Your GPA and DAT Score Are Vital
How your GPA is viewed is colored by where you went to school, the particular classes you took, if your grades are inflated, and if there are any other mitigating circumstances.
Some dental schools consider a positive trend in your GPA over time. If you started off slowly, but improved significantly in later semesters, take heart. On the other hand, if your grades have been dropping over time, you may have a problem. For example, these schools believe that a GPA of 3.5 arrived at by GPAs of 3.0, 3.5, and 4.0 in your freshman, sophomore, and junior years respectively, differs markedly from a 3.5 earned by a 4.0, 3.5, 3.0 sequence.
The DAT Provides a Standard Measure
Because GPA is subject to such variability and interpretation, the DAT score has taken on more predominance in past years. Admissions committees look at your DAT score to determine if you have the academic ability to succeed in dental school. An outstanding DAT score won't necessarily get you into the school of your choice but a low score will probably keep you out. If you scored poorly on the DAT, consider taking it again. Admissions committees usually focus on your most recent score. Taking the test more than once can work in your favor if you improve, but it can be a black mark if you do poorly in a particular subject more than once. If your first test results indicate a weak area, make sure you prepare well before you take the test a second time. Keep in mind that you can only take the DAT three times in a lifetime, and that you must wait 90 days between each attempt.
How Should You Approach the DAT?
The DAT is a standardized test; therefore, it has standard ways of approaching it—question type strategies, time-management techniques, etc. Understanding the format of the exam and the ways you can use it to your advantage can significantly increase your score. Because of the intensity of the DAT and the competitiveness of today's dental school admissions environment, we highly encourage you to prep formally for the exam (obvious reasons aside...). The structure that preparation provides can help you build the skills, techniques, and confidence to score your best.
The first criteria for getting an interview and an offer is, "Can the student do the work?" You will have to prove that you are capable of dental school level work primarily with your grades and DAT scores. Some admissions officers will candidly admit that they have a formula, such as GPA × "school conversion factor" × DAT score. Many have soft cutoffs that differ for in- and out-of-state candidates. The first cut will eliminate those who fall below the school's typical standards for both GPA and DAT. Left are those who have sufficient proof of their academic ability. The weighing of the two depends on a number of different things.