The first subtest of the Survey of Natural Sciences on the DAT is Biology. Questions 1–40 test such DAT topics as anatomy and physiology, developmental biology, cell and molecular biology, genetics, evolution, ecology, behavior, and the diversity of life. Many test takers feel confident with their biology knowledge, but that means differentiating yourself from your peers is even more difficult. You’ll need to answer the majority of the Biology questions correctly in order to earn a good score on the DAT, which means understanding the content and having good test-taking strategies are extremely important for this section.
Biology Content on the DAT
The American Dental Association (ADA) has published a DAT User’s Manual on their Dental Admission Test (DAT) page that establishes what content can be tested on the DAT. The following outlines the exact content you will need to know for the Biology section, and the numbers in parentheses reflect how many questions that primarily test that subject are likely to be on any given DAT administration. Note that many questions require knowledge from more than one content area listed, and some questions also require knowledge from General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, or other fields, so having a well-rounded background will still be helpful.
Cell and Molecular Biology (13)
• Origin of Life
• Cell Metabolism and Enzymology
• Cellular Processes
• Organelle Structure and Function
• Mitosis and Meiosis
• Cell Structure
• Experimental Cell Biology
Diversity of Life (5-Kingdom System) (3)
Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior (4)
• Natural Selection
• Population Genetics
• Population and Community Ecology
• Animal Behavior
Vertebrate Anatomy and Physiology (9)
Developmental Biology (4)
• Descriptive Embryology
• Developmental Mechanisms
• Experimental Embryology
• Molecular Genetics
• Human Genetics
• Classical Genetics
• Genetic Technology
Studying Biology for the DAT
In the past, most Biology questions on the DAT were based heavily on assessing test takers’ memories of discrete biological facts with a particular focus on the molecular basis of life. However, the test makers are now moving away from that reductionist viewpoint and toward an integrative approach that focuses on biological systems as wholes, including the complex interactions within them. This means that the test rewards both breadth of knowledge and the ability to make connections. Learn both approaches; you’ll still need to memorize a wide range of biology facts, but you’ll also need to understand how those pieces work together.
To help you learn this wide range of material, it’s important to use a wide range of methods while studying. Even after studying you may still see questions on your official test about content that doesn’t look familiar at first. That won’t be a problem, though, because you’ll be able to figure out the answers to those types of questions using critical thinking: bringing different ideas together to determine the correct answers and eliminating impossible choices. You may see a question about a particular enzyme you didn’t learn about, but you can still use information in the question about where it is produced and your knowledge of other molecules with similar names to find the correct answer. For example, if a question asks you about carboxypeptidase formed in the pancreas but you can’t remember its function, you can take what you do know to infer that coming from the pancreas means it acts in the small intestine. And since peptid refers to peptide bonds, carboxypeptidase must help digest proteins. So together this means it digests proteins in the small intestine, which is likely reflect in the correct answer.
Additionally, don’t neglect to keep a broad focus on the interactions within and among biological systems. It’s important to know that aldosterone is produced by the adrenal cortex and increases salt reabsorption in the nephrons, but it’s even more valuable to realize that damage to the adrenal glands (in the exocrine system) can cause low blood pressure (in the circulatory system). By making these connections, not only will you be prepared to answer challenging integrative questions on Test Day, but you’ll also ensure you have a solid knowledge of the basics as well.