What is the Dental Admission Test (DAT)?

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is required for admission to most dental schools in the United States and Canada. The American Dental Association (ADA) administers the DAT at Prometric Test Centers. Your DAT score is an important part of the dental school admissions process because it provides a universal factor for schools to use in comparing applicants. 
The DAT is likely different from other tests you have encountered in your academic career. It is unlike the knowledge-based exams common in high school and college that emphasize memorizing information; dental schools can assess your academic prowess by looking at your transcript instead. Dental schools use DAT scores to assess whether you possess the foundational skills upon which to build a successful dental career. Though you certainly need to know the content to do well, the focus is on knowledge application. The DAT emphasizes reasoning, critical thinking, reading comprehension, and problem-solving skills.


The DAT is up to five hours and fifteen minutes long, inclusive of a tutorial at the start, a break, and a post-test survey—all of which are optional. Excluding breaks and the optional parts, the test is 4 hours and 15 minutes long. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Optional Tutorial: 15 minutes
  • Survey of Natural Sciences: 90 minutes
  • Perceptual Ability: 60 minutes
  • Optional Break: 30 minutes
  • Reading Comprehension: 60 minutes
  • Quantitative Reasoning: 45 minutes
  • Optional Post-Test Survey: 15 minutes

The DAT is administered year-round and you can register through the ADA. It is a computer-based test.


The DAT is fully administered digitally. During the test, there is a countdown timer in the corner of the screen. You will not be allowed to wear a watch and may not have access to a clock. One 30-minute rest break is scheduled for the middle of the test, but you may take additional breaks with the permission of the proctor, though the test timer will continue running. Even if you are not at the computer, the test will continue to run itself, and successive sessions will start automatically if the time for the previous section has elapsed.
An on-screen periodic table is provided for the Survey of Natural Sciences section, and an on-screen calculator is provided for the Quantitative Reasoning section. The testing center provides a noteboard and marker to use for taking notes and writing out calculations. You are not allowed to bring your own calculator, writing utensils, or paper.


The DAT is, among other things, an endurance test. It consists of four sections and 280 multiple-choice questions. It can be a grueling experience, to say the least. If you do not approach the DAT with sufficient confidence and stamina, you may lose your composure on Test Day. That’s why taking control of the test is so important
There are four timed sections on the DAT: Survey of Natural Sciences (including Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry), Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning
  • Survey of Natural Sciences

    The Survey of Natural Sciences section tests your knowledge of university-level sciences. There are 100 multiple-choice questions, subdivided into Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry. The section is 90 minutes long, giving you just 54 seconds per question.
    The distribution of Survey of Natural Sciences questions is as follows:

    • Biology: 40%
    • General Chemistry: 30%
    • Organic Chemistry: 30%
  • Perceptual Ability

    The Perceptual Ability section is 60 minutes long and has 90 multiple-choice questions, giving you just 40 seconds to answer each one. You’ll be tested here on your ability to visualize and manipulate objects mentally in three dimensions, as well as on your angle discrimination skills. 

  • Reading Comprehension

    On Reading Comprehension, you’ll face three passages over 60 minutes (20 minutes per passage). Questions will test your ability to comprehend, analyze, and interpret passages on a variety of scientific topics. There are 50 multiple-choice Reading Comp questions in total.

  • Quantitative Reasoning

    The Quantitative Reasoning section is 45 minutes long and has 40 multiple-choice questions, giving you a little over a minute to answer each one. You’ll be tested on the following math concepts:

    • Algebra
    • Data Analysis & Interpretation
    • Sufficiency, Quantitative Comparison, and Probability and Statistics


The DAT is scored on a scale of 1 to 30. For each section of the test, the actual number of multiple-choice questions you answer correctly per section is your raw score. All multiple-choice questions are worth the same amount—one raw point—and there’s no penalty for incorrect answers. That means you should always fill in an answer for every question whether or not you have time to fully invest in that question. Never let time run out on any section without filling in an answer for every question.
Your raw score is simply the number of questions you answered correctly in a given section. This score is not the indicator of your performance that schools receive because it doesn’t reflect the relative performance of all test takers. So, on the official DAT score report, you and the schools to which you are applying will receive a scaled score, which will also be in the 1-30 range. 
Converting your raw score into a scaled score allows each test to be calibrated for group performance and difficulty via equating procedures. In the scoring scale, a score of 17 is representative or approximately average performance. This allows scores from different tests, of potential different difficulties, to be fairly compared to one another by dental schools. 
[ LEARN MORE: What’s a Good DAT Score? ]


The DAT is not just a science test; it’s also a critical thinking test. The test is designed to let you demonstrate your thought processes as well as your knowledge base. The implications are vast. Once you shift your test-taking paradigm to match the test maker’s, you’ll find a new level of confidence and control over the test. 
Dental schools do not need the DAT to evaluate your content mastery; admission committees can assess your subject-area proficiency using your undergraduate coursework and grades. Schools are interested instead in your ability to solve problems. In recent years, many dental schools have shifted focus away from an information-heavy curriculum to a concept-based curriculum. Currently, more emphasis is placed on problem-solving, holistic thinking, and cross-disciplinary integration. This trend is reflected in the DAT. 
Every good tool matches its task. In this case, the tool is the DAT, and the task is to predict how likely it is that you will succeed in dental school. In fact, research affirms that the DAT is correlated with success in dental school, and, together with undergraduate GPA, is a powerful tool for schools to determine which applicants are likely to excel.
[ NEXT: How Should I Study for the DAT? ]