What's Tested on the DAT: Organic Chemistry

The final subtest of the Survey of Natural Sciences is Organic Chemistry. Questions 71–100 will assess your knowledge of reaction mechanisms, properties of molecules, stereochemistry, nomenclature, reactions, acids and bases, and aromatics. Although you may have bad memories of your undergraduate Organic Chemistry courses, don’t worry: The specific content tested on the DAT tends to be much more manageable than most students think since it focuses on your conceptual understanding rather than seemingly endless lists of reactions and mechanisms to memorize.

Organic Chemistry Content

The American Dental Association (ADA) has published a DAT User’s Manual on their Dental Admission Test (DAT) page that establishes what content can be tested on the DAT. The following outlines the exact content you will need to know for the Organic Chemistry section, and the numbers in parentheses reflect how many questions that primarily test that subject are likely to be on any given DAT administration. Note that many questions require knowledge from more than one content area listed, and some questions also require knowledge from Biology, General Chemistry, or other fields, so having a well-rounded background will still be helpful.


Mechanisms: Energetics, Structure,
and Stability of Intermediates (5)
• SN1
• SN2
• Elimination
• Addition
• Free Radical
• Substitution Mechanisms
Chemical and Physical Properties of
Molecules and Organic Analysis (5)
• Inter- and Intra-Molecular Forces
• Separation
• Introductory Infrared Spectroscopy
1H NMR Spectroscopy
13C NMR Spectroscopy
• Chemical Identification
• Stability
• Solubility
• Polarity
Nomenclature (2)
• IUPAC Rules
• Functional Groups in Molecules

Stereochemistry (3)
• Conformational Analysis
• Geometric Isomers
• Stereoisomers
• Optical Activity
Reactions of the Major Functional Groups (9)
• Carbon-to-Carbon Bond Formation
• Functional Groups Conversions
• Multistep Synthesis
• Redox Reactions
• Named Reactions (Grignard, Wittig, Diels-Alder, Aldol)
Acid-Base Chemistry (3)
• Resonance Effects
• Inductive Effects
• Prediction of Products and Equilibria
Aromatics and Bonding (3)
• Concept of Aromaticity
• Resonance
• Atomic/Molecular Orbitals
• Hybridization
• Bond Angles/Lengths


Studying Organic Chemistry

Initially, the Organic Chemistry content on the DAT may appear quite dissimilar to what you studied in your previous courses. The DAT is a multiple-choice test, so you can’t be asked to draw out complicated molecules, deduce elaborate reaction mechanisms, or synthesize specific products based on memory alone. If the test makers ask you to determine the reactant required for a certain reaction or the identity of an unknown molecule based on its IR absorption spectrum, the answer must be one of five choices in front of you. The nature of the test dictates that the focus be more on generalizations, patterns, and critical thinking rather than straight memorization, which may seem more difficult at first but is actually easier for most students to learn in the long term!
To that end, study concepts rather than memorizing a long list of specific reactions. Although it won’t hurt you to know the mechanisms for the Wittig reaction, the Newman-Kwart rearrangement, and the Takai olefination, a basic understanding of the properties of a carbonyl and the kinds of reactions it can take part in (the carbonyl carbon is partially positive and will react with nucleophiles, and the carbonyl oxygen is partially negative and will act as a base) will be much more beneficial for Test Day.
While studying, don’t attempt to memorize every reaction initially but instead focus on the general types of reactions each functional group can undergo. Only 30 percent (nine questions) of the Organic Chemistry subtest is about individual reactions, and the named reactions make up only a small fraction of those questions. Much more of the subtest is devoted to broader topics, such as nomenclature, physical properties, stability, and stereochemistry. Even questions that do require analyzing reactions can often be answered correctly using critical thinking based on a strong fundamental understanding of why reactions take place and a solid knowledge of General Chemistry. Learn the basics first. Only focus on memorizing specific reactions once you feel comfortable with the concepts, which yield more points on Test Day and make memorizing the specifics easier, too.
Finally, with that understanding, don’t panic if you see a reaction or molecule that you don’t recognize on Test Day. Instead, examine the reactants and products for components you do recognize. If you see that xylitol is a reactant for a reaction-based question, you might not initially know its structure (pentane-1,2,3,4,5-pentol) or how it behaves. However, you can identify that it’s an alcohol right away based on its name alone, which means you know it’s likely to be a water-soluble weak acid that can undergo deprotonation. If only one of the five answer choices shows the transfer of a hydrogen, then you have a very good chance of getting that question right; no further knowledge is required. Once you have the concepts down and put them into practice, you’ll be ready to think like this on Test Day and correctly answer even the questions that seem difficult to you now.