DAT Perceptual Ability Test Full Breakdown

The Perceptual Ability Test (PAT) is one of the four sections of the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and is often one that students find the most challenging. It is designed to measure perceptual ability and spatial visualization skills in those applying to dental school. These skills are extremely useful in mentally constructing complex 2D and 3D images in one’s head, a skill that is necessary for dentistry.

It is vital to do well on this section as it will be counted separately from the other sections of the DAT. A high PAT score will help you stand out on your dentistry application and make up for weaknesses in your application. This post provides a full breakdown of each PAT section, free practice problems, as well as tips and tricks to make sure that you get the highest score possible on test day.

DAT Perceptual Ability Test Breakdown
General Strategies for the PAT
Strategies for Each Section of the PAT
PAT Scoring
Free PAT Practice Tests

DAT Perceptual Ability Test Breakdown

The Perceptual Ability Test has 90 questions in total and is made up of 6 sections with 15 questions on each one. The total time to complete all sections is 60-minutes. In order of appearance, the sections of the PAT are apertures, view recognition, angle discrimination, paper folding, cube counting, and 3D form development. A detailed description and examples of each perceptual ability section of the DAT are included below:

Apertures (Keyhole DAT):

A three-dimensional object is shown on the left followed by the outlines of five apertures (openings). Test takers must visualize how the object looks from all directions and then pick, from the five apertures outlined, the opening through which the object could pass directly if the proper side were inserted first. Keep in mind the following rules:

  1. Prior to passing through the aperture, the irregular solid object may be turned in any direction. It may be started through the aperture on a side not showing.
  2. Once the object is started through the aperture it is not allowed to be twisted or turned.
  3. Both objects and apertures are drawn to the same scale. Thus it is possible for an opening to be the correct shape but too small for the object. Differences in size are large enough to determine by eye.
  4. There are no irregularities in any hidden portion of the object. However, if the figure has symmetrical indentations, the hidden portion is symmetric with the part shown
  5. For each object, only one option is the correct answer.

DAT TFE (Top Front End)

DAT Perceptual Ability Test: View Recognition (Top/Front/End) section

Test takers are presented with pictures from the top, front, and end views of various solid objects. The views are without perspective. This means that the points in the viewed surface are viewed along parallel lines of vision. The projection looking at the object from the top is in the top left corner. The projection looking at the object from the front is in the bottom left corner. The projection looking at the object from the side (end) is in the bottom right corner. The problems will show you two views of the object and one view missing. Test takers must determine which of the four alternatives of the object occupies the missing space. Lines represent holes or divots in the object. Dotted lines represent divots or holes that are not visible from that particular view.

Angle Discrimination (Angle Ranking)

Four angles are presented to test takers. They must be ranked from smallest to largest.

DAT Paper Folding (PAT Hole Punching)

In this section, a flat square of paper is folded one or more times and then a hole is punched through it. The solid lines indicate the position of the folded paper. The folded paper always remains within the edges of the original square. The paper is never turned or twisted. Test takers have to mentally unfold the paper and determine the position of the holes in the original square.

Cube Counting

A figure made by cementing together cubes of the same size is presented for each set of problems. After the cubes have been cemented together they were painted on all sides except for the bottom on which they are resting. The only hidden cubes are those required to support other cubes. Test takers have to examine each figure closely and determine how many cubes have a certain number of their sides painted.

3D Form Development (Pattern Folding DAT)

DAT Perceptual Ability Test: 3D Form Development (Pattern Folding) section

A flat pattern will be presented which will be folded into a three-dimensional figure. There is only one correct figure in each set. The outside of the pattern is what is seen on the left. Test takers must determine which of the four figures correctly shows the folded version of the flat pattern.

General Strategies for the PAT

Here are some general guidelines that you should follow to help you obtain a higher overall score:

Look for Wrong Answers: If you’re stuck, start by eliminating the answers that you know can’t be the solution. Eliminating answers is a good way to get rid of detractors and help you get the right answer more quickly. This tip can be generalized to every multiple choice question, including those of the DAT.

Don’t be Afraid to Skip Questions: The PAT section of the DAT goes by extremely quickly. If you are stuck we recommend that you spend a maximum of 2 minutes on a single question before you move on to the next question. You can always go back to the questions you missed at the end of the test. Often times having a renewed look at a PAT question can reveal things you missed previously.

Manage Your Time Wisely: Each section of the PAT will vary in difficulty. Some are easier than others and will take less time to complete. In general, most students find the Angle Discrimination (Angle Ranking), Paper Folding (Hole Punches), and Cube Counting sections easier than the others. Practice real test-taking conditions and determine which sections are easiest for you. That way you know what pace you should be keeping on test day.

Continuously Practice: Try to do as many practice problems as possible. Practice with realistic test conditions to better prepare yourself for test day. The more you practice the better you will get at these problems. Good luck!

Strategies for Each Section of the PAT

There are a lot of different strategies for succeeding on the PAT. Some may work for certain students while others may not. During practice tests, try out each method and see which one works better for you.

Keyhole Strategies

Imagine 2D Shapes: The best way to approach these questions is to visualize each object as a 2D shape from the top, front and side views. Imagine that you are flattening the object along these axes and look to see if your 2D shape matches one of the test answers. For instance, if you flatten a cylinder from top to bottom, you are left with a circular disc. However, if you flatten it from left to right or from front to back, you will be left with a rectangular piece. There are two possible answers to this shape: it may be a rectangle or a circle. This type of problem requires a lot of practice in order to get good at visualizing 3D objects as 2D shapes.

PAT Top Front End Strategies

Line Counting Method: Look at each view (top, front, or end) in the question and count how many lines there are for that view. I counted ____ lines in the top view and ____ lines in the end view. To find the answer, visualize each choice from each perspective and count how many lines there are. Eliminate the answers for which there is no match between the number of lines in each individual view and you’ll be left with your answer.

Look for Unique Features: Look for a unique feature about the two sides presented and then determine what that would look like in the view we are looking for.

One View at a Time: Imagine each answer choice in 3D based solely on one of three views; top, front, or end views. Compare the 3D object that you have visualized to the answer choices and eliminate any distractors. Then, select the correct answer.

Angle Ranking Strategies and Tips

Laser Method (Drawing a line): To use this method the two angles must have a similar line, either vertical or horizontal, that you can compare. Think of the vertical or horizontal line as the base for the laser. It’s resting on the ground and is laying flat. The other line (the gun) will shoot the laser. The angle of the slope for the laser with the steepest decline will be smaller.

Circle Method (Looking Closely): With this method, you can measure small angles more precisely. Look at the innermost parts of both angles and, in your head, draw your own circles inside. This will help you concentrate on the fine tip of each angle. After a quick look back and forth, it should be evident that one angle is smaller than the other.

From A Distance: Many test-takers have suggested sitting back and looking at the angle questions from a distance. Others preferred getting up close and personal to each angle. If you find yourself stuck on a question consider taking a step back from the question and letting your eyes focus on something else. Then look at the question from a distance and see if it makes a difference for you.

Hole Punching Strategy DAT

Tic-Tac-Toe Method: In this method work through each fold of the paper separately. During test day you will usually be provided with either a piece of paper and pen or a drive erase whiteboard and marker. Though it may seem a bit confusing at first, the method is to draw a box of four rows and four columns, then mark an X in the box that corresponds to where the hole is punched through the paper. Once you unfold the paper once, mark an X on anywhere that has a hole. Repeat this until you have unfolded the paper all the way.

Cube Counting Strategy

Tally Method: In this method, draw a table with two columns. In one column note the numbers 0-5, a list of the number of sides that an individual cube could be painted. On the other side will be a tally of the number of cubes with each side painted that many times. First, check for the total number of cubes with 0 sides painted. Start with a column/row and count the sides painted for each cube in that column/row, drawing a tally in front of each line for every cube. Once you have counted all cubes with 0 sides painted begin looking at cubes with 1 side painted. Continue making a tally for all sides painted. Afterwards, answer the questions in accordance with your table. Watch out for any cubes that are hidden.

Pattern Folding Strategies

Side Counting Method: Some problems might be able to be solved this way, but it won’t work for all of them. Find the largest shape in the pattern. Compare it with the different answer choices until you find one that matches or you are able to eliminate some of the answer choices.

Colour Matching Method: In this method, compare a shaded part of the pattern to the corresponding part on the folded pattern in answer choices. The shaded part should be in the correct place on the folded pattern. Many detractors will have the shaded part swapped with a different section of the pattern.

PAT Scoring

How is the PAT Scored?

Like many standardized tests, the DAT will not release your raw score (the percentage of questions you got right in each section) on the PAT. Since the difficulty of the test may slightly vary depending on what day you wrote it, your score must be adjusted for difficulty so that it can be compared with tests taken on any day. The exact adjustments made during this standardization process are unknown. Instead of a raw score, you will be provided with a scaled DAT score which ranges from 1 on the low end to 30 on the high end. For those interested in the DAT scoring system click here.

Low PAT Score on the DAT

When looking at the Canadian and American dental school requirements a fairly low PAT score is below 18. However, if you received a score below 18 on the PAT it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are incapable of getting into dental school, or that you should rewrite your DAT. The most important score on your DAT is your Academic Average (AA) score. Look at the admission statistics for the Canadian and American dental schools that you hope to get into and see where both your AA and PAT scores lie in comparison to accepted applicants. If you are near the average of matriculated applicants look to instead boost other aspects of your application including GPA and interviews.

Free PAT Practice Tests

With the help of dental students and graduates, we’ve created completely free practice tests containing both answers and explanations for each question. These DAT practice tests can be found here. New tests are being made and will be listed as they become available.

We recommend that these tests are used as your diagnostic exams to help you measure your progress as you begin your studies and preparation for the DAT. Take a practice test before your studying to measure what areas you need to improve on and constantly do practice tests during your studying to see how well you are mastering those topics.

Please be sure to take the appropriate DAT version required for your school. In general, Canadian dental schools require the Canadian DAT and American dental schools require the American DAT. You can use this link to determine which practice tests are right for you based on the specific test you are taking.

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