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Differences Between MCAT & DAT

by Jennifer Holzman, Ph.D., studioD

As part of the admissions process to medical or dental school, you must take either the medical college admission test or the dental admission test. Medical and dental schools use these standardized exams to compare your performance to other applicants, though the results are just one part of your application. Despite the similarities in medical and dental education, the admissions tests differ significantly.

MCAT Format

The MCAT is a computer-based exam designed to test your knowledge across basic concepts in the natural and physical sciences. The three sections of the exam are multiple choice. The maximum possible score is 15 points for each section. The verbal reasoning section is 60 minutes long, while the science sections -- physical and biological sciences -- are 70 minutes each. In 2015, the MCAT will be revised and new material will be added.

MCAT Content

The MCAT exam as of 2013 covers content that is taught in introductory biology, introductory physics, general chemistry and organic chemistry courses typically taken to fulfill pre-medical requirements. A significant portion of the biological sciences section of the exam is devoted to questions related to human anatomy and physiology. Verbal reasoning passages do not tie into any specific course content and can be drawn from either the sciences or the humanities. In 2015, the MCAT will cover new areas in social and behavioral sciences, as well as additional content in biochemistry and critical thinking skills.

DAT Format

The DAT is also a computer-based exam, consisting of 280 multiple choice questions covering four topic areas on the exam. The survey of natural sciences is a 90-minute section with 100 questions covering biology, general chemistry and organic chemistry. The second section of 90 questions, timed for 60 minutes, tests your perceptual abilities. The reading comprehension section contains three reading passages with 50 questions to be answered in 60 minutes. Finally, the quantitative reasoning test is 45-minutes long, with 40 questions to answer.

DAT Content

The DAT exam does not test on concepts in advanced biology, nor does it include a physics section. The quantitative reasoning section on the DAT tests your basic mathematical skills in algebra, performing calculations and working with units and conversion factors. The perceptual ability portion of the DAT is the most unique, as this section tests your ability to solve two- and three-dimensional problems. The perceptual ability portion of the exam includes six subsets with 15 multiple choice questions for each topic – angle discriminations, apertures, cube-counting items, orthographic projections, paper folding items and spatial form development items.

About the Author

Dr. Holzman earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Emory University, and taught introductory biology there for 10 years. She also holds a teaching license in high school biology, and has extensive experience with curriculum development and implementation in both college and high school classes.

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