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When to Take the DAT: A Guide to Timing and Success

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Girl graduating college

Hey future dental superstar!

We understand that deciding the perfect time to tackle the Dental Admission Test (DAT) can be a bit like finding your way through a maze. No worries – we're here to be your guide through it all.

Whether you're just starting school or you need to take the DAT in the next few months, we are here to help!

So, if you're pondering, "When's the best time for me to tackle the DAT?" – you're in for a treat. Stick around as we dive into the details to help you carve out your DAT game plan.

Understanding the DAT

Alright, let's chat about the DAT.

It's not just a test; think of it as your personal challenge to conquer before diving into dental school.

So, what is it exactly?

From natural sciences, to decoding perceptual ability and mastering reading comprehension, the DAT has a bit of everything you've learned up to this point. We're here to break it down, making sure you're not just facing it but doing it like a champ. Ready? Let's dive into the DAT world together.

Explanation of DAT Structure and Sections

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is not your average exam—it's a comprehensive assessment designed to evaluate your readiness for dental school. Let's break down the DAT structure into its core sections, offering you a roadmap for what lies ahead.

Sections of the DAT

  • Natural Sciences: This section delves into your understanding of biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. It's a deep dive into your scientific foundation.

  • Perceptual Ability: Ever thought about the spatial relationships between objects? This section explores your ability to visualize and interpret visual information.

  • Reading Comprehension: Can you extract and comprehend information effectively? This section evaluates your reading and critical thinking skills.

  • Quantitative Reasoning: Numbers, equations, and problem-solving – this section tests your proficiency in mathematical concepts and application.

Why DAT Scores Matter for Dental School

Studying for the DAT

Understanding the weight of your DAT scores is crucial. Dental schools use these scores as a key metric in the admissions process. As we venture deeper, we'll explore the role of DAT scores in your overall application and discuss benchmark scores that align with competitive dental school applications.

What's the Big Deal with the DAT?

Now that you're acquainted with the DAT terrain, let's talk significance. It's not just about acing the test; it's about paving your way into dental school.

Your DAT scores are not mere numbers; they're keys that unlock doors to your future profession. But how do they fit into the grand scheme of dental school admissions?

DAT Research Study

In a recent validity study (Dental Admissions Test 2021), the correlation between pre-dental science and pre-dental total GPAs, DAT scores, and academic achievements during the first and second years in U.S. dental schools was explored. The study involved 66 U.S. dental schools, aiming for a comprehensive understanding of how admission criteria relate to success in dental education.

The study highlighted the importance of a large and representative sample for meaningful insights. It revealed that DAT scores and undergraduate GPAs, considered together, presented a robust predictor of student performance in dental school.

Overall, this study demonstrated the continued relevance of DAT scores in the admission process.

Key Findings of the Study
  • DAT academic average and total science scores showed robust correlations with first and second-year biomedical grades.

  • Pre-dental GPA, science GPA, and all DAT scores played pivotal roles in predicting first and second-year grade point averages.

In essence, the DAT isn't just a test you take; it's a significant player in your journey to becoming a dental professional. The data underscores its validity and reinforces its crucial role in the admission process.

Factors to Consider

Now that you understand what the DAT is and why it is so important for you as a future dentist, let’s finally answer your question “When should I take the DAT?”

My Roadmap to Dental School from Pre-Dental Advice

Now, it's not just about knowing and mastering the content; it's about ensuring you're mentally and strategically ready to crush it. Let's take a look at the factors you need to consider.

#1 Academic Readiness

This shouldn't come as a surprise, but you must be academically prepared for the DAT.

What do we mean by that? You need to be sure you've at least been exposed to the materials that the DAT will cover.

So, which classes should be on your academic checklist before you tackle the DAT?

  1. Your Biology Pre-Requisites: Now do you need to know all the ins and outs of biology before taking the Dental Admissions Test? Of course not! As long as you’ve completed your pre-requisite classes you should have a good enough foundation that your DAT prep course can guide you from there.

  2. Your General Chemistry Pre-Requisites: General chemistry is a big part of the DAT! If you haven’t taken these classes yet, I wouldn’t even consider taking the DAT.

  3. Your Organic Chemistry Pre-Requisites: Lastly, you’ll be lost on the DAT if you haven’t taken your organic chemistry prerequisites.

#2 Balancing your Academic Load and DAT Preparation

Finding balance

No need for a tightrope act! We understand that gearing up for the DAT happens while you're knee-deep in your usual college coursework.

So the next thing you should consider is how your schedule will look in the months leading up to the DAT.

Are you taking a full course load with multiple difficult pre-requisite classes, busy with volunteering, extra-curricular activities, and other commitments? Your DAT prep likely won’t be as effective at this time.

On the other hand, maybe you’ve been able to create a semester that isn’t too bad academically and you’ll have the time to study for the DAT and your other classes.

#3 Mental Preparedness

Have you ever thought about how stress impacts you or how mentally equipped you are?

It's not just about mastering the content; it's about cultivating mental resilience to approach the DAT with unwavering confidence.

When considering when to take the DAT, think about where your mental state will be doing that time of year. Do you have other commitments? Will you be truly focused on the DAT?

Take the time to consider this.

Timing Tactics: Navigating the Seasons

Alright, let's talk timing – the strategic art of choosing between the vibrant summer months and the studious academic year to conquer the DAT.

Each season has its perks, and it's all about finding the rhythm that syncs with your beat. So, let's weigh the pros and cons.

Summer Sizzle: The Pros and Cons


  • Uninterrupted Focus: With fewer academic commitments, summer offers a window of opportunity for undivided attention to your DAT preparations.

  • Extended Daylight Hours: The longer days translate to more daylight for studying – a potential mood booster for your prep journey.

  • Flexible Scheduling: Summer allows for a more flexible study schedule, adapting to your personal rhythm and preferences.


  • Social Temptations: The allure of summer fun might distract the unwary studier.

  • Competitive Scheduling: Test centers might be busier during the summer, potentially limiting your choice of exam dates.

Academic Year Appeal: The Pros and Cons

Predental students laughing


  • Routine and Structure: The academic year provides a familiar routine, making it easier to incorporate DAT prep into your daily schedule.

  • Collaborative Atmosphere: Being in the academic environment can foster collaboration with peers and access to resources.


  • Academic Overload: Juggling DAT prep with regular coursework might be challenging.

  • Limited Daylight Hours: Shorter days could pose a challenge for effective study sessions.

Harmony with Personal Rhythms: Energy and Preferences

Whether you're a sun-soaker or a classroom aficionado, aligning your DAT journey with your energy levels and personal preferences is key.

Are you more alert in the morning or a night owl?

Do you thrive in a relaxed summer setting or a bustling academic atmosphere?

Tailoring your study schedule to sync with your peak energy times ensures optimal performance.

Timing is Everything: The Dance of DAT Scores and Application Success

Now, let's explore the dance between DAT scores and application cycles. Your timing could play a significant role in the success of your dental school application.

Strategic DAT Timing in the Application Cycle

Apply for dental school in June

1. Early Bird Advantage: There's a correlation between early application submission and success. Getting your DAT scores in early can give your application a competitive edge.

2. Balancing Act: Strategic timing within the application cycle involves synchronizing your DAT timeline with application deadlines. Aim for a balance that allows you to present your best self without rushing.

So, whether you're basking in the summer sun or navigating the academic hustle, finding the right timing is a dance – a rhythm that sets you up for DAT success and a seamless journey into dental school.

Cracking the DAT Encore: Retake Considerations

Alright, let's talk about what happens when the first performance doesn't go as planned – the DAT retake.

Whether it's a slight misstep or a full-blown stumble, here's how to orchestrate a triumphant encore.

Impact on the Application Timeline:

While your goal should never be to need to take the DAT more than once, this is the reality for many students.

Knowing this, one thing to consider is if you don’t do well on the DAT, will you have enough time to retake the DAT and still have time to apply?

According to the ADA, “Candidates must wait 60 days between testing attempts on the DAT”.

What does this mean for you?

Scenario #1

Predental Coaching by Pre-Dental Advice

Let’s say you’ve decided that for your situation, it would be best for you to take the DAT on August 1st. Test day comes and things don’t go exactly as planned.

Unfortunately, the application deadline for many dental schools is early October. On top of that, your application is not considered complete without your DAT score.

You know you won’t be accepted to your dream dental school with the score you got.. Now what do you do?

Scenario #2

Let’s take a look at the same scenario, but you decide that you’ll be prepared for the DAT on June 1st.

Once again, the same outcome–the DAT doesn’t go very well for you.

What’s the difference here, though?

In this scenario, you can take the DAT again in early August! Plenty of time to study, take the DAT, and still apply before it’s too late.

Our Recommendation on When to Take the DAT

In general, we recommend taking the DAT exam between your junior year and senior year of college. Ideally, the best time would be to take it around May to have your application ready to submit early in June.

Keep in mind, that it does take a couple of weeks between taking the DAT and AADSAS (Dental School Application Service) to receive your score.

Because we recommend having your application ready to submit in the first couple weeks of June, mid-May would be ideal. Of course, when to take the DAT isn't a one-size fits all question.

Take all the information above into consideration when deciding when is best for you!

What to Do Once You've Decided When to Take the DAT

With the DAT date locked in, it's time to map out your study plan and turn your preparation into a roadmap for success.

Assessing Your Starting Point: Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses

1. Initial Evaluation: Begin by identifying your strong suits and areas that need more attention. This initial assessment sets the stage for your entire study plan.

2. Structuring Your Time: Your study plan is your guide. Break down your study sessions into manageable chunks, covering each DAT section. Keep it practical and balanced, making sure to allocate time for both content review and practice tests.

Find the Right DAT Prep Course for you!

As we’ve described above, your success on the DAT is a strong predictor of how you will do in dental school. By this same logic, it is a very strong predictor of if you’ll be accepted to dental school.

Now isn’t the time to be cheap when it comes to DAT prep. Find the best DAT prep course that is best for you!

DAT Masterclass

Finding the Right Balance: Navigating Content Review and Practice Tests

1. Mastering the Fundamentals: Dive into the study materials, focusing on grasping key concepts. Strengthen your foundation in natural sciences, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning. This is the backbone of your DAT preparation.

2. Testing Your Progress: Transition from content review to full-length practice tests. Simulate exam conditions to build your test-taking stamina and pinpoint areas that need refinement. The more you practice, the more confident and prepared you'll be when the actual test day arrives.

Logistics and Preparedness: Managing the Practical Aspects

1. Familiarizing Yourself with the Test Center: Know the ins and outs of the test center. Understand the location, rules, and requirements for exam day. Ensure you have all necessary materials ready to avoid last-minute surprises.

2. Tackling Potential Challenges: Anticipate any challenges that might disrupt your study sessions. Identify distractions and find effective solutions to maintain focus. This preparation ensures a smooth and uninterrupted study routine.


Congratulations! You've journeyed through the intricate landscape of the Dental Admission Test (DAT), and now you're armed with insights to make informed decisions about when and how to tackle this challenge.

Remember, the DAT isn't just a test; it's a significant player in your path to dental school.

As you ponder "When's my DAT moment?" keep these snapshots in mind:

Prep Savvy: Ace your prerequisites, strike that study-life balance, and be mentally ready to own the DAT stage.

Time Vibes: Summer vibes or academic year hustle, align your energy with your study season.

Conquering the DAT

Strategic Dance: Timing is your partner. Sync DAT scores and application cycles for a stellar application.

Study Symphony: Assess, find your perfect prep course, mix content review with practice, and nail test day logistics.

Your DAT journey is a prelude to dental greatness. Take aim, study smart, and let the DAT be your gateway to the dental world.

You've got this! 🌟

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