The DAT: tips to stay sane and succeed

Oh, the wonderful Dental Admissions Test. Burning out while preparing for this exam is a very probable occurrence, and no matter what you do to try to avoid it, the pressure just gets to be too much. In my experience, as I got closer to my test date, the building stress made me more and more anxious; thankfully, I have the most supportive friends and family who knew I needed space, encouragement, and yummy snacks (thanks mama for always knowing what I needed and fixin’ me one).

Disclaimer: everyone studies and learns differently, and there is no “full-proof” method, timeline, or resource(s), that will guarantee that 20+ score. I used everything from Kaplan, to Chad’s Videos, to DAT Bootcamp, to Destroyer. Some resources were a waste of money for me but worked well for my friends, and vice versa. Anyways, there are a lot of resources online to help you figure out what you need and what will help you do best. For me, it was a lot of trial and error until I figured out what were my best learning tools, and you’ll just have to figure out what works best for you!

Here is a mixture of study and wellness tips, along with insights on my own experiences, to hopefully help you along your journey through the DAT.

  1. Make a realistic time line and stick to it. – Whether you want to study through the semester alongside other classes, take a month off, or use a whole summer, your time line for this exam is up to you and will be tailored to your study habits. I recommend micromanaging: Print out a calendar, buy an agenda, or use ical. Write day by day which sections, topics, and practice sections you will be doing and do this all the way until your test date. It will not only keep you on track, but will prevent you from procrastinating when you realize how much material is building up if you’re not doing it, and you’ll be way less stressed by visibly seeing and knowing what you have to do daily, instead of thinking of the material and test as a whole. I personally took three months to study: June and July I worked part-time in my research lab while studying for the DAT, and August I basically dedicated my life to studying for the test.
  2. Practice, practice, practice! – I’m the type of person who does not like to take a practice test unless I feel like I know absolutely everything there is to know. For the DAT, you cannot do this and thankfully I had the support of someone who made me realize this early on. There is so much material on this test that you will never know it all, as much as you try. This is also a timed test, and it is long! You need to build endurance and speed, and the best way to do this is to practice. So grab all the courage you have, and leap into those TIMED practice tests. Its okay if you don’t do well – you probably won’t for the first few. But it will expose your weak areas so you know exactly what to work on, it will acclimate you to the time constraints, and its way better to not do well now than not do well on test day. I spend all of August doing around 5 practice tests a week to build my speed, endurance, and expose my weak areas so I could work on them and turn them into strengths.
  3. Eat well – seriously. In the beginning of my studying, I didn’t really pay attention to my diet and I felt exhausted, groggy, and worst of all: had a hard time concentrating. By the middle-end of my studying, I was eating lean proteins, fruits and leafy green veggies, salmon and anything with omega-3’s, tons of nuts, lean meats, and starting my day off with nutrient packed smoothies. Not going to lie, my mom really helped with making me healthy meals when I couldn’t look away from my books, but I felt more powerful than ever. I was refreshed, focused, alert, absorbing everything fast, and excited to tackle material.
  4. Sleep well – don’t pull those crazy college-like all nighters as it gets close to test day. They don’t improve focus and concentration, and you’ll need your energy to crush your studying everyday. Plus, sleep is necessary to form hard-wired neural connections in order to solidify material your brain has spent time and energy working on through the day.
  5. Take breaks – take a day off, do a weekend trip (earlier in your study schedule), go out for ice cream, have dinner with your family, see your friends, watch a movie, etc. Just do what you have to do to keep your sanity. Breaks are totally OK. True story: while I was studying for the DAT, every night I would end around 9 or 10pm and then watch an episode or two of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix before bed. It really helped me relax and somehow… I got through all eleven seasons. Oops! But I still crushed my exam so therefore, yes, you can take (reasonable) breaks!!!
  6. Encourage yourself throughout this process – you’re awesome. Seriously, this is a tough test, a tough journey, and you are strong, smart, and capable. Good for you for having the courage to take this. Don’t wait for someone else to pat you on the back; the only person who is going into that room on test day is you. You have to be your biggest champion.
  7. Don’t panic if you don’t do well on your first few practice tests. – I improved 8 points from my first practice test to my actual score. 8 POINTS. Its all hard work, and if I can do it so can you. Also, don’t worry if you didn’t do well in a certain pre-requisite. Everyone can improve, grow, and succeed. I went from Organic Chemistry being my lowest grades in undergrad to scoring in the 99.3 percentile on the Organic Chemistry section on my DAT. This should be motivation that you too, can do it.
  8. You’ll have breakdowns, and days where you’re stressed beyond your limits. – For me, what helped was knowing my “why”. Why was I doing this again? What do I want? If you don’t know Eric Thomas, a motivational speaker, I urge you to look up and watch his youtube videos. He will turn you around. One of my favorites:
  9. Breathe: if you already practice yoga and meditation, great! Breathing exercises will really help you stay calm through your test. If you don’t, don’t fret. On test day you will be nervous and you will have to stay calm. Breathing is one of the best ways to do so. One of my personal favorites is practicing mindfulness in the shower! Clear and silence your mind, breathe in for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds. Just be. You can do this for just a few minutes and still get great mental benefits. It isn’t easy to clear your mind, but what you’re doing is practicing to calm down your mind and body, and it will be a tool that you will use when a stress response is induced (on test day). It will help you think clearly, quickly, and critically, and not waste any time by frantically telling yourself that you need to calm down. When I sat down for my test, I was so nervous that my hands were visibly shaking. After just a minute of using my breath to calm myself down, my heart rate slowed, I became more aware, and I was ready to go.
  10. Test day: go in with confidence – you are what you think and feel. You have nothing to lose if you go into your test with confidence (not over-confidence, hopefully), and everything to gain. A coach doesn’t put a player out on the field thats scared to play the game, right? You have worked hard and deserve it.

I hope this helped you on your journey and I wish you all the best on the DAT!


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