How to prepare to retake the DAT

Retaking the DAT can be a rollercoaster of emotions when you’re not sure how to react or prepare after receiving an unexpected score. I remember the moment after my first attempt, crying in my car and not knowing what to do. I applied to dental schools earlier that summer, hoping my DAT score would be strong enough for consideration, but it didn’t make the cut. All my plans, hopes and dreams for the next year felt crushed in a single second, and I felt so much regret, grief and disappointment for some time. But after a couple of days of rest and evaluation, I began to reassess my strategy for my second attempt. Today, I write to you as an accepted student to the 2018 entering class of the University of Texas School of Dentistry in Houston. It’s possible to improve your individual and overall scores with the proper preparation, tools and mindset. The following are personal recommendations to help you perform your best during your next attempt.

1. Evaluate your academic average and individual scores while identifying quality study material. Review that score sheet again to evaluate your performance. Maybe you’re strong in biology and reading, but weak in organic chemistry and quantitative reasoning. Identifying your weak subjects shows how prepared you were for those specific topics on the exam, and it’s important to revisit those in depth when practicing for your next attempt.

See if the study material you used was helpful. Maybe you purchased quality study material but didn’t follow a consistent schedule. Or maybe you were consistent with the material, but you don’t feel that it helped you learn the subject well. Consider looking into the DAT Bootcamp Study Group on Facebook, Student Doctor Network (SDN), or ask predentals and dental students what material they used for certain subjects and give them a try. Then you can create a custom study schedule that meets your learning style and timeline.

2. Identify your learning style. Understanding your learning style will aid in your selection of DAT prep material and your new strategy. If you’re better at self-study, make sure you create a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Also, study in an environment that keeps you focused yet comfortable. Identify how much time you need to prepare. Some students can study six to eight hours a day for one to three months, and some study one to three hours a day over three to six months. If you learn better face-to-face, take a class. There’s no shame in needing to take a prep course, and if face-to-face worked for you in your prerequisite courses, it will work for you on your DAT. Prep classes usually come with a schedule and material, so you won’t need to worry about creating a schedule or purchasing other study materials. When evaluating your learning style, it’s also important to avoid comparing yourself to others studying for the DAT. Everyone learns differently, and it’s in your best interest to study in the method that works for you. If you’re not sure what method is best, try creating a study schedule and staying on track for about one to two weeks. If you cannot stay on track, a face-to-face class is most likely the better method. Once you’ve identified your learning style, you can begin to modify how you practice by combining steps one and two.

3. Modify how you practice. When taking a diagnostic DAT exam or practice tests, put away DAT material and time yourself accordingly. Identify problems and topics that lack your understanding by circling them during your practice tests. Review them later and understand why you’re having a hard time. This is the best way to improve your timing on any section and stay true to how you will perform on the test. It’s important to be honest with yourself and identify your strengths and weaknesses while acclimating to the timing of the test. Also, once completing several timed practice tests before your DAT at the testing center, you’ll feel ready to tackle all aspects of the exam.

4. Develop the right mindset. Don’t let negative feelings inhibit you from believing you can improve your score. When we feel disappointed in ourselves, we become our own worst enemy, internalizing negative thoughts and feelings. But when there’s a friend who is emotionally hurt, we go out of our way to comfort and guide them in the right direction. This is when we must remember to be kind to ourselves as we are with others, to allow ourselves to express our feelings in a healthy manner and encourage positivity within us. No one is perfect, and the point of taking the exam again is to demonstrate your improvement and your motivation to do whatever it takes to become a dental professional. Remember that if you’re looking to retake your DAT, you’re not alone. There are plenty of dental students and predentals who have conquered the exam after their first attempt, and you can too. It matters that you’re trying to retake the exam, and it shows dental schools that you can pick yourself back up during times of adversity.

These steps are meant to be flexible and help to improve your insight on how to better prepare for the DAT. These steps helped me during my second attempt, and there’s no need to accomplish them in order. Preparing to retake the DAT is about evaluating how you can help yourself to improve your performance.

Best of luck, encouragement and persistence in this journey of self-improvement.

~Joy Nisnisan, Texas-Houston ’22


Join predentals nationwide in celebrating ASDA DAT Week! During the week of April 16-20, ASDA will be offering valuable webinars and resources to prepare students for the Dental Admission Test. Predentals that join ASDA during DAT Week will be eligible for prizes, including DAT resources.

Joy Nisnisan

Joy has been a predental student for the past four years, and has been involved in ASDA on a local and national level. She converted the 14-year-old predental club at the University of Houston in Houston to one of the inaugural ASDA predental chapters during her presidency in 2016-2017, and served as the Predental Planning Committee Chair for ASDA’s National Leadership Conference in 2017. Recently admitted into dental school, she plans to continue her involvement and leadership in ASDA at the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston.

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1 Comment

  1. I remember how stressful the DAT was. Remember to stay calm and know that with hard work and dedication you will achieve your goal. One thing that helped me when I was studying was to study with a friend or classmate. This is great because you can quiz each other on different material and you will have someone else who knows what you’re going through. While the DAT wasn’t easy, believe in yourself and know that you’re one step closer to becoming a dental professional. If you have any questions or are looking for advice visit

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