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How to Get Into Dental School: Preparing for The DAT, A series

Hello there, my loyal readers. It has been a while since I last ran my fingers through this keyboard to escape to my safe place, writing. The past couple of months have been insane, in a good way, at least. I have been busy with school, family, friends, and, of course, editing some of the wonderful articles you get to read on this platform. But I thought that maybe it was time for me to edit my own this time, and well, here we are again, and I could not be more excited to share this article with all of you. But first, it is time for a couple of updates. 

As you may know from my article, “My Experience as a Dental Shadow Student,” I spent a lot of time shadowing a general dentist in Houston the past two years. This was one of the requirements to apply to dental school. During this time, I was also preparing the other areas of my application, such as doing DAT practice, updating my resume, and requesting my recommendation letters. Finally, on June 10th, 2021, I submitted my application. And on July 19th, four days after having arrived from Mexico, I took the DAT. A couple of weeks later, I started receiving emails from all the schools I had applied to here in Texas. I was entirely speechless and in shock as the words “You’ve been invited to an interview” filled my phone’s screen. And so, a month later, on September 7th and 8th, I had my first interviews with a group of amazing people and got to learn more about the Texas schools. And to this point, I can tell you it has been one of the most exciting experiences of my life. Fast forward to the hours after my last interview on September 27th, which was also a thrilling and enjoyable morning, the long wait began. And, on December 1st, at 12:00 a.m sharp, the moment of truth knocked on my doors like a kid with bunny ears and a pumpkin basket on Halloween night. There they were. The words I waited for what felt like my entire life. A million sleepless nights, thousands of exams, and countless tears, all summarized together into three emails with 6 words in common: “Welcome to the class of 2026.” Six small words that, together, were capable of starting a gigantic revolution of emotions. Excitement, happiness, bewilderment, pride, nostalgia, peace. All coming in at once, filling every corner of my then accelerated heart. A day for the books -and not just for any type of books; It was a day made for a fairytale in specific. 

And well, here I am, two months later but with a smile as bright as the first day. In a couple of months, I will be graduating from the best school in the world, Texas A&M. And a few months later, I will start the next chapter of my life at the University of Texas College of Dentistry in Houston. And I certainly could not be more excited. 

As I mentioned, receiving those three emails brought me one of the purest joys I have felt in my 22 years on this earth. And nothing would magnify that feeling more than helping others feel it, too. Therefore, I decided to create this series of articles to help future applicants achieve their dream. In them, I will share tips on DAT prep, completing the application, writing a personal statement, and succeeding in interviews. I hope you, future applicants, find them helpful. 

Today, I will be focusing on preparing for and taking the DAT. So, without further ado, let’s jump right into this article.

DAT PREP 

I understand that out of all the parts of the application, taking the DAT can be very stressful. Simply knowing that the exam is five hours long can be nerve-wracking, but I am here to tell you that it is doable. I am living proof of it. Yes, the exam is lengthy, but studying for it was actually surprisingly fun. And below, I will explain it all to you. 

So, what exactly is the DAT?

The DAT, also known as the Dental Admissions Test, is a standardized test comprised of five sections that test your knowledge of natural sciences, including biology, general and organic chemistry, perceptual ability, quantitative reasoning, and reading comprehension. It is scored on a 30 scale, with each section being graded individually. 

What materials did I use for the DAT? 

Now, this is where studying for the DAT can get a bit overwhelming; there is a myriad of different resources -all of them great in their own way- available to choose from. It is all about taking the time to understand your way of learning. In my case, I found DAT Bootcamp to be the most helpful in preparing me for the test. I am a visual learner. Therefore, having videos explaining every concept made the learning process easier and more enjoyable. The platform is also well-organized. Every section of the exam is covered in detail with multiple activities. These include question banks, timed practice exams, and written notes that you can download and access anywhere. The latest was particularly helpful to me. While preparing for the DAT, I had to travel to Mexico. This feature allowed me to study on the plane or when the WIFI connection was unstable. That way, my practice time was not compromised. It is also -when analyzing everything it provides- relatively affordable. And it guarantees that you will be well prepared for the test. So, I highly recommend this program. Other resources I want to recommend before moving on are youtube videos, especially those by The Organic Chemistry Tutor and Khan Academy. They explain concepts clearly and support them with examples. But again, we all learn in different ways, so always strive to find what fits you best.

What was my study schedule like?

I am going to be very honest, when I first bought Bootcamp, I was a bit scared because they provide you with a schedule that you can follow as you prepare for the exam. While this is extremely helpful for many people, for me, it was overwhelming. I have always been a do-it-your-way type of person, so I knew that sticking to a premade schedule would not work for me. Therefore, I decided to create my own. As I mentioned, the exam is comprised of 6 subjects. And what I found to help me the most was doing a little of the natural sciences subjects -biology, organic chemistry, and general chemistry- every day for a couple of weeks. Then, I spent a couple of days on the quantitive reasoning and reading comprehension sections. One piece of advice that I would really like to give you, my loyal reader, is to dedicate a decent amount of time to perceptual ability from day one. I found it to be one of the most challenging sections, for it was nothing like anything I had been exposed to before. So, as you organize your study time  – whether it is a premade or your own schedule- make sure to work on perceptual ability from day one. It can seem challenging at first, but practice will make it easier. And again, I really want to emphasize that there is no fixed and optimal equation to prepare for the DAT. This process is all about YOU; what are your needs? What sections do you feel the strongest on? Which ones might need a little more time? So, I really recommend you give yourself time to answer those questions before you embark on this journey. I promise that doing so will make it all the more exciting and efficient. 

What to expect the night before and the day of the test? 

I think that, without a doubt, the night before I took the DAT was one of the most nerve-wracking, emotional, and exciting of my life. I remember I promised myself not to look at notes or Bootcamp anymore and to just let my brain rest the day before the exam. I watched movies with my family, which helped me cope with stress, ate dinner early, and talked to my friends about all the feelings that the idea of this test provoked. I also tried going to sleep early, for my testing time was 8:00 a.m. I say “tried” because as a night owl, this, of course, did not work. Actually, I don’t think I slept much that night, but miraculously, and I mean every letter of that word, I did not feel tired the next morning. Maybe it was the adrenaline rush, but if I can give any piece of advice is, if you are a very late-night person like me, try to fix your sleep schedule at least a week before your exam. Doing so will allow you to perform to your full potential as you go through every question. Remember that good sleep enhances our ability to retain information long-term. As for the day of the test, I recommend you eat a nutritious breakfast. But do not eat to the point where you feel too full. Remember, you want to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible. In my case, I decided to avoid any dairy products that morning. Being lactose intolerant, I wanted to avoid any type of stomach discomfort and pain. I also refrained from drinking coffee, as it tends to increase my anxiety, especially when I am already feeling nervous. Instead, I recommend eating a granola or protein bar so you can feel satiated and energized for the full five hours. I also suggest taking a small snack and water so you can recharge during the test break. In my case, I tried avoiding any chewy or sticky snacks. I remember reading somewhere that they can become a nuisance; fragments might get stuck between your teeth, distracting you from the actual test. Finally, I highly recommend practicing breather exercises before the test. Maintaining a good heart and respiratory rate is also crucial in keeping a clear mind. I made sure to take deep breaths before the test, and I can guarantee that it helped me successfully complete every section. 

We have finally reached the end of the first article of this series. I truly hope you found this information useful as you embark on this adventure. Remember that everything, absolutely everything, can be reached through determination. Where there is passion, there is purpose. So, whenever times get rough -and you start feeling overwhelmed- remind yourself why you are here in the first place. I promise you it will put everything into perspective. 

As always, trust the process. Until the next article, dear readers. 

Hello, My name is Brenda. I am a senior student at Texas A&M, majoring in Biomedical Sciences and minoring in Spanish. I have an enormous passion for reading and writing. My favorite books are Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights. I enjoy practicing playing the piano and singing, for I believe music feeds the soul. I consider myself to be the biggest Disney Fan. My favorite movie of all time is Beauty and the Beast, and I dream of becoming a dentist one day.
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