How Is Studying for the DAT Different from the MCAT?

If you’re planning on going to graduate school, you need to take at least one admissions test to get in. The tests you take depend on what you want to do. What type of degree are you pursuing? What’s your field? What schools do you want to attend?

Perhaps the most well-known graduate school admissions test outside of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the MCAT, which you’ll take before you can attend medical school.

What if you’re explicitly pursuing dentistry, though? There’s a separate test that you’ll have to take if you plan to become a dentist. What are these two tests, and is studying for one different from the other?

What Are the Differences Between the DAT and the MCAT?

DAT stands for Dental Admissions Test, and it’s specific to dental school. While dentistry is medicine, it’s considered a different field from other medicine.

The MCAT is the Medical College Admissions Test and is more comprehensive than the DAT because medical school encompasses so much more than dental school.

There are some similarities as well, but the differences will determine which test you want to take and how you study for them.

Medical College Admissions Test

The MCAT is for students who want to pursue degrees as medical doctors or doctors of osteopathic medicine. In the U.S., osteopaths are on the same level as medical doctors when it comes to knowledge and the ability to prescribe therapeutics.

The MCAT is the gold standard for medical school admissions exams. It tests prospective students’ knowledge and understanding of biological, physical, and natural sciences, as well as areas like sociology and psychology.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) administers the MCAT in both the U.S. and Canada. It’s an incredibly comprehensive exam designed to ensure students have as thorough a grasp of each of these things before getting admitted to medical school.

Also, the MCAT is less expensive than the DAT, costing $300 to $350, and includes passages from scientific literature in multiple sections. You can expect to spend roughly seven hours taking this test.

Dental Admissions Test

If you want to go to dental school, you’ll take the DAT instead of the MCAT. The American Dental Association administers this test, and more than 66 schools in the U.S., along with ten in Canada, accept its results for admission.

The DAT is more focused than the MCAT because it’s specific to dentistry. While you’ll have questions dealing with all manners of science on the MCAT, you’ll find that you don’t have sections on subjects like physics on the DAT.

Also, you’ll only find scientific passages in the reading comprehension section of the DAT. And, unlike the MCAT and many other graduate admissions tests, the DAT has a section testing your visual-spatial skills. Finally, it costs $450 to $500 to take it.

How Is Studying for the DAT Different from the MCAT?

Despite their similarities, there are enough differences that you’ll study for them differently. Regardless of what graduate admissions test you want to take, you should know how to study for it so you maximize your chances for success.


How you study for the DAT depends partly on your personal studying style and preferences. Many students break up their studying into chunks, mastering one topic before moving on to another. Others will study a little bit about each subject each day.

Regardless of your personal study preferences, you’ll find videos, notes, and workbooks that help you prepare for the DAT, but you have to look for them.


The MCAT is far more comprehensive, so regardless of how you prefer to study, you’ll want to follow your MCAT study guides more carefully because you have so much to master before taking the full test. In fact, your best bet is to use the AAMC’s study plans and guides rather than choose topics to study on your own.

The AAMC has all the study materials you need for the MCAT in a single place online. You can find out what’s on the test so you know exactly what to study for. You can also use their six-step guide to create a good study plan and use their free planning and study guides to ensure your work remains organized.

Practice Tests

Despite the differences between these two tests, you can, and should, take practice tests before you take the real thing. Be sure to see our guide to the best DAT study prep books. You can find practice tests for both the DAT and the MCAT, although they aren’t free.


You can purchase individual practice modules for $20 per module, or the full practice test for $100. The whole practice test includes all six of the sections you’ll find on the exam itself. If you want to take multiple practice tests, you’ll pay quite a bit for them.


By contrast, the MCAT has a sample test you can take for free. However, it’s not a full practice test. There are also multiple 230-question practice tests you can take. Practice Test Four, however, is the only one that includes explanations for all the answer choices in each section.

The AAMC offers study packs for each subject, along with flashcards and a guide to the full test. All of these will help you with your studies.

Most of these things cost money, too, although if you’re having financial difficulties, you might qualify for aid.

Final Thoughts

Neither one of these exams is easy, and both are long and comprehensive to ensure students have the knowledge necessary for medical and dental school. They’re similar in many ways, but different enough that how you study depends on which one you plan to take.

Regardless, ask your advisers for help and be sure to follow the AAMC’s and ADA’s recommendations for how to prepare as closely as possible so you have the best chances for success on either test.

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Brett Gordon

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