DAT vs. MCAT: Similarities, Differences, and Which Test Is Easier

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When you’re preparing for a potential career in health care, you might be weighing your options in terms of which standardized test to take. One common question among potential students of health sciences is, “Should I take the MCAT or the DAT?”

The MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, is the most common standardized test for admission to medical schools in Canada and the United States. Written and administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the MCAT tests prospective M.D. or D.O. students’ knowledge of the natural, biological, and physical sciences, as well as psychology and sociology. It also tests their critical reading and analytical skills. The MCAT is considered the gold standard for pre-med students across a variety of health care disciplines.

The DAT, or Dental Admission Test, is written and administered by the American Dental Association (ADA) for aspiring dental school students. The exam tests students’ knowledge of the natural sciences, as well as their reading comprehension, quantitative, and spatial perception skills. The DAT is accepted by 10 dental schools in Canada and 66 in the U.S. 

While the MCAT and DAT are similar in some content areas, they are different in several key ways. Understanding the differences between the two exams will help you decide which one is right for you, your skill set, and your potential career in the health field. In this article, we’ll dig into the differences between the DAT and MCAT in terms of difficulty, content, format, length, and more. 

The Major Differences Between the MCAT and the DAT 

Here’s a basic breakdown of the major differences between the MCAT and the DAT in practical terms.

  MCAT DAT
Purpose Admission to medical schools in North America Admission to dental schools, primarily in North America
Format Computer-based test Computer-based test
Length About 7 hours and 30 minutes About 4 hours and 15 minutes
Cost About $310.00 About $475.00
Scores 118-132 for each of the 4 sections; total score 472-528 Scaled score of 1-30
Test Dates Offered January-September every year, usually around 25 times Available year-round
Sections Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Survey of the Natural Sciences; Perceptual Ability Test; Reading Comprehension; Quantitative Reasoning

The DAT vs. MCAT: Content and Logistical Differences 

The MCAT and the DAT cover similar general areas in terms of quantitative reasoning, the natural sciences, and reading comprehension. However, there are several notable differences between the exams. 

First, the MCAT is far more passage-based than the DAT. This means that test-takers have to be able to read and comprehend passages and answer questions about them quickly, applying their background knowledge of scientific concepts along the way. 

Perhaps the biggest content difference between the two exams is in the DAT’s perceptual ability test, which tests students on their two-dimensional and three-dimensional visuospatial perception. Many students consider this to be the most difficult section of the exam, as it’s different from most standardized tests and requires test-takers to use their visual acuity to measure the differences between angles and answer questions about geometry. 

Lastly, the DAT is more limited in scope overall. It doesn’t include physics, psychology, or sociology questions, while the MCAT does. 

There are also a few logistical differences that make the experience of taking the DAT very different from completing the MCAT. The MCAT is only offered a limited number of times per year, while the DAT is offered year-round. Moreover, you’ll receive an unofficial score report immediately after you finish the DAT, while you won’t get your MCAT scores for around a month. 

Also, while there are many more math questions on the DAT than on the MCAT, you can use a calculator while taking the DAT. Calculators aren’t allowed at the MCAT. So if you struggle with doing calculations quickly in your head, the MCAT will likely be more difficult for you. 

Which Test Should You Take?

Overall, the MCAT is usually considered more difficult than the DAT by most test-takers. The MCAT focuses more on responding to lengthy passages, so you’ll need to be able to synthesize, understand, and analyze written passages quickly to do well on the exam. The DAT is also far shorter than the MCAT, so if you struggle with testing endurance or anxiety, the MCAT may prove to be a bigger challenge for you. 

The exception to this general rule is if you struggle with visuospatial perception, as the DAT specifically tests this in a way that few, if any, other standardized tests do. If you have trouble with visual or spatial perception, this section of the DAT may pose a significant challenge. 

The biggest difference between the MCAT and the DAT is, of course, the potential career you can pursue. The DAT is specific to admission to dental schools, while the MCAT is applicable to medical schools. Taking the MCAT may take more preparation than the DAT, but you can use it to pursue work in a greater variety of medical disciplines.