What's Tested on the DAT: Survey of Natural Sciences

Appearing immediately after the DAT brief computer tutorial, the Survey of Natural Sciences (SNS) will be the first scored section you will see on your official DAT. As the longest section with the most breadth of content, the Survey of Natural Sciences initially can seem overwhelming. However, the first step is to understand what subtests the section contains and how you’ll approach each to finish the entire section on time.  From there, a strong understanding of exactly what content is tested—and what is not—will allow you to focus your studying exclusively on the topics that will earn you the most points on Test Day.

Survey of Natural Sciences Test Format

The Survey of Natural Sciences section contains the Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry subtests for a total of 100 questions that must be completed in 90 minutes. Questions 1–40 are always related to biology, questions 41–70 are always related to general chemistry, and questions 71–100 are always related to organic chemistry. The content in each subtest does overlap in some areas (such as chemical bonding, which is tested in both General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry), but the questions always remain in three discrete groups, and you will receive separate scores for each subtest in addition to your cumulative Survey of Natural Sciences score. Therefore, when you first begin studying for the Survey of Natural Sciences, it’s generally best to treat the section as three separate tests and master each content area separately, except for those topics that obviously overlap.

Survey of Natural Sciences Pacing

On Test Day you will be able to freely navigate among all 100 questions in the Survey of Natural Sciences section. Time is shared for all three subtests, giving you an average of 54 seconds per problem. Because the Survey of Natural Sciences is one long section, some test takers find themselves overwhelmed by the need to keep track of time; there are so many questions yet less than one minute for each. Therefore, you should not only study each subtest separately but also consider each separately when managing the entire section.
  • Biology

    Among the three subtests, you should complete Biology in the least amount of time since its questions are mostly fact based and require few calculations. Spend 30 seconds or less on each question to finish the Biology subtest within 20 minutes.

  • General Chemistry

    General Chemistry, which involves many more calculations and therefore more use of your scratch work, will take the most time. You should average 75 seconds for each General Chemistry question, which means the entire subtest will take you a total of 37.5 minutes.

  • Organic Chemistry

    Organic Chemistry will be somewhere in the middle, with some questions that involve drawing out reactions or complex figures taking longer and other questions that require just naming or identifying molecules taking less time. With 60 seconds per question, you will be able to complete this subtest in 30 minutes.

Following these guidelines will allow you to break down the Survey of Natural Sciences into more reasonable pieces and give you a more realistic sense of how you’re progressing through the section than if you were to use the overall average of 54 seconds per question. If you stick to the guidelines closely, you’ll also have 2.5 minutes left at the end of the section to review any questions that you marked to return to later because they involved lengthy calculations or otherwise would take too long to answer during your first pass through the section. By adhering to this pacing strategy, you undoubtedly will find the timing of the Survey of Natural Sciences much more reasonable than you previously thought.