American DAT Topics and Format

The American Dental Admissions Test (DAT) is a 4 hour and 15 minutes online exam administered by the American Dental Association almost daily each year. It is used as a standardized test for students wishing to enter most American dental schools and some Canadian dental schools. The format and content of this exam is slightly different than its Canadian counterpart. For full information on the similarities and differences between these two exams click this link. This post contains a complete outline of how the American DAT is formatted for anyone interested in taking the exam. The American DAT is broken into 4 sections:

ComponentNumber of QuestionsTime allotted
Survey of Natural Sciences (SNS)100 questions (Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry)90 minutes
Perceptual Ability Test  (PAT)90 questions60 minutes
Reading Comprehension Test (RCT)50 questions60 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning40 Questions45 Minutes
  1. The Survey of Natural Sciences Test – Students must complete 40 Biology, 30 Chemistry, and 30 Organic Chemistry questions within 90 minutes.
  2. The Perceptual Ability Test – Students must complete 90 perceptual ability questions within 60 minutes.
  3. The Reading Comprehension Test – Students must complete 50 reading comprehension questions based on 3 passages (1200-1500 words each) within 50 minutes.
  4. The Quantitative Reasoning Test – Students must complete 40 math questions in 45 minutes.

American DAT Section 1: Survey of Natural Sciences (SNS)

The survey of the natural sciences section of the American DAT is a 100 question test completed over a 90 minute time period. Most topics covered in this section are representative of what undergraduate university students will learn in their 1st-year biology and chemistry courses as well as what they learn in 2nd-year organic chemistry. Practice questions for both biology, chemistry and organic chemistry can be found at these links. A full list of topics on this test, which has been taken directly from the ADA website, include:

Biology (40 questions)

  • Cell and Molecular Biology: the origin of life, cell metabolism (including photosynthesis/enzymology), cellular processes, thermodynamics, organelle structure and function, mitosis/meiosis, cell structure, experimental cell biology, biomolecules, and integrated relationships
  • Diversity of Life: Biological Organization and Relationship of Major Taxa (Six-Kingdom, Three-Domain System) – Plantae, Animalia, Protista, Fungi, Eubacteria (bacteria), Archaea, and integrated relationships
  • Structure and Function of Systems: integumentary, skeletal, muscular, circulatory, immunological, digestive, respiratory, urinary, nervous/senses, endocrine, reproductive, and integrated relationships
  • Developmental Biology: fertilization, descriptive embryology, developmental mechanisms, and integrated relationships
  • Genetics: molecular genetics, human genetics, classical genetics, chromosomal genetics, and genetic technology, and integrated relationships
  • Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior: natural selection, population genetics/speciation, population and community ecology, ecosystems, and animal behaviour (including social behaviour), and integrated relationship

Chemistry (30 questions)

  • Stoichiometry and General Concepts: percent composition, empirical formulae, balancing equations, moles and molecular formulas, molar mass, density, and calculations from balanced equations
  • Gases: kinetic molecular theory of gases, Dalton’s, Boyle’s, Charles’s, and ideal gas law
  • Liquids and Solids: intermolecular forces, phase changes, vapour pressure, structures, polarity, and properties
  • Solutions: polarity, properties (colligative, non-colligative), forces, and concentration calculations
  • Acids and Bases: pH, strength, Brønsted-Lowry reactions, and calculations
  • Chemical Equilibria: molecular, acid/base, precipitation, calculations, and Le Chatelier’s principle
  • Thermodynamics and Thermochemistry: laws of thermodynamics, Hess’s law, spontaneity, enthalpies and entropies, and heat transfer
  • Chemical Kinetics: rate laws, activation energy, and half-life
  • Oxidation-Reduction Reactions: balancing equations, determination of oxidation numbers, electrochemical calculations, and electrochemical concepts and terminology
  • Atomic and Molecular Structure: electron configuration, orbital types, Lewis-Dot diagrams, atomic theory, quantum theory, molecular geometry, bond types, and subatomic particles
  • Periodic Properties: representative elements, transition elements, periodic trends, and descriptive chemistry
  • Nuclear Reactions: balancing equations, binding energy, decay processes, particles, and terminology
  • Laboratory: basic techniques, equipment, error analysis, safety, and data analysis

Organic Chemistry (30 questions)

  • Mechanisms: Energetics and Structure – elimination, addition, free radical, substitution mechanisms, and other mechanisms and reactions
  • Chemical and Physical Properties of Molecules: Spectroscopy (1H NMR, 13C NMR, infrared, and multi-spectral), structure (polarity, intermolecular forces (solubility, melting/ boiling point, etc.), and laboratory theory and techniques (TLC, separations, etc.)
  • Stereochemistry (structure evaluation): Chirality, isomer relationships, and conformations
  • Nomenclature: IUPAC rules and functional groups in molecules
  • Individual Reactions of the Major Functional Groups and Combinations of Reactions to Synthesize Compounds: Alkene/alkyne, aromatic, substitution/elimination, aldehyde/ketone, carboxylic acids and derivatives, and others. For each area listed above, the following sub-areas apply: general, one-step, and multi-step
  • Acid-Base Chemistry: Ranking acidity/basicity (structure analysis and pH/pKa data analysis), and prediction of products and equilibria
  • Aromatics and Bonding: Concept of aromaticity, resonance, atomic/molecular orbitals, hybridization, and bond angles/lengths 

American DAT Section 2: Perceptual Ability Test (PAT)

The Perceptual Ability Test is a visualization test designed specifically for dental admission. Test takers are given 60 minutes to complete 90 questions, split evenly into 6 different subsets. These subsets are listed below in the order that they appear on the American DAT. If you would like to see examples of what to expect in this section of the test take a look at our free DAT practice test and scroll down to the perceptual ability section.

  • Keyholes (apertures)
  • Top-Front-End (view recognition)
  • Angle-Ranking (angle discrimination)
  • Hole Punching
  • Cube Counting
  • Pattern Folding (3D form development)

American DAT Section 3: Reading Comprehension

The Reading Comprehension Test contains three reading passages that in some way relate to the sciences. These passages are approximately 14-16 paragraphs in length each and are excerpts from published literature. Examples of topics might include the invention of stethoscopes, the discovery of the DNA double helix, or the development of teeth.

Having previous knowledge of topics discussed within the passages is not a requirement of doing well in this section since all answers can be inferred from the passages. However, having some familiarity with the topics covered may make it easier to understand passages for some test takers. The purpose of these reading passages is to determine one’s ability to read, comprehend, and analyze basic scientific information.

You are given 60 minutes to read all three passages and complete 50 questions based on what you read. A great way to practice for this section of the DAT is to read peer-reviewed, published, articles such as those found in the Journal of the American Dental Association

American DAT Section 4: Quantitative Reasoning

Lastly, the American DAT includes a quantitative reasoning section that covers high school-level math, excluding calculus. You are given 45 minutes to complete 40 questions with only the use of a basic four-function calculator. The list of topics included in this section are:

  • Mathematical Problems including algebra (equations and expressions, inequalities, exponential notation, absolute value, ratios and proportions, and graphical analysis); Data Analysis, Interpretation, and Sufficiency; Quantitative Comparison; and Probability and Statistics. 
  • Applied Mathematics (Word) Problems

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