The Advanced Dental Admissions Test, one year later

As the second year of the ADAT test cycle approaches, it becomes more and more apparent that the ADAT is here to stay. The ADA launched the Advanced Dental Admission Test (ADAT) in April of 2016 to test dental students, as well as practicing dentists, interested in postgraduate training. The purpose of the exam is to provide advanced dental education programs with a means to assess applicants’ potential for success. With the roll out of the ADAT and our first look at the participating programs, I was curious to see how the pilot year fared. Here are some takeaway points from the results:

• In the 2016 pilot year, about 460 people took the ADAT.
• The average score was a 500 (maximum score = 800)
• Questions were scored based on 3 parameters: difficulty, quality and ability to guess
• Reliability of the scores ranged from .83 (ADAT overall score) to .49 (Principles of Ethics & Patient Management)
• The highest scoring applicants were those applying to ortho programs and the lowest were those applying to 24mo GPR programs

The results from the pilot launch made it necessary for the ADA to make some changes to the ADAT. In preparation for the next cycle, here is a list of some points potential candidates should be aware of:

What’s changed about the ADAT? After the official score results were analyzed, the ADA responded with a few changes to the structure of the ADAT to improve its reliability. For one, there is no longer a Principles of Ethics & Patient Management section (PEPM) due to its relatively low reliability score. To maintain some of its content, the ADA reallocated 20 of the PEPM questions to the clinical sciences section. The idea behind this was to remove the emphasis on separate scaling of ethics and patient management questions while maintaining their presence in the ADAT. The ADA also increased the Data and Research section to 40 questions.

  • What’s the question breakdown for 2017? Here is the updated breakdown by subject:

2017 question breakdown, from

  • How are program directors expected to interpret all of this? The ADA released a guide to all program directors that advises them on how to assess students based on their ADAT scores. One of the more interesting discussion points is that the ADA advises students scoring in lower percentiles not be interpreted as “poor candidates.” While they are ranked lower than higher scoring students, the ADA suggests that the low-scoring students could potentially have higher skills than those who didn’t attempt the ADAT at all. I also spoke to a few program directors who suggested they’d favor students who attempted the ADAT over those who avoided it. Thus, the score may not matter as much as the initiative this early in the exam’s administration.
  • What happens if you attempt the exam more than once? The ADA suggests that program directors focus on candidates’ most recent scores, explaining it would “best represent the candidate’s skills”. Even though all attempts are reported to the programs, there seems to be more leeway for multiple attempts now than there may be later on.
  • What are the updates to the program tracker? The ADA updated the 2017 program tracker as of February 15th, reflecting the continuing and increased participation of advanced dental education programs. Compared to the list from 2016, the number of programs that accept the ADAT this year has nearly doubled. Importantly, the list distinguishes between programs that require the ADAT, accept it or don’t accept it.
  • How can you prepare? This is by far the most common question. The good news is the ADA released a list of reference texts that their test writers used when formulating the questions. However, that list of books will take years to study. Fortunately, a study program featuring ADAT practice tests, called ADAT Knockout, has launched. A collective of dental students, residents and general practitioners who were part of the pilot year joined forces to help future students succeed with the ADAT. You can check out their ADAT test prep at

Looking for more information? Check out the ADA’s presentations on the ADAT here. Good luck!

~ Daniel Shimunov, Columbia ’19

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About Daniel Shimunov

Daniel is a DDS candidate at Columbia University CDM, class of 2019. Outside of school, he enjoys playing basketball, chess and traveling.

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