25AA / 25PAT / 27TS [2018 DAT] - 2 months prep, materials, tips

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:) Hi all! I took my DAT a few weeks ago and just finished my AADSAS application. Now that I have some time on my hands I thought I'd make this in-depth post sharing my prep and experience in case it helps anyone out there. Here are my scores that I'm pretty happy with:

25 AA [27 TS]
25 PAT / 22 QR / 23 RC / 27 BIO / 28 GC / 25 OC

I studied for about 2 months. I didn't have a daily schedule because that's not really my style, but I did set goals for myself on a daily basis. Also, I paced myself so the first month was content review and the second months was practice problems (subject tests) and full-lengths. There was a lot of cross-over between the two though.

Materials and how I used them
[Month 1 - content review] : vast knowledge

1. DAT Bootcamp - the GOAT!!
  • Mike's videos. At the beginning I aimed to do one gchem chapter and one ochem chapter every day. Some days I would only do only one or the other if it was a long/unfamiliar chapter. So, that meant I would finish the videos in 20 days at the most. I printed out all the notes + quizzes, put them in a binder, and took notes as I watched the videos. I watched SLOWLY (not sped up), paused frequently, and tried to absorb everything Mike was saying. If something didn't make sense, I rewatched it, google searched, looked at notes from my classes, or whatever I needed to do for it to make sense and feel tight. The ochem reaction flashcards are AWESOME but no not contain EVERY reaction. I remember having to draw in the hoffman rearrangement, haloform reaction, and others I came across as a separate box in those pages. Basically, whenever I came across a reaction, I looked to see if it was there - if it was (usually the case) I contextualized it with its related reactions. If not, I drew a new box for it. Within the boxes, I would also write in important notes for each rxn (eg: anti-addition or syn-addition, SN1 or SN2, carbocation intermediate, stereospecific or forms a racemic mixture, etc.) When I finished the videos. I spent a huge part of a day drawing out ALL the information (from the notes in my binder) for gchem on white boards at my uni. Unless it felt totally obvious to me, I would draw it out -- pictures, trends, equations, describing concepts, etc. It felt so good just to flesh everything out at the same time and make connections. I took photos of the whiteboards and would often refer to them instead of the notes during Month 2 whenever I needed a refresher. I did the same for all the ochem reactions (and many of the mechanisms) and this helped a lot too. I actually drew out all the ochem reactions more than once but on paper or a smaller whiteboard -- its the best way to make them tight imo.

  • PAT academy. I aimed to do one chapter per day just to get comfortable with the rules and the strategies. I did their practice sets given during each chapter of videos and worked through them slowly to make sure I was reasoning correctly and applying the strategies well. I remember spending a good portion of a day completely figuring out hole-punching. This section is free once you get the technique down.

  • PAT generators. I used the generators frequently in my spare time. The app is great for doing problems when you're out and have nothing else to do. Angle ranking was my favorite and I did about 20 problems every morning after waking up. Daily practice is really the key to angle ranking to improve your vision for it, and practice in general for PAT.

  • PAT tests, QR tests, RC tests (in order of frequency). These are only subject tests that I did throughout month 1 and month 2. Ochem and Gchem I didn't start until Month 2. PAT is the most important to do (I did one like every 3 days after finishing PAT academy) consistently imo. I would do a PAT test and review it the NEXT day. Always try again the ones you got wrong before looking at the solution, and also review the ones you got right to make sure you really got them right or if there was a faster way. QR I did mostly to get pacing down, knock the rust off my math skills, and reinforce the rules and formulas you need to know. I would review QR tests the SAME day I took them. I did these QR tests in bursts kind of. I would do like 1 or 2 per day for a few days in a row until I felt confident, and then put QR aside for a week or so. For RC, I did a mapping strategy -- spent 6-8 minutes mapping the passage and the rest of 20 minutes answering the questions per passage. I liked this strategy early on and didn't experiment much with others. It seems consistent and keeps you on track. I would map the main topic of the paragraph, unique terms, or anything that jumped out to me. For passages with many dates, species names, scientist names, or annoying info like that, consider using the highlight tool for them because mapping those can be time consuming and will make your map bloated. I generally didn't use the highlight tool very much though as it seemed to slowed me down. Even though you are mapping and reading fast, read as intently as possible. The benefit of this strategy over seek and destroy is that reading the whole passage will help you answer big-picture and tone questions. Slow down your reading when you see phrases like BUT, HOWEVER, ON THE OTHER HAND, etc. indicating a shift or contrast in idea. Speed up when you see introductory sentences followed by details. The whole strategy behind mapping is to comprehend the main ideas and make a map of where to find the details!
2. Quizlet. During Month 2, I used quizlet a ton for biology (will discuss later). During Month 1, I used it for gchem equations/random things you need to memorize (eg: solubility rules) and QR formulas/facts/conversion values. Basically I took the Gchem and QR cheat sheets from Bootcamp and made them into quizlet cards, while adding anything I felt also needed to be memorized. This made them a lot easier to study and memorize confidently.

3. Other websites.
  • Bioninja. A lot of concise but sufficiently detailed bio info and amazing pictures!
  • Youtube. Awesome for bio animations!!
  • Master Organic Chemistry. Can be overkill at times but still great.
  • Wikipedia. Yes, often way more than what you need to know, but still can be super valuable at getting you to that higher level of understanding for many topics. A lot of gchem wiki articles are actually super helpful and pretty concise.
  • Google. Especially google images!
  • To avoid: social media!! Of course you need breaks, but I recommend doing something simple and innocent like a basic flash game (my favorites include snake and tetris) instead of getting distracted and stressed out by the successes or failures of other DATers. I got really into this youtuber who analyzes chess games (he's called agadmator) and posts a video every day or so -- would always put me in a good mood. Whatever you do, don't get sucked in and waste too much time.
4. Class notes and presentations. Inevitably, you will have to learn things for the DAT that you've never seen before. That said, it's good to use whatever background you have. It is important not to learn excess detail not relevant to the DAT, BUT sometimes it does help to go a little bit extra.... Getting to that higher level of understanding will often make the DAT material so much more sensible and feel intuitive rather than something you have to plainly memorize.

5. Kaplan online course. Hint: waste of money and was not necessary in retrospect. I only bought it because friends did and had success (they got 19's and 20's, which I looked up to at the time). Their practice tests felt really strange and glitchy so I eventually gave up on them. The course is useful as an extra outlet to reinforce some (but not all) of the information, but otherwise it doesn't really teach you anything you can't teach yourself. The only genuinely useful thing is the prep-book, and you can buy that separately. I showed up to every class each week, did the pre-class homework and the post-class assignments, and practice tests whenever they told me "it was time." It definitely doesn't hurt if you have the $$, but I think Bootcamp and the other resources I mentioned are sufficient if you use them to their full potential!

6. Kaplan blue book. It came with the course and I had to use it to do the pre-class homework. Somewhat useful for basic review before diving into Bootcamp materials, but overall I was not a fan. If you do get it, I would ignore the end-of-chapter problems. Especially for GC, some of those problems are impossible to solve without a calculator and will just waste your time.

7. DAT Destroyer?? So here's the thing. I actually did buy DAT destroyer and if I would have had more time, I definitely see myself doing the problems. But given my constraints, I ended up just honing in on Bootcamp as they seemed much more high-yielding. I looked over their ochem reaction summary pages and they were definitely helpful. I did like the first 50 problems of gchem and ochem (no bio) and I honestly liked the layout and flow of them. But, I calculated that to really devote enough time to all these problems to make good use of them (I don't believe in just "doing" problems; I need time to review thoroughly and contextualize information), would be overkill and take away from my other studies. If I had an extra month or more, I think they would have helped based on what other people have said and my impression of them. But, evidently, they are not NECESSARY. I would assume that most of the bootcamp questions mimic anything in Destroyer anyways, so I really think bootcamp alone is fine.

[Month 2 - practice] : calmness and clarity

1. Laminated grid paper + marker, like the real DAT! So crucial to get the hang of using these as it feels a lot different than pencil/pen and paper. They came with my Kaplan course, but you can find them for cheap on amazon! I used dry erase while studying and that's what I recommend, but my real DAT sheets were not erase-able. It didn't make a big difference to me, and I could even sort of erase the marker with my shirt sleeve if I was quick and didn't let it settle lol. Otherwise you just raise the sheet in the air and the proctor replaces it for you.

2. DAT Bootcamp
  • Subject tests. My use of subject tests was somewhat sporadic. Overall, by the time I took my test, I did all of them at least twice and many of them 3 times, EXCEPT RC and Bio -- RC tests I only did once each and Bio I didn't really do too many of. I started ochem and gchem tests shortly after finishing Mike's videos and doing my big-picture everything chemistry review for a couple days. I think I did about one a day for each in preparation for full-lengths that I was planning to take later. I would BOOKMARK questions I got wrong and try them again a different day, even after reviewing the solution and convincing myself that I learned it. I continued to do PAT tests on a consistent basis and reviewed them the next day, and QR and RC tests whenever it felt natural. OVERALL, I ended my first run through the subject tests by around test 7 for each with about 4 weeks before my test day. Then I did the full-lengths starting with test 10 (so the questions would not be repeats) and going backward. When I did 8, I started at 1 again to minimize recall.
  • Full-length tests. Like I said, I started with full-length 10 and went backwards up to 8 to avoid repeats, then I started again at 1 to minimize recall from the subject tests. I started full-lengths about 4 weeks before my actual DAT. Initially I would do a full-length and that pretty much knocked me out for the day. Later on, my stamina improved enough that I could do a full-length and still feel okay to study more stuff that same day! No matter what, I always reviewed the test the NEXT day. I BOOKMARKED my wrong answers so I could try them again later even after reviewing the solution. The most important goal with full-lengths is to master your PACING and STAMINA. I did a full-length every day for about the week before test day, but none the day before or the day before that. Those days were reviewing my Bio quizlet cards (discussed later), PAT practice with generators, and reviewing GC/QR cards to ensure I have everything memorized that I might need. By the time test day rolls around, you wanna feel like you can take THREE DAT’s in a row and crush all of them!!
  • PAT Generators. Continued to use them as I did in Month 1.
  • Bootcamp Biology Notes. So my relationship with the bio notes is weird. I didn't REALLY start to get into them until 3 weeks before my actual test -- even though this should have been month 1 stuff. I'm a bio major so I initially meant to rely on my background and learning whatever I could from my mistakes on the Bootcamp tests. This worked to some degree it was hard to get 20+ consistently because there was still a lot I wasn't familiar with. Three weeks before my test, I made a commitment to read through all the bio notes (the extended online version). I aimed for 2-3 chapters per day (counting the anatomy/physiology chapter as 10 chapters in one). If it was a really long/unfamiliar chapter I sometimes did just 1 that day. I first thoroughly read the chapter, verbalizing everything and not skimming. Everything that was NOT OBVIOUS to me, I made quizlet cards on! That way, I'm not relying on it sticking after reading it once (which we all know doesn't work!). Once I have them in quizlet form, I can return to them later to master. I finished all the chapters with 4 or so days before my test. The day before my test (I WISH I would have done this a day sooner, the day before really should be to relax) I worked through all those flashcards (about 300 of them in of the end) until 7 PM. Even though I did work through all of them, unfortunately there were still like 50 I didn't truly master -- still had them starred. But it just didn't feel right studying for any longer with my test tomorrow, and I was hella stressed too. Still, I think this method is what allowed me to kill Bio. I definitely remember seeing questions and thinking "man, If I didn't spend those 3 weeks of intense review, I would not have known this!" It's so crucial to make flashcards and tighten all those pieces of information that you're not sure about. Although I think content review should be early and practice should be later, saving Biology review until later has the advantage of remembering more, since it is easy to forget a lot of that information if you study it too early. That said, I think 3 weeks was cutting it close. 5 weeks before test day to start with in-depth biology review might be the way to go.
3. Month 1 Content Review Materials. Would frequently refer back to my Mike's video notes, bootcamp bio notes, the internet, etc when going over my practice tests to get more insight into the solutions and contextualize the information. The week before my test, I reviewed my quizlet cards frequently.

4. datQvault. Bought their PAT and RC tests for extra practice. Their PAT tests feel a bit outdated but I think are still great practice. I was averaging 20-22 on them. I recently discovered a site called PAT Booster and it seems awesome, so I would recommend them for extra practice instead. The qVault RC tests are extremely fact-based and are good practice for that. I bought these about 3 weeks before my test. I did one every 3 days or so as with the bootcamp tests. I ended up only doing like half of them but I was happy with my scores at this point (never below a 20).

5. Kaplan full-lengths. I did about the first 4 of the Kaplan full-lengths. They give you 10 in total. Like I said, I really did not like them and their scope seemed different than Bootcamp in a lot of ways. Their PAT questions were soooo low quality too, it made me mad. I trusted Bootcamp was more reflective of the real DAT than Kaplan, so I just gave up on them. I don't think it's bad to do use their tests as they still work on your pacing and prepare you for more weirdly worded questions. Relying on them alone would be a mistake though, and bootcamp should definitely be your main resource.

Other Tips
1. My PAT checkpoints
  • 35 or more minutes left after TFE
  • 15 or more minutes left before Pattern Folding (can get away with 13, but less is uncomfortable).
By test day these were the only moments I looked at the clock. With practice the timing becomes second nature! I didn’t bother stressing about how much time per section I was spending or, even worse, how much time per problem. There is way too much variability in the questions to have that level of control. You have to just take what they give you! To time it by section, though, I would say this:
  • Keyholes and TFE should take about the same amount of time (12-13 minutes each)
  • Angle ranking HAS to be your fastest (less than 5 minutes is good). Daily practice with timed generators is key.
  • Hole-punching and cube-counting are very methodical and should also be fast, but don’t rush and make silly errors because these are easy points (15 minutes to complete both is good).
  • 15 minutes left to do pattern folding.
The timing on the PAT seems insane at first and on the early tests I would always run out of time and have like <10 minutes for pattern folding. I just kept practicing and my speed gradually built up :)

2. For PAT, try to be CLEVER. Very rarely do PAT problems required genius level visualization. Usually the object is either simple enough to visualize completely (TFE especially, practice!) or can be broken up into several different features attached to one another in a specific way. For all the sections except angle ranking, start by making an observation about the object; then look to the answer choices and eliminate those that don't match. Usually a couple keen observations like this will help you narrow down the answer. With practice you will get a better grasp on what to look for. For angle ranking, you should look at answer choices first (what's the possible largest, smallest?), make a productive comparison between 2 or 3 angles, and eliminate down.

3. Mechanisms are your friend. It may seem like extra work, but mechanisms can seriously help you learn the ochem reactions so much better than just memorizing reactants -> products. Plus, often the stereochemistry/regiochemistry nuances of a reaction are derived logically from the mechanism, so its a win/win. PLUS, many reactions, to me at least, feel so weird going straight from reactants to products. I literally can't do an aldol question without resorting to the mechanism. You have to use your judgement as to which are worth learning. I would say alkene/alkyne, simplified version of hydride reduction (with just the H- drawn), carbonyl substitutions/additions, and aldol/claisen stuff are all good to know. The wittig rxn, hoffman rearrangement, oxidations, and maybe others are probably not worth bothering with the mechanism.

4. Words of wisdom: Treat this as a learning journey. It will not be easy, but you will be impressed about how much you learn and feel great about yourself. Think about your family and friends and how much they want you to succeed! You have to start each day with a positive attitude and wanting to attack the day and get a little closer to your goal. Don’t be afraid to learn anything. “Do I really need to know this?” is RARELY a justified question. The answer is YES. Especially if it is coming from bootcamp, chances are you should know it. That doesn't mean to drive yourself crazy and memorize the encyclopedia, but realize that this test does cover a lot of details. Don’t believe the hype of “breadth over depth.” I say breadth AND depth. VAST KNOWLEDGE!!! Be a fierce learner!! When it comes to actually executing and pacing in the test, my mantra was always “calmness and clarity.” Once you press start, you just have to trust your preparation and give it your best shot. Don’t forget that this is still a standardized multiple choice test and you should be using LOGIC to answer questions in addition to applying your knowledge. Be cool, be awesome, DON’T be stubborn -- just mark and move on if you don’t know the answer, and come back if you have time.

Well, I hope that helps someone out there and wasn’t too confusing. Good luck and stay positive!! A few months of dedication is worth it!


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Awesome job! You have a great attitude for approaching studying and working hard, and it really shows in your scores! Best of luck applying!
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