How Reading Vertically Helped Youjia Improve Her RC Score

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Youjia Ma
23 AA

Meet Youjia Ma, a happy DAT Bootcamp customer who recently conquered the DAT. Youjia is an international student who was able to rock the DAT, even with English not being her native language. I’ve asked Youjia to share her DAT experience with us as the featured student of May.

What tips do you have for other international students who are struggling with the reading comprehension section?

DO NOT think you have to read everything. I had been through the stage where I felt like I had to read everything to understand the passage. But that is not true. You just need to learn how to convert limited information to a short, coherent message from a long paragraph. To be able to do that, you have to practice your reading speed and improve your comprehension skill. They are different skill sets, but they build upon each other.

To get a high score in DAT reading comprehension, you need to have a speed of reading 3-4 paragraphs with 75-150 words on each paragraph in 1 – 1.5 minutes. A lot of time, as international students, we will underestimate our potential in reading English fast because we tend to read passages word by word horizontally. However, the key to improving reading speed is to FORCE yourself to read the passage vertically.

Here’s how you can practice reading vertically:

  1. Every time you read an article, focus your attention in the middle section of the paragraph (you can even point your figure there if needed), and quickly move down each line.
  2. Then, try your best to use the words that pop out to you and make a sentence that makes sense to you.
  3. Next, reread the passage slowly to grasp the main idea.
  4. Compare the sentence you made from pieces of words to the main idea you get by reading slowly and see how close they are.

By practicing this technique daily, you will get better at identifying essential information when reading vertically and train your brain to process information faster even when you are reading quickly.

To improve your reading comprehension, you have to be a voracious reader. I will suggest international students (non-English speakers) maintain a habit of reading English novels or magazines on a daily basis. By reading novels or magazines, you will grasp the essence of this language, such as the proper use of words and phrases in different context or the dynamic of this language, and you will continuously build your vocabulary pool.

For example, I love science fiction and detective novels. So during the time I was preparing for DAT, I have completed The Complete Stories of Isaac Asimov (Vol 1), Murder on the Orient Express, and reread 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In my spare time, I also read tons of articles on Scientific American and The Economist. I would highlight all the useful phrases and words that I do not know or use very often but are used commonly by native English writers, and added them to my “English phrases and vocabs” spreadsheet. The purpose of doing this is to get your brain conditioned to English. Besides, lots of topics on these magazines have touched on the most current scientific/ technological innovations and economic phenomena that are influenced by these, and you want to broaden your knowledge as much as possible.

What challenges did you face while preparing for the DAT as an international student, and how did you overcome them?

Besides reading comprehension section, the most significant challenge is memorizing tons of biological or medical terminologies.

I used Bootcamp’s Biology Notes to study for biology section, and the sheer volume of information was definitely daunting. My first language is Chinese which is not based on Roman alphabetical system, which means I cannot infer the meaning of an unfamiliar English term from my first language. Therefore, every time I identified a new term on the notes, I would run Google-Imaging to allow my brain associate the word with an image or a molecular structure. Next, I will Google-translate it and write down the Chinese meaning next to it. To solidify my understanding of the term, I made Anki vocabulary deck to quiz myself repeatedly.

What was your favorite thing about DAT Bootcamp?

Honestly, I love everything about DAT Bootcamp, the videos, the practice tests, and the strategy recommended by previous users. But if I have to name one thing, my favorite was definitely the PAT section. All the practice test questions are about the same difficulty as the real DAT test, so I did not experience any unexpectedness. Also, the explanation sections of every PAT practice test were so comprehensive and had helped me identify my weaknesses. For example, I was not good at keyhole at all when I first began studying for the DAT. Therefore, I would study every explanation carefully no matter I got the question right or wrong. I would take notes on the common patterns of the wrong answer choice. So the next time I did a keyhole practice, my brain will pay attention to the minute details and eliminate answers by identifying wrong answers based on those common patterns.
In the past three months when I was preparing for my DAT, I used the generators to kill time when I was on a train to friend’s house or when I was waiting for my dinner to be cooked. I discovered lots of joy in using the generator because I felt like I have developed a keener sense of observation.

The importance of planning and the mentality needed for preparing for the DAT

No matter you have decided to study for the DAT test in 3 weeks, a month, three months, or even longer, make sure you plan out your study schedule reasonably before you start studying for it, and stick with your schedule. Ari’s schedule is excellent and very reasonable, and I will recommend his schedule to anyone who hates making their schedule. I revised Ari’s schedule because I also worked part-time as a dental assistant. However, I made sure I would practice PAT every day and studied a chapter of general chemistry, organic chemistry, or biology during the first half of preparation stage.

Also, make sure you have a positive attitude when preparing for DAT. Everything seemed pretty daunting to me at the beginning. However, I realized that instead of panicking about potentially getting a bad score, it would be more realistic to try to master every knowledge point. I would ask myself constantly, “Do I truly understand this?” instead of “How much I can get if I only know this, this and that….” I genuinely believe that the goal of preparing for DAT is not just getting a good score (though I know that’s important for dental school application), but also developing the DISCIPLINE & GRIT to overcome challenge over time.

One last note: “Confidence comes from discipline and training.” So work hard, learn from your own mistakes, and get better! If I can do this, you can do this too!

If you had any questions, please feel free to email me at

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Hannah Brein, DAT Bootcamp Student