All pre-dental students know that the DAT is a tough test requiring a lot of time and preparation. In this article, we will answer two of the first, and most common, questions pre-dents on the horizon of the DAT have: how long should I study and when should I start?
While these are two simple questions, the answers to them vary depending on individual circumstance. Here, we will outline the three most common situations students find themselves in when looking to take the DAT and give an approximate length of study time. The three starting situations are:
- Starting During a College Semester
- Starting During a Summer Between College Semesters
- Starting After Graduation While Working
There are also some courses that we recommend you complete before starting your DAT preparations. Those familiar with the DAT will see that these are the courses that correspond with the science section of the test. Having exposure to all the science material from your course work before studying will save you tons of time in preparation. Keep in mind. you have to take these courses anyways for dental school, so you might as well use them as DAT preparation. Here are some courses that can help with the DAT but are not required to start your DAT preparations:
- General Biology I & II – strongly recommended
- Organic Chemistry I & II – strongly recommended
- General Chemistry I & II – strongly recommended
- Physiology – optional/not required
- Biochemistry – optional/not required
- Immunology – optional/not required
- Embryology – optional/not required
- Microbiology – optional/not required
Start During a College Semester
This is a very common starting point for students looking to start dental school directly after graduation. Traditionally, this is a very tough time to start studying during school because of the academic responsibilities. However, it is very possible to succeed while taking college courses. A huge positive of this starting time is that you keep your summers open to work, shadowing, and volunteer opportunities, all of which will boost your overall application. To make studying more manageable, often students take a lighter course load the semester they plan to study; I recommend this strategy since you will have more time to study.
In regards to the amount of time studying, I recommend scheduling your test 2-4 weeks after your finals. You want your test to be slightly after finals because it is important to have at least a short period of time where the entirety of your focus is on the DAT. This way, with the days and weeks approaching your test date, the only thing on your mind is the DAT. Also, you will be able to study for your finals more fully to get the best grades possible. With a typical semester being ~ 3 months, this will put your total study time between 3-4 months.
Start During a Summer Between College Semesters
This situation is the alternative to studying during the semester if you are looking towards going straight into dental school or only taking one gap year. With this starting point, you have a solid 2 months with the DAT as your singular focus, which is a huge positive. But for this focused time you are losing out on some volunteering/shadowing time, which is not necessarily a bad thing since you are getting quality study time in exchange. Also, this option may not be viable for those needing to work over the summer.
It is possible to adequately study for the DAT in 2 months; however, most people will need at least 3. Therefore, I recommend slowing ramping up studying towards the end of your school semester and to take your test right before the start of the new semester. This will give you a full 3 months of studying with the last 2 months purely focused on the DAT.
Start After Graduation While Working
This situation is for those taking 2+ gap years, non-traditional students, and those making a career change. Those that fall into these categories typically will be working, which complicates planning for studying. Since the DAT is such a demanding exam, it is necessary to put in lots of quality study time to ensure success. A fulltime job will eat up lots of this time. Therefore, I recommend planning to study for 4-5 months before taking the DAT. This longer time frame will allow you to fit studying around your work schedule while still putting in enough time to do well. With this starting situation, weekends and nights will be when you get the bulk of your studying done. A word of caution, burnout can easily occur when working a full time job and studying full time. Be sure to take breaks and days off to ensure sustained, high quality studying.
Also, if your situation allows, consider discussing your plans with relevant parties at work to see if you can take time off in the month/weeks approaching your test date. Just like with those studying on top of normal coursework, you want some time where you can solely focus on the DAT. However, since not all situations will allow for this, taking time off is not a requirement.
No matter when you plan to study for the DAT, the general rule is to take ~3 months. This timeframe can be lengthened or shortened depending on individual circumstance; however, 3 months is the average time taken for high scorers. Whatever timeframe you choose, if you go all in on studying as much as possible you will succeed! Good luck!