(grad guide) dental story

Violetta Nikitina (far right) poses with other Virginia Tech pre-dental club members at the American Student Dental Association conference in January 2020.

Similar to many other graduate programs, dental school requires applicants to take an entrance exam. According to the American Dental Association, the Dental Admission Test is a multiple choice exam consisting of four tests, one in each of these categories: survey of the natural sciences, perceptual ability, reading comprehension and quantitative reasoning. 

Violetta Nikitina, a junior majoring in biology and clinical neuroscience, first took the DAT on Aug. 20 and is planning to take it again this coming January. According to Nikitina, this is the rundown on studying for and taking the DAT.

First, it is important to know what resources to use when beginning to study for the DAT. Created and run by Ari Rezaei, DAT Bootcamp is designed to be an all-encompassing program so students can find everything they need in order to prepare for the exam in one place. 

“I followed Ari’s bootcamp schedule pretty precisely,” Nikitina said. “When I was lagging behind or when I got a low score on a practice exam, I would kind of add in things that I needed to work on more, but I stayed with his schedule pretty much to a T.”

It is also important to implement a studying schedule and time management so that all the material gets covered before exam day. Before beginning a rigorous studying schedule, Nikitina utilized the five-questions-a-day generator from DAT Bootcamp, which only requires a free account, not a paid subscription. Then in June, she subscribed to the full two-month program which granted her access to more studying materials and full-length practice exams.

“In June, it was more light studying; I was studying every day, but not very hard on hours, maybe like three to four hours every day having Sundays off,” Nikitina said. “Starting in July, I increased my studying; I would usually study around eight hours a day, making it like a full school day. I started taking full length practice tests about two weeks before my actual exam.”

Nikitina suggests that pre-dental students wait to subscribe to DAT Bootcamp until almost exactly two months before their planned exam dates since the program costs about $500, and it is crucial to have the test material fresh in your mind on exam day.

Overall, Nikitina claims that the courses she took at Virginia Tech prepared her well for the exam. She said that organic chemistry and the higher level biology courses she took were especially helpful since they covered more information than what she needed to know for the DAT.

Another aspect of school that Nikitina found helpful was Virginia Tech’s American Student Dental Association Pre-Dental Chapter. She highly recommends that students who want to go to dental school join as it provided her with mentors who helped her through DAT preparation. 

“I think Virginia Tech prepared me very, very well,” Nikitina said. “The only thing that I was lacking, where I had to study a lot, was definitely that perceptual ability test section — and that wasn’t Virginia Tech’s fault. That was just because you can’t really get perceptual ability classes here or anywhere else; it’s something you have to do on your own.”

Math was another area that required some extra brushing up before the exam . The DAT focuses primarily on algebra-based math, so Nikitina said she had to do a lot of refreshing since she had not done any math at that level in years.

After talking with the dean at Virginia Commonwealth University, Nikitina decided she is going to attempt the DAT for the second time in January because she believes she can increase her biology score. According to Nikitina, members of Virginia Tech’s ASDA Pre-Dental Chapter suggest taking the exam the summer after sophomore year, since all the necessary courses will have been completed, and then one more time as needed. 

For anyone contemplating the pre-dental track, Nikitina strongly suggests shadowing at a local practice as this will help determine if dentistry is something you are passionate about while also exposing you to the field and helping you gain experience. 

“My mom was the one that was pushing me to do dental, so I kept pushing away and away,” Nikitina said. “Then she was like, ‘Go one day and shadow — come back and tell me you don’t like it and I’ll drop the subject for good and never bring it up again.’ So I went into a dental office and asked if I could shadow for one day to expose myself to the field, and I ended up loving it.” 

As one last piece of advice to undergraduates considering pursuing dentistry, Nikitina emphasizes the importance of academics and GPA, especially during your freshman year.

“Always keep in mind that every year counts the same, and if you have a very strong freshman GPA, you’re off to a good start,” Nikitina said. “A lot of people that I’ve talked to regret having a low GPA freshman year because it weighs them down."

Just like applying to undergraduate programs, taking entrance exams and applying to graduate schools can be particularly stressful. As exemplified by Nikitina, a good work ethic and determination can take you far. 

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