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What's on the DAT? A Breakdown of the DAT's Sections and Structure

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

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Are you ready to take the next step toward becoming a dentist?

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is a crucial exam that opens the door to dental school admissions.

However, mastering the DAT requires more than just the knowledge of science concepts you learned in undergrad, it demands a comprehensive understanding of the exam's content, sections and structure.

In this article, we will break down the DAT, giving you the insights and tips you need to succeed. From the four sections of the exam – Natural Sciences, Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning – to the specific topics covered within each section, we will guide you through the exam's intricacies.

No matter if you're taking the DAT years from now if next week, this article will equip you with the knowledge and strategies to excel on the DAT and make your dreams a reality.

So, let's dive in and explore the key components of the DAT!

Structure and Format of the DAT

The DAT is a standardized exam administered by the American Dental Association (ADA).

It is a computer-based test consisting of four main sections: Natural Sciences, Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning. Each section is designed to assess specific skills and knowledge necessary for success in dental school.

The exam is structured in a multiple-choice format, with each section containing a set number of questions.

The time allotted for each section varies, with the Natural Sciences section having the longest duration at 90 minutes, followed by Perceptual Ability and Reading Comprehension at 60 minutes each, and Quantitative Reasoning at 45 minutes.

The DAT is a challenging exam that requires careful time management and the ability to quickly analyze and answer questions. Understanding the structure and format of the exam is crucial for adequate preparation and performance on test day.

Sections of the DAT

There are four main sections to the DAT. Let's take a look at each of these sections.

Natural Sciences (90 minutes)

The Natural Sciences section of the DAT can be broke consists of 100 questions, covering a wide range of topics within these disciplines. Let's take a look at each of the subsections of this topic.


The biology section of the DAT makes up 40% of the Natural Sciences section of the DAT (40 out of the 100 questions). It covers topics such as:

  • Cellular and Molecular Biology: Cell structures and functions, Mitosis and meiosis, cellular metabolism (photosynthesis, enzymology, etc.), cellular processes (signal transduction, membrane transport, etc.), thermodynamics, and experimental cell biology, biomolecules

  • Structure and Function of Systems: Skeletal, muscular, nervous/sensory, endocrine, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, integumentary, and lymphatic/immune systems

  • Evolution and Ecology: Population genetics/speciation, ecology (population, community, and ecosystem ecology), natural selection, and animal behavior

  • Diversity of Life: Plantae, Animalia, Viruses, Fungi, Archaebacteria, Eubacteria, and Protista

  • Genetics: Classical genetics, chromosomal genetics, molecular genetics, gene expression, developmental mechanisms, epigenetics, human genetics, genomics, and genetic technology

General Chemistry

The general chemistry section of the DAT makes up 30% of the Natural Sciences section of the DAT (30 out of the 100 questions). It covers topics such as:

  • Stoichiometry and General Concepts: Balancing equations, percent composition, molar mass, moles and molecular formulas empirical formulae, density, and calculations

  • Gases: Boyle’s law, Charles’s law, Dalton’s law, the ideal gas law, and the kinetic molecular theory of gases

  • Liquids and Solids: Properties, polarity, intermolecular forces, phase changes, vapor pressure, and structures

  • Nuclear Reactions: Binding energy, balancing equations, particles, decay processes, and terminology

  • Acids and Bases: Brønsted-Lowry reactions, pH, strength, and calculations

  • Solutions: Properties, polarity, forces, and concentration calculations

  • Atomic and Molecular Structure: Lewis-Dot diagrams, bond types, electron configuration, molecular geometry, orbital types, quantum theory, atomic theory, and sub-atomic particles

  • Chemical Equilibria: Acid/base, Le Chatelier’s principle, precipitation, molecular, and calculations

  • Periodic Properties: Periodic trends, representative elements, descriptive chemistry, and transition elements

  • Chemical Kinetics: Half-life, rate laws, and activation energy

  • Thermodynamics and Thermochemistry: Hess's law, laws of thermodynamics, enthalpies and entropies, spontaneity, and heat transfer

  • Oxidation-Reduction Reactions: Electrochemical concepts, electrochemical calculations, determination of oxidation numbers, balancing equations, and terminology

  • Laboratory: Safety, basic techniques, equipment, data analysis, and error analysis

Organic Chemistry

The organic chemistry section of the DAT makes up 30% of the Natural Sciences section of the DAT (30 out of the 100 questions). It covers topics such as:

  • Nomenclature: IUPAC rules & functional groups in molecules

  • Mechanisms: Reactions & mechanisms, structure and energectics - elimination, addition, substitution, and free radicals

  • Individual Reactions of the Major Functional Groups and Combinations of Reactions to Synthesize Compounds: Substitution/elimination, aldehyde/ketone, alkene/alkyne, carboxylic acids and derivatives, armoatic and others.

  • Acid Base Chemistry: Prediction of products and equilibria and ranking acidity/basicity

  • Stereochemistry: Chirality, conformations, and isomer relationships,

  • Aromatics and Bonding: Concept of aromaticity, atomic/molecular orbitals, resonance, bond angles/lengths, and hybridization

  • Chemical and Physical Properties of Molecules: Structure, spectroscopy, and laboratory theory and techniques.

If it's been a while since you've taken some of these classes and you'd like to freshen up before starting your official DAT prep, we would recommend searching DAT Biology, DAT General Chemistry, and DAT Organic Chemistry on YouTube to start..

Perceptual Ability

The Perceptual Ability section assesses your spatial reasoning and visual comprehension skills. It consists of 90 questions that measure your ability to interpret two-dimensional images, manipulate objects mentally, and visualize three-dimensional structures.

The types of questions you can expect on the Perceptual Ability Test (PAT) portion of the DAT include:

  • Apertures: Assess if a three-dimensional object can fit through a given opening.

  • View Recognition: Visualize how an object's presentation alters when examined from different angles/perspectives.

  • Angle Discrimination: Sequence a set of angles from the least to the greatest magnitude.

  • Paper Folding: Visualize mentally the unfolding of a piece of paper that has been folded and hole-punched.

  • Cube Counting: Assess and quantify the exposed surfaces of individual cubes within the stack.

  • Spatial Relations / 3D Form Development: Determine the three-dimensional configuration produced by folding a flat pattern in a particular fashion.

What's great about the PAT portion is that nobody learned anything like these problems until preparing for the DAT. What does that mean? Everyone is on a level playing field. The key to doing well on the Perceptual Ability portion of the DAT is to practice. While there are some basic principles to understand, practicing will be your best friend! To start practicing PAT problems for free, check out Erudition's free ADA PAT problem explanations! If you'd like even more PAT practice, upgrade to full access with our Erudition discount code.

Reading Comprehension

The Reading Comprehension section evaluates your ability to understand and analyze written passages.

It consists of 50 questions derived from 3 reading passages that assess your reading comprehension, critical thinking, and inference skills.

What's great about this section, is that there's no need for prior comprehension of science topics to answer the test questions.

While there are many different strategies that different DAT prep companies will teach you, one of the most basic things you can do to practice is read articles. We would recommend taking 5 minutes every day to read through an article from Science Daily.

Challenge yourself to read quickly, while still understanding and retaining the information.

Quantitative Reasoning

The Quantitative Reasoning section measures your mathematical skills and problem-solving abilities. It consists of 40 questions that cover various mathematical concepts, including the following topics:

  • Algebra

  • Data Analysis and Interpretation

  • Quantitative Comparison

  • Probability and Statistics

  • Word Problems

Don't worry about doing all this math in your head, though. A digital calculator is provided during this portion of the exam.

Get a start by checking out this YouTube video. While you'll need much more than this to master this section of the DAT, your DAT prep company will cover the rest!

Tips for Studying and Preparing for the DAT

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Preparing for the DAT requires a systematic and disciplined approach. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your study time and maximize your chances of success:

1. Create a study schedule: Plan your study sessions in advance and allocate dedicated time for each section of the DAT. Establish a routine that allows you to cover all the necessary material while also balancing other commitments.

2. Invest in the BEST DAT prep: Preparing for dental school is not cheap. Between undergrad student loans and then paying for the DAT, dental school application fees, and interview travel expenses, the bills add up. However, your score on the DAT is one of the biggest factors in your dental school admission. Invest in the best DAT prep!

3. Join study groups or find a study partner: Collaborating with others can help you stay motivated, clarify difficult concepts, and share study strategies. Engaging in discussions and explaining concepts to others can enhance your understanding and retention of the material.

4. Take simulated practice tests: Simulate test conditions by taking full-length practice tests under timed conditions. This will help you build endurance, manage your time effectively, and identify areas where you need further improvement.

5. Analyze your performance: After each practice test or study session, review your answers and identify your strengths and weaknesses. Focus on improving your weak areas while reinforcing your strong areas.

6. Seek guidance and support: Consider seeking guidance from dental school advisors, professors, or professional tutors who can provide personalized advice and help you navigate the DAT preparation process.

7. Take care of yourself: Maintain a healthy lifestyle during your preparation. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and manage stress effectively. Self-care is essential for maintaining focus and optimal cognitive function.

Resources and Study Materials for Mastering the DAT

To help you succeed in your DAT preparation, here are some recommended resources and study materials:

- ADA DAT Guide: The official DAT guide provided by the American Dental Association contains valuable information about the exam's content, sections, format, and sample questions.

- Practice Tests: Take advantage of practice tests to familiarize yourself with the exam's format and assess your readiness. ADA offers official practice tests, and various test prep companies provide additional practice materials.

- Flashcards: Use flashcards to memorize important concepts, definitions, and mnemonics. Anki and Quizlet are popular platforms for creating and sharing flashcards.

Remember, success on the DAT requires consistent effort, dedication, and effective study strategies. Use these resources wisely and tailor your study approach to your individual needs and learning style.


Mastering the DAT is a crucial step in your journey toward dental school admissions. By understanding the sections and structure of the DAT, and by employing effective studying techniques and resources, you can increase your chances of achieving a high score.

Remember to stay organized, manage your time effectively, and take care of yourself during the preparation process.

With the right mindset and preparation, you can confidently tackle the DAT and pave your way to a successful dental career. Good luck!

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