In the same way that your child had to take the SAT or ACT when he was applying to college, the DAT or Dental Admissions Test rules the U.S. dental school admissions world. It's a 5-hour computer-administered test, i.e., you take it while sitting at a computer in a testing center. It includes sections on natural science (biology, chemistry and organic chem), reading comprehension, math (algebra, trig and reasoning problems) and - here's where it really differs from any other admissions exam - perceptual ability.
The hourlong perceptual ability portion requires the test taker to, for example, imagine a strangely shaped 3-D object and figure out which aperture it will pass through; extrapolate what an object will look like, based on a 2-D, non-perspective view; or how holes punched into a folded sheet of paper will look when the paper is unfolded. In short, it measures a very specific skill set. Dental schools look for high scores in both this and the science section.
The DAT is scored on a 1-30 scale, with 17 the national average, according to the American Dental Association. The range for accepted dental students was 16-24, according to 2006 statistics, with most falling into the 19+ range. Columbia University's incoming dental school class averaged a 22 in both 2006 and 2009.
As of July 2010, the fee for the DAT was $285. The test is administered year-round throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Students who plan to go to dental school immediately after college should take the exam in the spring of junior year or immediately thereafter. Scores are good for three years.