, and hypothetical. After you have a grasp of the information, test yourself with practice sections. A day later, come back to the questions you got wrong and ask yourself why you got the incorrect answer, then review Bootcamp's thought process to get the right answer."
Hey DAT test takers,
I wanted to make this post to give some advice and maybe a little hope to those of you taking the DAT. My starting point was way below what most of you are beginning your studies with - I've been out of college for roughly six years (was a B+/A- student in my good years, and a B/B- in the year I took ochem), didn't take any biology courses until recently (only gen bio 1 so far), and forgot all of my ochem and some of my chem. In fact, I knew so little about biology and ochem when I first started prep that I couldn't answer the vast majority of questions on the practice exams, and my gen chem was coming in at about a 20. In addition, after learning about the PAT and doing about two weeks of prep, I was scoring 18s.
The only benefit I had was that I took the GRE last year and essentially needed almost no practice on math and reading (though, in my opinion, those are the two most straightforward sections on the test).
That all said, I took my test today (first and last time, thank goodness) and got these results:
I was a fairly average undergraduate student, but over the years, I've learned how to study more effectively, and I believe that's why I did well.
Now, on to the advice:
For me, the two most impactful factors that got me to this score were the materials I used and the way I learned / practiced.
- DAT Bootcamp (100% recommend)
- Kaplan's Supplemental Question Bank (don't recommend)
I can only speak to the efficacy of these two study materials as they were the two that I used. 99% of my time was spent with DAT Bootcamp, and when I felt like I had exhausted their Bio/Chem materials, I purchased Kaplan's supplemental question bank two weeks before my test to get more practice.
I know there are already a lot of pro-Bootcamp posts on here, but I seriously cannot recommend them enough myself. The way their bio and ochem prep materials were structured was intuitive and easy to understand, and (generally speaking) all of the information I needed for the test was somewhere in the course. In addition, their practice tests cover almost everything they teach you at one point or another.
I don't know whether Kaplan's actual course is different, but the supplemental question bank I purchased form them was not worth it. I went over all of the chemistry and biology questions over the course of three or four days, but I felt the scope was super slim, and the questions were poorly written. If you're desperate for more practice with a specific type of question (mitosis/meiosis, acid-base chemistry, IUPAC naming, etc.), you could consider it, but you may also be able to find other, better-written practice questions online for free.
As such, my study method recommendations will be through the lens of DAT Bootcamp's materials.
Let me start off by saying you should give yourself a decent amount of time to study, especially if, like me, you're coming in below average. For me I studied roughly:
- 2-3 hours a day
- 6-7 days a week
- 10 weeks
- Estimated 200 hours in total
I didn't stick to this schedule entirely. On the good weeks, there were some Saturdays and Sundays I studied for 6 hours. However, about six weeks in, there was also a period of about 5 days where I completely lost steam and didn't study at all, which I think happens to everyone at least once. If you, like me, had this issue, it's totally forgivable. Recognize yourself falling off the horse, ease yourself back onto it, and don't catastrophize too much. You'll be back on a good pace in no time. As you can see, it's totally possible to drop everything for a week and still do well.
As for how to learn, I think there is a way to intake information that is the most conducive to understanding, remembering, and being able to dynamically apply it: start broad, conceptual, and real and only AFTER that, go into the specific, mechanistic, and hypothetical.
For example, if you are studying the kidney, start off understanding its overall function (takes in blood, filters water/salts into urine, reabsorbs nutrients, and excretes waste). Then, once you're comfortable with the pathway in and out, you can start looking at nephron structure, tubule function, and hormonal activation. Then finally, you can take a look at what-if, loss-of-function quetsions. If you focus only on memorizing the terminology without having a broad understanding of what's happening and why, it will not only be more difficult to remember, but your thinking will also be more inflexible and less capable of application/practicum questions.
After you have a grasp of the information, test yourself with practice sections. A day later, come back to the questions you got wrong and ask yourself why you got the incorrect answer, then review Bootcamp's thought process to get the right answer. On top of learning the information in an intuitive, top down manner, I believe this is the most important aspect to good studying. You can take as many practice tests as you want, but those practice tests are worth very little until you review the cause of your mistakes and work to fix them. I only stress this because it is advice I wish I was given when I was younger. In terms of the DAT, this latter point is what makes the difference between a 21 and a 25, or a 25 and a 30.
My rough schedule was as follows:
- Learn the material for about five weeks (3 weeks just bio, 2 weeks bio and chem)
- Take section tests for a week or two, going over least familiar material
- Take one or two full-length tests each week until the day before exam, reviewing the worst individual sections, and reviewing all incorrect answers a week before the test
Here is a breakdown of how I studied for each topic.
I read Bootcamp's High Yield Biology notes fully through with a focus on conceptual understanding. Given I had very little background in biology, I had to take this pretty slow (2 chapters a day over the course of 4 or more hours). In addition, while the notes had most of the information I needed, I also had to do some supplemental googling and watch the occasional youtube video. This is especially true for mechanisms that involve movement and aren't illustrated well on the notes (muscle contraction, pulmonary system, etc.).
After I finished my first read-through, I did a second full read-through with a focus on details, making sure I could visualize the processes in my head. Here, I also made flashcards for myself on all of the areas I didn't understand, and I especially recommend doing so for processes that have many steps or classifications involved (menstrual cycle, embryonic development, and Kingdoms/Phylums). The notes have a handful of good mnemonics, but you'll have to come up with some on your own as well.
Once I finished this read-through, I began taking the Biology section tests. By this point, I was scoring around a 34/40 on each one. As mentioned above, after taking each one, I would go back, look at the questions I got wrong, and figure out why I got them wrong. Sometimes it was a lack of conceptual understanding, sometimes it was inability to visualize what was going on, and sometimes it was just a missed detail. In any case, by the time I stepped into the DAT, I had taken all of the section tests at least twice (either individually or as part of a full test), and I was getting 39/40.
I believe if you get to this stage, you will be more than fine for the test.
Since my general chemistry knowledge was alright to begin with (roughly 24/30 on the section tests), I didn't actually use Bootcamp's lectures or notes. I only took the section tests and practiced questions in the subjects I was weakest on. Similar to Biology, by test day, I was getting 29/30 on every section test.
Since I had forgotten everything about organic chemistry, I went through Dr. Mike's Bootcamp lectures entirely (over the course of about a week and a half). Similarly, I focused on overall concepts here (such as how nucleophilic attack generally works and why), and after testing, dived more deeply into the details (which groups are nucleophilic/electrophilic, which are good leaving groups).
For what it's worth, I didn't completely memorize the list of ochem reactions on the Bootcamp website - if you understand which groups are nucleophilic and which ones are good leaving groups, the details tend to work themselves out.
Here as well, I was getting 29/30 on every section test after taking them, reviewing mistakes, retaking, reviewing mistakes again, and then taking them a third and final time.
I used Bootcamp's question banks and section tests, which were good, for practice. Keep in mind after my first pass through the videos, I was scoring roughly 18 on Bootcamp's practice PAT sections, so if you're starting from there (or worse), don't be disheartened! Methodical practice, error identification, and good strategies can carry you to a good score.
Reading and Quantitative Reasoning
As I mentioned earlier, I took the GRE last year (Magoosh, highly recommend them as well if you need to take the GRE at any point), so the only preparation I did was take two reading tests, as well as all of the math ones and figure out which concepts I had forgotten.
I only saw a few posts talking about this so I think it's worth bringing up: you might want to consider coffee, energy drinks, or caffeinated tea during this period of study (unless you are caffeine sensitive). The few months I studied (~20 hours a week) were on top of part-time research work (~20 hours a week) and classes (~30 hours a week, including homework). I've met people who, by some miracle, are burdened by even more work, subsist on four hours of sleep, and have laser focus no matter what they do. For the rest of us on planet earth, I think it's forgivable to rely on caffeine for the duration of your study, given you only drink as much as you need and wean off once the test has passed. That said, you've probably heard this recommendation before: if you drink coffee before your practice tests, do so before your actual test. Memory is context-sensitive, and chemicals/smells/tastes are an important contributor to context. Just make sure to pay attention to how your body reacts during the practice - if you get the strong urge to use the restroom half an hour after having a cup, make sure to drink your test-day coffee an hour in advance and relieve yourself before the test starts. You can also re-up during the break.
Second, when it comes to studying, I can't stress the importance of being deliberate and methodical with your time. It's infinitely better to do an hour of focused review on your mistakes/weak spots than four hours of practice tests without looking at the questions you got wrong.
Lastly, studying for this test is not easy. It's a lot of hours, a ton of stress, and requires you to set your own schedule. Over the few months you study, you'll have to find a balance between pushing yourself most days and cutting yourself slack on the occasional day where you just aren't up to it. Study habits can ebb and flow, and that's just a part of being human. You will make it through this, you will grow, and hopefully you'll even find strengths you didn't even know you had.
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