DAT vs MCAT : Is the DAT Harder than the MCAT?

For most people, DAT is easier than MCAT. The perceptual reasoning is unique to DAT and it needs specialized focus.

If you’re an aspiring doctor, you’ll have to take the Medical College Admission Test or MCAT. You can’t get into an excellent medical school without an impressive score on the MCAT. If you plan on becoming a dentist, you must take the Dental Admission Test or DAT. Again, your score well here, and you’ll need to stand out to get into your preferred dental school. 

What if you aren’t sure about what field to enter, and you want to factor in the relative difficulty of these tests? If that’s the case, then you might want to know: which test is more difficult, the DAT or the MCAT


Though the ultimate answer will eventually depend on your skills, we can take a closer look at both exams, so you get a more definitive answer to the question. 

Similarities between the DAT and the MCAT

  • Both exams indeed share some similarities. They’re both computer-based exams that medical schools use to screen applicants. Your score will be compared with the scores of the other applicants, and the higher your score, the more likely you can get into the school you want. 
  • The exams are both expensive. The DAT costs $495 each time you take the test. The MCAT costs either $325 (with early registration) or $375 (late registration). And international students will need to add another $120 to the fee. 
  • Both tests will need several hours to complete. The test contents for both exams are similar, and you’ll find a reading comprehension section in both the MCAT and DAT. 

Differences between DAT and MCAT

  • There are notable differences, however. The MCAT checks for reading comprehension in each section of the test. But there are only passages in the reading comprehension section of the DAT. 
  • There are no physics questions in the DAT. This is somewhat surprising, considering that dentistry students will still have a physics course requirement if they enter dentistry school. On the other hand, the MCAT has about 12 to 18 Physics questions, and that’s about 5% to 8% of the exam.
  • Both exams have a math portion, though the DAT has more math questions than the MCAT. You can’t use a calculator for the MCAT, but you can for the DAT. 
  • The DAT is also notorious for its PAT section, which has problems that test your spatial visualization skills, involving both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional perception. There’s no equivalent section in the MCAT. 

A Closer Look at the DAT

The DAT has a total of 100 questions for the Survey of Natural Sciences section, which comes with a time limit of 90 minutes. Biology has 40 questions, while both General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry have 30 questions each. 

Then there’s the Perceptual Ability Test, or PAT. This has 90 questions with a 60-minute time limit. You get 15 questions for each section: Keyhole, Top/Front/End Visualization, Angle Ranking, Hole Punches, Cube Counting, and Pattern Folding. 

Then you get the Reading Comprehension Test, with 50 questions and a 60-minute time limit. 

Finally, there’s the Quantitative Reasoning Test, with 40 math questions overall to be completed in 45 minutes. The mathematics portion comes with 30 questions, plus ten questions set as word problems. 

That comes to a total of 280 questions, with 4 hours and 15 minutes to complete the test. Factoring in the breaks, that’s a total of exactly 5 hours. 

Each test-taker gets 8 score reports in total, with scaled scores ranging from 1 to 30. The most important of these scores is the Academic Average. The 50th percentile generally scores 17, though top schools will require higher scores. The Harvard School of Dental Medicine requires an AA of 23.8, while the UCLA School of Dentistry needs an AA score of 23.2. 

A Closer Look at the MCAT

Most experts and students say the MCAT is more difficult than the DAT. You have a total of just 230 questions, though, and you have 4 hours and 54 minutes to complete the test. With the breaks factored in, the whole thing lasts 7 hours and 30 minutes. 

The first section is Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, with 59 questions and a 95-minute time limit. The section will test your knowledge of chemistry and physics in the scope of biological systems. That means you should be familiar with organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, biology, and biochemistry. You’ll need to apply your knowledge of statistics and research methods to reason correctly through the questions. 

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section comes next, with 53 questions and a 90-minute time limit. You get word passages (about 500 to 600 words each) with questions to test your reading comprehension. 

The passages cover various topics, such as the humanities and the social sciences, but you don’t have to know these topics to answer the questions correctly. In fact, you’re supposed to use only the information from the passages to answer the questions properly. 

Next comes the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section, with 59 questions and a 95-minute time limit. While the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems test your knowledge of chemistry and physics, this section now tests your knowledge of biology and biochemistry. But again, you should have some knowledge of organic and inorganic chemistry. 

The section has questions about topics such as the organization of biological systems, processes unique to living organisms, and the functions of biomolecules. 

Finally, there are the Psychological, Social and Biological Functions of Behavior section, with 59 questions and a 95-minute time limit. The section has questions regarding psychology and sociology to test your understanding of how behaviour and sociocultural factors affect a person’s health. 

An MCAT score of 500 places you in the 50th percentile. Get a score of 510, and that jumps right to the 80th percentile. But the average MCAT scores for accepted students in the top medical schools are even higher. The average is 518 for Stanford, 519 for Yale, 520 for Harvard, and 521 for Johns Hopkins. 

Final Words

So, let’s summarize. First off, determining the relative difficulty of the DAT and the MCAT is entirely subjective. It simply depends on the person taking the tests. Some people think that the MCAT is truly difficult, but the same goes for the DAT.

Admittedly, most experts and test-takers do regard the MCAT as more difficult overall. 

Finally, should you take both tests? The short answer is no. First off, each test is difficult. Preparing for both tests simultaneously will wreck your focus, and you’re more likely not to do your best for each test. So focus on one test at a time. 

Besides, most schools frown upon students who take both tests. It shows a lack of commitment to your chosen field. At this point, you have to know what you want. Do you want to be a doctor? If so, prepare for and take the MCAT. Do you want to be a dentist? Then prepare for and take the DAT. Both fields are challenging, and it takes the most profound commitment to succeed in each field. Just pick one domain, and stick to it.

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