Since a large portion of my blog focuses on my journey of becoming a dentist with the next step being dental school admission, I thought I’d share with any other fellow pre-dent readers out there how I went about tackling this daunting exam this past summer. Several of these tips could also apply to MCAT, GRE, LSAT, etc. The cool part about these kinds of tests is that unlike the SAT or ACT, this is something you know is a crucial stepping stone on the way to achieving your specific professional ambitions. Also, while those tests are important for scholarship purposes, chances are you didn’t really enjoy going in on those early Saturday mornings as a high school senior, and you probably didn’t study a fraction of the time required for tests like the DAT or MCAT. You can see how badly you really want to be a doctor, lawyer, etc. by the amount of motivation and focus you have on doing well since it’s such a crucial aspect of your applicant profile. I’m a big believer in visualizing success, so if you can see yourself doing well on the test, the next thing you should realistically dream about is being a successful student at your top choice school because of those killer scores.
I know winter break is a popular time to devote time to studying for the DAT as well as early summer (I promise the earlier the better – I can’t express how relieved I am knowing I won’t have to stress about it on top of applications this summer). Warning: this is a long post, but I go into great detail on exactly what I bought, how I went about it all, and general test-taking tips for success. I wanted to do this because as I was trying to figure out how exactly I should study for the DAT, I read countless blogs, student doctor network (take everything on there with a grain of salt…), and asked all my upperclassmen friends about their experience. I want to pass on my advice to help others get the scores they want and let people know that anything is possible with a lot of sacrificing (like having a very lackluster summer) and hard work. Everyone is a different and comes from varying backgrounds, so obviously not everything I did will be perfect for you. Take what you want, leave what you don’t.
TIME: I started studying July 1st and took the test Aug 29th (with a couple days off and a 5 day vacation with only very light studying about 2 weeks before I took it). I was also taking 6 hours of summer school in July that required a lot of time reading and writing, working a little as well as interning with an oral surgeon on Fridays, so I only averaged probably around 3-4 hours/weekdays and maybe around 5-7 hours/day on the weekends. The first 3ish weeks were strictly reading/taking notes/reviewing mostly science material. I then started to go through the Destroyer and took a full-length practice test every Saturday (6 total I think including a free Kaplan event). Take breaks about every hour when studying, or you’ll lose focus and energy. Make time for regular exercise, and occasional (but probably not as much as usual) social time. I would usually go out for dinner with a friend maybe once on the weekends. Pretty much no TV, but I still managed to have time for short, periodical breaks for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and blogging.
WHAT/HOW: Prep materials I bought and how I used them:
**I did not buy a Kaplan course**
- Cliffs AP Bio 3rd Edition. This was the first thing I went through. I read every chapter and took my own notes in a spiral as I went through it. It covers a ton of info you’ll see on the test. There are some topics that go into more detail than you probably need, but other than that, I think this was a great place to start for bio review. I finished this in about a week while I was waiting for my other materials to arrive in the mail. I also bought the corresponding flashcards that were detailed and thorough, but I didn’t really have time to use these as much as I thought I would.
- Kaplan Review Notes Book. I did 2-3 chapters of each science subject and 1 section of QR every day, the same way – writing my own notes along the way in 1 big spiral with divided sections for each subject. Answer the review questions at the end of each chapter for a quick recap. You’ll finish this math review in a few days because it’s pretty short and broad and doesn’t cover all the types of problems you’ll see. I didn’t use this reading section at all. To complete the science review I spent about 2 weeks on this. Go slow enough that you understand your weak areas, but don’t get bogged down here at the beginning on every tiny detail – you’ll have plenty of time to work problems and see what you’re missing to come back and review. I took maybe 3 days before starting to work problems after I was done writing notes to actually study/highlight/add memorization hints to those notes.
- Kaplan Lesson Book. I only used the PAT section that’s very short and basic – more for understanding the rules of each section.
- DAT Destroyer (2012). THIS IS PROBABLY THE MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE. After my initial review of all subjects/topics, I started working through this bad boy. I didn’t start timing myself at first, and I would even say don’t worry about timing at all on the Destroyer. It’s tough. The questions for the most part require more time and higher level thinking/calculations than actual DAT questions. Your confidence might get a little “destroyed” along the way (my first time through I probably was averaging 40-70%, but the second time through I improved to 80-100%). I divided each subject into sections of however many problems that subject has on the real DAT (40 bio, 30 GC, 30 OC), except for math (I usually only did 20 at a time instead of 40). I would try to answer 1 “section” of each subject every day, marking ANY answer I was not 100% confident on (it was always a lot, I promise) in my separate spiral that I would write my answer choices on. Then ****super important**** I would “grade” each section and go over every solution that I got wrong AS WELL AS any question that I might have gotten right, but was not exactly sure or confident in my answer. The solutions go into really good detail about why the answer is right as well as cover each wrong answer choice. I wrote all these solutions down in that spiral and periodically looked over them to understand why I missed it. It took me about 3 weeks to complete this process once. I then took about a 3 or 4 day break from working problems to thoroughly study all those questions/solutions that I was unsure of or had missed the first time. When I got back from my short trip the middle of August, I was no longer in summer classes, so I had much more time to study. In about a week (the week before my test week) I did the exact same thing a second time, but much more condensed/longer days – about 3 “sections” of each subject a day. I really only took breaks to eat, workout, and sleep – sad I know, but we’re talking about our future careers here. I still went back and checked the ones I missed and wrote those solutions down again. You WILL see several questions (or at least the main idea behind those questions) that you’ve seen in the Destroyer on your DAT.
- DAT Achiever Full Length Practice Tests. $100 for 5 complete tests ($140 I think for 7). Warning: these are very difficult. I really think because these kicked my butt so bad, that it made me not slack off in my studies and pushed me to master the harder stuff so come test day, the real DAT felt like high school TAKS test (comparatively – might be a slight exaggeration). I took one of these each Saturday morning after I had finished my initial reviewing, so starting around the end of month 1 of studying. I will go ahead and tell you my AA averaged between 16-18 on these, PAT 16-19, and TS 16-20 (so don’t take these to heart and get discouraged like I sometimes did). Most things I’ve read people tend to average at least 3-4 points higher (and often times more like in my case) on the real DAT. I did the same thing as the Destroyer questions as far as going back over the test and writing all the solutions (they give pretty good explanations too) to the tricky ones and the ones I missed in an additional spiral. Again, I occasionally would flip through this spiral to brush up on weak topics. I’d say it’s safe to say that compared to the real test, ALL sections of Achiever are significantly harder.The biology has several questions with the A/B/C/A and B/A and C/All of the above format, and I don’t think I had hardly any asked like that on the DAT. Several of the detailed concepts showed up on my test, though.The GC involves way more calculations than the real test, so if you can work through these, you’ll fly through the chem section on test day since it’s much heavier on conceptual questions (or maybe just setting up the equation to calculate).The OC really calls attention to the reagents you might need to brush up on that aren’t some of the more popular reactions.
The RC uses a lot longer passages (15-20 paragraphs vs 10-12), so if you can try to get down your timing and strategies for this section, the RC on the DAT will be very simple. I would say out of 50 questions, less than 10 required slightly more than simply finding that exact phrase in the passage with the answer.
The PAT section is hard on Achiever. I struggled on timing for this due to some complicated shapes, tough hole-punching, and weird T/F/E, but on the real PAT I still had time to go back over ones I marked. I would say my actual PAT difficulty was only a little easier (pretty close to Crack the DAT PAT). It just takes lots of practice and seeing what strategies work for you. For the hole-punching I drew 4×4 grids on my paper, but other than that I don’t have any secret strategies that are guaranteed to help. I didn’t do the tally method for cubes like Kaplan suggests.
On the QR, I NEVER could actually finish this section. I always had to guess on about 5-7 that I skipped or marked. On the real DAT, I had about 15 minutes left after going through the questions once to go back to the few I marked and was able to figure out for the most part. The trig and probability questions are way harder than the real DAT. I was asked I think 1 or 2 trig questions on test day. The types of algebra and geometry problems are representative of what you’ll see, but they just took a lot longer.
- Crack the DAT PAT. I bought the 5 test version ($100 I think). I think this is good extra practice for the PAT, but I would say it might be just slightly easier than the real PAT. Kaplan PAT is too easy. Use these towards the end (or just rework as test day approaches) to stay up on your game and know which sections you’re slower on so on test day you can make sure you spend your time wisely. I think I scored 19-23 on these, improving each time.
- DAT Bootcamp Online. They had 1 set of free subject tests (what I did) and you can also upgrade for I think up to 5 tests. I did this my last week because I needed a confidence booster after dwelling on my low Achiever scores. These are very representative of the difficulty level of what you’ll most likely see on test day. My estimated scores for each section (22-24) on these were much closer to my actual scores but I still was able to improve in most areas.
- Make sure you sleep enough, eat healthy, and get some kind of exercise the last few days before your test. Your brain will thank you.
- Drive to your test center and ask any questions you have to clear things up before your actual day.
- Don’t work too many problems. Spend the last few days lightly reviewing all your outlined notes (focusing on areas you have a hard time remembering), solutions notebooks, or important equations.
- Don’t feel bad asking people to pray for you, be thinking about you, or just send some encouragement your way. This made a HUGE difference in my mindset the last week knowing all the people in my life who were rooting for me to do well.
- Go to bed as early as you can (but still somewhat close to your normal schedule so you don’t toss and turn) and shoot for 7-9 hours.
- Wake up PLENTY early so you’re not rushed.
- Eat a good but not too heavy breakfast. Drink some water and coffee (if you usually do). Bring snacks and water for the break.
- Get there 30 minutes early.
- On my 2 sheets of laminated paper for scratch work, I used the 15 minute tutorial to set up my PAT hole-punch grids, any chemistry equation I could think of, and random bio facts I had a hard time remembering just in case. Then later before my halfway 15 minute break finished, I used the last few minutes to write any geometry or trig formula.
- On your break, try to really relax, walk around/stretch, eat a carb snack (for fresh glucose to that brain! I had a granola bar, apple, water), and be happy you’re finished with the hardest part (at least I think)!
- GO CELEBRATE YOUR AWESOME SCORES WHEN YOU FINISH!!!