When Should I take the DAT? What Pre-Dental Classes Should I Take?
My undergraduate major was genetics at the University of Georgia. Did my undergraduate degree help me much in dental school? Not really, but it’s mostly my fault. I didn’t consider going to dental school until I was almost done with my undergraduate degree, so I didn’t take classes that would have counted as electives and credits that would have helped me in dental school. You could get a genetics degree and take the right electives to prepare for dental school. You could also be like me and take the wrong type of electives.
Right and wrong, what are you talking about? Undergraduate science degree electives fall into two categories: memory courses and problem solving courses. Obviously, every course features a little bit of both, but typically you can categorize any course as being one or the other. Statistics? That’s a problem solving course. Medical entomology? That’s a memory course. Organic chemistry and general chemistry are some of the hardest undergraduate courses because they require you to use both skills at a high level. It’s tough to categorize either of those. Biochemistry and Biology? Memory courses. You need to understand some things, sure, but if you don’t have things memorized you’re bombing those exams. You can’t draw the electron transport chain on a blank sheet of paper because you “get it”, and just because you can write the Krebs Cycle on a sheet of paper doesn’t mean you actually understand anything, either.
Any time I ever took an exam that required writing an answer, I typically did extremely well throughout my academic career. I never felt like I performed as well on multiple choice types of examinations. I learned to improve my skills over the course of dental school, but I always consider myself more of an essay, explain things, solve a problem type of test taker. Dental school is heavy on the memory courses. Anatomy, Biochemistry, Histology, and Pathology are straight up memory courses. Memory courses take practice, and it helps if you’ve seen the stuff a few times over the years. In undergrad, I stayed away from these types of classes and favored more classes of the problem solving variety. I liked to just learn a few things and then apply what I learned to solve problems. Memorizing muscles and bones and slides was very uninteresting to me, and I gave myself very little practice in undergrad. When I got to dental school, it was a tremendous challenge and exercise in discipline to perform well in those courses!
Dental school also had something I had never experienced in academia before: courses where you had to get good at a skill! Yeah, I made a little box in Industrial Arts in middle school, a pinata in Spanish class and all that, and your grade in organic chemistry lab depended somewhat on how pure of a precipitant you got from a reaction. None of that counts. In dental school, you have to learn how to make teeth out of wax, prepare teeth, and make things with your hands. If it isn’t good enough, you get a bad grade or fail! For most people, that’s a new experience in academics.
Take home message: If you want to improve your test taking abilities for the DAT and dental school, take as many memory classes as you can tolerate! Focus on courses that are taught in dental school. I envied my friends that were taking anatomy and histology for the second and third time. Dental school was the first time for me on both of those courses, and there is a lot to memorize!
Should I take all of the undergrad classes covered on the DAT before I take the DAT, or should I just study for the exam and take it? This is a tough call and a personal decision. If you are an excellent test taker, I would rely 100% on the test taking study materials and just go for it. If you’re good at staring at pages and just memorizing things straight up, I wouldn’t worry too much about having taken the course or not. At the same time, repetition is key, so if you’re not a great test taker and it takes you a while to memorize things, I would wait. Would I take the DAT if I hadn’t taken first semester organic chemistry yet? No. You’ll be dead meat. If I hadn’t taken second semester organic chemistry? I’d consider it. First semester organic is where you learn the language of organic, second semester is just more complicated reactions and reagents and things to memorize, if my memory serves me. Of course, I took organic chemistry in 1999-2000, and if you’re reading this you were probably in elementary school back then. So take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. I mean NaCl. I’m so funny!
I took the DAT after I had taken all of the courses that are covered on the exam. I also took a Kaplan class for the DAT which was tremendously helpful. I scored extremely high on the reading section and math sections of the DAT, and I credit it to using the Kaplan methods. There’s a technique in the reading where you don’t actually read the paragraphs, you just create a keyword bank, then you jump to the questions and look for the answers based on your keyword bank. If you practice this like how Kaplan teaches you, the reading section can be mastered! The math section basically works like this: there’s only so many types of math questions they ask you. They aren’t difficult, but they’re time consuming if you don’t know the little tricks. Your biggest worry on the math section is running out of time, so if you know several of the tricks, you’ll get done fast. As long as you know the quick trick to figure out the answer to more than half of the questions, you can spend a lot more time on the few that stump you. I highly recommend you use their methods.
Take home message: Take a prep course and train for the DAT like you’re training for a marathon or a performance. A little each day goes a long way. It’s not a cram the week before type of test. Dental schools value your score on that because the preparation required for that exam is very similar to the preparation required for dental school exams. If I worked as hard in undergrad as I did in dental school, I would have five or six bachelor’s degrees instead of two, no joke!
The questions that I answered in this post were sent to me in a DM on Twitter, my handle is @LarryDougherty. If you’re interested in what I write about, subscribe to my blog and follow me on Twitter. If you want me to answer your pre-dental, dental school, and new dentist related questions, send me a DM. Dentistry is an awesome career because it puts us in a position to give back!