MCAT vs DAT: Similarities and Differences

Many undergraduate students looking for a profession in healthcare consider applying to either dental schools, medical schools, or both! With that in mind, many of these potential healthcare students ask the question, “What is the difference between the MCAT vs DAT?”

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), is a standardized test required for admission to almost every medical school in Canada and the United States. It is written by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The MCAT tests applicants’ foundational knowledge as well as critical thinking on the topics required to study medicine. This includes knowledge of biological and biochemical foundations of living systems, chemical and physical foundations of biological systems, and psychological, social, and biological foundations of behaviour. It also tests students’ critical reading and analytical skills. For more information on the MCAT click here.

The Dental Admission Test (DAT), is the standardized test required for admission to dental schools. It is written and administered by the American Dental Association (ADA). The DAT tests applicants’ knowledge of the natural sciences, quantitative reasoning, and reading comprehension. Additionally, it also tests applicants’ spatial awareness and reasoning. This test slightly differs for American and Canadian students. Applicants looking for more information for the Canadian DAT and American DAT can click these links.

The MCAT and DAT have many similarities in the content that is presented. However, there are several differences between these tests that may help prospective applicants decide if either of these tests is right for them and when to take them. This blog post will break down the key similarities and differences in the content, structure, and format of the MCAT vs the DAT.

MCAT vs DAT: Quick Breakdown

Below is a table summarizing the key differences between these two standardized tests:

PurposeMedical School AdmissionsDental School Admissions
FormatComputer-based testComputer-based test
Length7 hours and 30 minutes4 hours and 15 minutes
ScoresTotal score ranges between 472-528 (Each section is between 118-132)Total score ranges between 1-30 (Each section is between 1-30)
SectionsBiological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; Critical Analysis and Reasoning SkillsSurvey of the Natural Sciences; Perceptual Ability Test; Reading Comprehension; Quantitative Reasoning

DAT vs. MCAT: In-Depth Analysis

Since both the MCAT and the DAT are tests designed for students wishing to enter the health sciences field, there are many places where the content being tested overlaps. For example, both tests cover similar topics in the area of biology, chemistry, and reading comprehension. However, there are some key differences between these two exams.

Content Covered

Firstly, the MCAT tends to have a wider depth and breadth of topics tested. Topics tested in the MCAT, such as physics, psychology, and sociology are not covered in the DAT. In the areas where content does overlap, such as biology and chemistry, the MCAT tends to test a greater amount of subtopics. This is reflected in the longer test-taking time seen in the MCAT.

The DAT, however, does test some topics not covered in the MCAT. It contains a section in quantitative reasoning, which the MCAT does not have. Additionally, the DAT also contains a perceptual ability test (PAT), which is designed to test a student’s ability to visualize images in their head. This is not a test of content, rather a test in students’ ability to visually manipulate 3D and 2D images.

Test Format

Secondly, the MCAT is designed to test an applicant’s ability to apply the knowledge they have learned while the DAT tests their memory and understanding of concepts. This is due to the MCAT being a passage-based test while the DAT is not. On the MCAT, test-takers will be required to read and comprehend scientific passages and answer questions based on them using their knowledge of scientific concepts. The DAT is a more standard multiple-choice test where each question can be answered independently of any other question or data.

Logistical Differences

Finally, there are some logistical differences between the two tests that may affect the test-taking experience. While the DAT does offer an online calculator the MCAT does not. This means that MCAT test-takers will be required to do math problems, such as chemical reaction calculations, by hand. Additionally, in the USA the DAT is offered more often than the MCAT. The opposite is true in Canada. It is important to first see when these tests are available to be taken before planning to study for them.

Which Test Should I Take?

For students considering applying to both medical and dental schools here are some things to consider. In general, takers of both tests state that the MCAT is more difficult than the DAT. This is largely due to the greater amount of content taken in the MCAT as well as the passage-based questions it contains. However, students who struggle with visualization and perceptual ability may find the DAT harder than the MCAT.

Overall, for those determined to take both tests, we recommend completing the DAT before the MCAT. The DAT has a more standard test format and most of its content is covered in the MCAT as well. This means that the DAT can also serve as a good practice for the MCAT.

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