"I made sure to do all 10 of the Bootcamp practice exams, and these practice exams were VERY representative of the actual exam."
Hi guys, I am a rising junior who recently took the DAT (06/09/23) and managed to score a 26 AA with only four weeks of preparation done exclusively with DAT Bootcamp (90-day access). I wanted to share the best advice I have from my personal experience.
- PAT: 22
- QR: 30
- RC: 23
- BIO: 30
- GC: 26
- OC: 22
- Total Science: 26
- AA: 26
First, I want to emphasize that if you use Bootcamp EFFECTIVELY, you WILL be prepared for this exam. I made sure to do all ten of the Bootcamp practice exams, and these practice exams were VERY representative of the actual exam. I also feel strongly that these practice exams were generally MORE DIFFICULT versions of the actual exam, which meant that even though I felt underprepared, I was actually over-prepared. If you are on a tight studying schedule like I was, definitely make it your priority to get through all of the practice exams, and focus on studying any concepts you struggled with that consistently showed up on practice exams.
As you can see here, with the exception of RC, I either matched or outperformed all of my practice exam averages on test day.
Disclaimer for my advice: be aware that EVERY PERSON IS DIFFERENT, and how much time you devote to studying for each section is unique to YOU. From my experience, the best way to quickly determine your strengths and weaknesses is to take one full practice exam before you begin your studies. During the four weeks that I took to prepare for the DAT, I was taking one two-credit summer class online, but I did not have a job or any other major time commitments, meaning I could maximize my dedication to studying. That being said, I certainly did not overdo it; I would estimate that I spent an average of 2-4 hours actually studying each day, and at least a third of that was spent actively taking practice exams. I spread the ten practice exams out over the course of the four weeks. I only took three of them from start-to-finish in one sitting (simulating the actual exam); otherwise, I went subject-by-subject. Based on my performance on the baseline tests, I decided that it would be in my best interests not to take any of the individual QR and RC tests, and instead allocate more time to the other sections.
- Baseline Test: Day 1 (May 15th)
- First full practice exam: Day 8 (May 22nd)
- Second full practice exam: Day 16 (May 30th)
- Third full practice exam: Day 23 (June 6th)
- Exam: Day 26 (June 9th)
This section is what I am most proud of on my exam, and the biggest testament to the effectiveness of Bootcamp. I began my bio studies WILDLY unprepared – I scored 23/40 on Practice Test #1 (estimated scaled score of 18). My improvement was HUGE, and I made progress systematically. With each practice test, I would tag EVERY SINGLE QUESTION as either “mastered”, “reviewing”, or “learning”, and make note of every concept that needed to be studied further. (Tip: Don’t skip over any questions during your review just because you got them correct – they might’ve been mere lucky guesses pertaining to subjects that you actually know nothing about. This is also why it’s helpful to use the bookmark tool to mark questions as you move through the practice tests.) Then I would go back through the subject’s page and take notes based on the videos pertaining to that concept. I worked through as many videos as I needed to, using the knowledge check questions to ensure my understanding, but not getting bogged down doing supplemental questions or watching videos about concepts I already understood.
It heavily benefitted me that I had been a TA for general chemistry in the semester directly before I took the DAT, because a lot of the gen chem concepts were still fresh in my mind. Like all of the other sections, I tagged EVERY practice exam question and made a list of topics to review. I also think it’s valuable to go through the Bootcamp general chemistry equation sheet and make sure that you know and understand each of the equations, where they come from, and the topics they pertain to. I ended up essentially making my own annotated version of an equation sheet including only the equations that gave me the most trouble. I found this to be more efficient for me than watching any of the gen chem videos, because I felt like I already had a good baseline, and my time was better spent elsewhere.
This was the score I was most disappointed with and that I definitely expected to be higher. That being said, I put very little time into studying for orgo because I had just finished taking the class with the most incredible professor ever, and thus I felt very adequately prepared for this section. There were a handful of practice exam questions that genuinely stumped me, and for those I watched the video explanations so I could understand those concepts. Otherwise, I pretty much relied on baseline knowledge for this section. But I do think that my lack of Bootcamp utilization for this section really shows in my score.
Practice is the name of the game for the perceptual ability section. At the end of the day, with the PAT, you really just have to learn by doing. The nice thing is that you can practice PAT questions anywhere at any time. I would watch Bootcamp’s PAT strategy videos while I was on the elliptical because I didn’t need to take any notes, and I would use the Bootcamp app on my phone when I was in the car, waiting in lines, etc. to do sample problems whenever I had a spare moment. I would recommend devoting the largest amount of time to learning TFE, keyholes, and pattern folding, because those are the sections where you can save a lot of time if you’ve mastered your approach strategy. Hole punching and cube counting I would say are the two easiest sections – and both are easier, in my opinion, on the actual exam than they are on the Bootcamp practice exams. You can use this to your advantage to buy yourself some extra time when you take the real thing. This is KEY, because by FAR the most challenging thing about the perceptual ability section is timing. Definitely figure out where your strengths are I always did my best to allocate time as so:
- Keyhole: 10-15 minutes
- TFE: 10 minutes
- Angle ranking: 5-10 minutes (goal was to finish angle ranking by 30 minutes running time, so I would often rush through it to catch myself up if I spent too long on the first two sections)
- Hole punching: 10 minutes
- Cube counting: 5-10 minutes
- Pattern folding: 10 minutes
Then *IF* I had a few extra minutes (VERY rare) I would start from the beginning reviewing any bookmarked questions, which worked well for me because keyholes was my worst section.One last general piece of advice for the PAT is to start with the answer choices (except for cube counting) and utilize the process of elimination. This is especially true for angle ranking, pattern folding, keyhole, and TFE.
Similarly to orgo, this score disappointed me, but I also can’t really complain because I barely devoted any time to studying for this section. I used the “search and destroy” method, as I’ve seen others call it. I firmly believe you do not need to read the passages for the DAT reading section, and with timing being so tight, I think, if anything, reading the full passages is a waste of time. I also thought the actual RC section was significantly easier than the Bootcamp practice tests (although I also hypothesize that I got a particularly easy RC section, and thus getting just one or two questions wrong on my test probably bumped my score quite a bit – no way to prove that, just my guess).
Math has always been my strong suit, and I studied very minimally for this section. I did, however, (just as I did with the natural sciences sections) make a list of practice test topics that I had forgotten or that needed a bit of review. And like with gen chem, I focused a lot of my review on the Bootcamp QR Formulas Cheat Sheet, using it to create my own annotated version with all of the equations that were still giving me some trouble.
Ultimately, the key is to utilize the practice exams early and often! Don’t be scared of choking a practice exam – even if you do, that will just serve as a wake-up call and a good jumping-off point for your studying. Make yourself a schedule, let the practice exams guide your studies, make it through all of them, and you will be in great shape come test day!
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