Hey Everyone, the following is my personal ADAT experience, which I hope helps some people who are struggling to get a sense of the test and how to prepare for it. I have had multiple private message requests for this information, so thought that I should share it here.
For context, I am a Navy general dentist, five years removed from dental school. I took the ADAT at the beginning of March this year, before all of the COVID craziness began. Furthermore (and this is not
a humble brag), I was not
that kid in your class who seemed to easily understand everything they were taught and effortlessly finished at the top of my class. I'm no smarter than anyone else on this website.
My ADAT scores were
670 Overall (99th percentile)
710 Biomedical Sciences
620 Clinic Sciences
710 Evidence Based Dentistry
Length of Study Time:
I studied for two months, while still working full time Monday through Friday. I chose this length of time based on advice from previous test takers, who said 2-3 months was an appropriate time frame. I looked at it almost like planning a training cycle in athletics. Like an athlete preparing for a competition, you want to “peak” at the right time. More time isn’t necessarily better; push too hard for too long and you risk burnout.
I knew that this would be my only opportunity to show the admissions committees that I could "still hang" academically, since I have been out school since 2015. Also, while my class rank is respectable (20th of 62 with a 3.74 GPA), its not exactly head turning, so I felt that earning a strong score was especially important. Even if this wasn't the case, I always tend to end up going “scorched earth” when I study for exams like this, meaning that much of my life gets put on the back burner and sometimes even neglected as I pour all of my physical, emotional and mental energy into preparation. You have to, “embrace the suck” as the SEALs say. I know this isn’t possible for everyone, as many people have family or other obligations they must meet. I don’t have any kids, and my wife has a time-intensive, stressful career of her own that keeps her busy, so our lifestyle was able to accommodate this style of test preparation.
I would typically put in eight hours of quality study time each on Saturday and Sunday, and try to get in 2-3 hours of studying each weeknight, including Friday. I also took 12 days of vacation (I am in the military and had built up a surplus the previous year) immediately prior to taking the exam. I studied for about 8 hours each of these vacation days. Typically, I would be at the coffee shop at 6:30 when it opened, study hard and focused until 11:00 or 11:30, break for a workout (something that has always been stress relieving for me), change study locations to the local library, and study again until 4:00 or 4:30. I had my own version of the “pomodoro” technique that I used where I would study for 50 minutes on and break for 10 off.
The older I get, the more I realize that quality is more important than quantity. So while I still put in plenty of hours, I tried as hard as I could to make sure they were good quality hours (minimizing distractions, no Facebook, no Instagram, no YouTube, etc.) and then let myself relax with the leftover time in my day, rather than study sun-up to sun-down every day.
My primary study materials were First Aid for the NBDE Part I and Part II, First Aid for the USLME Step 1 (for Biostatistics), CRACK ADAT, ADAT Knockout, ADAT Hero (yes, I paid for all three), and the Goljan Audio Lectures. This last of these can be found on Spotify or the Podcasts app on iPhone, and are recordings of a medical school USMLE prep course given by a physician. The questions on the ADAT aren’t nearly as difficult as those on the USMLE (the med students really have it rough), but I think I got maybe 3 or 4 questions correct on the Biomedical Sciences portion of the ADAT just from having listened to these podcasts while shaving, working out, driving, doing the dishes, etc. I also used YouTube extensively, especially to reinforce concepts that I wasn’t quite getting or wouldn’t stick.
The eventual rhythm I found myself in was to go over my First Aid for the NBDE books on the weeknights, and use my CRACK ADAT and ADAT Knockout on the weekends for practice tests. In my personal opinion, I think the absolute best way to study for something like this is to get as many timed practice questions in as possible. To use another athletics analogy, this is like getting your reps in at the gym. You can read about squatting technique or running technique for hours and hours, but if you want to squat or run at a competition level, eventually you just have to start squatting and running the miles. I took all of the ADAT Knockout practice tests are under strict time conditions, and when I had gone through all of these I did as many of the CRACK ADAT practice questions (there are a lot) as I could. I also re-did all of the Biostats sub tests from ADAT Knockout the week before the exam. After each test, I would go back and review all of the questions I got wrong and return to my First Aid books or YouTube for extra review. It’s an uncomfortable, exhausting way to study, especially at first, but I have found it to be the most effective. The SEALs have another saying, which I think is paraphrased from somewhere else that basically says, “A person doesn’t rise to the occasion, they fall to the level of their training.” Meaning, you want lots of practice being in a stressful, uncomfortable situation, because the test itself will be a stressful, uncomfortable situation. I think its good to remember this when you are studying.
I also made extensive use of the Anki Flash Carp application, which I found extremely helpful. Anki uses a simple technology that will automatically move flashcards that you have mastered to greater and greater intervals between viewings, and will move flashcards that you haven’t mastered to more and more frequent viewings. I used this for those brute force memorization things (branches of the carotid artery for example) that I couldn’t get to stick any other way. Anki is a free web application, but also has a $25 single charge iPhone app that I found worth the money.
The test itself:
The test itself reminded me a lot of NBDE Part I and II. The questions had the same feel. The computer screen had the same layout with the same blue and white color scheme and the same font. Despite all of my practice questions, I still felt pressed for time, especially on the Biostats portion. Also oddly, I had multiple word-for-word repeat questions. I also had a number of questions on the Clinical Sciences portion where I felt that I was basically selecting between the best of four clearly wrong answers. These were usually the ethics based questions. I remember disagreeing with all four answers on two or three questions and wishing that I had a box to fill in my own answer. Such is the limitation of this kind of testing.
Lastly, I feel that the Biostats section “changed” for my version of the test. None of the style of Biostats questions from ADAT HERO or ADAT Knockout were asked on my test and I honestly felt like I was basically winging this portion. I would still recommend ADAT Knockout for general studying, but I don’t think ADAT Hero (which is a biostats specific study guide) is worth the money, unless they have updated their question bank since I took the exam.
- Like I’ve hinted before, I think it was helpful for me to think of studying as “practicing” or “training” for the test. With that in mind, just like anything else that you start practicing or training for, at first it’s going to be very difficult, but eventually, you will get better and better and better at it and it won’t be so difficult to focus for hours on end like it was when you first started. I noticed my focus gradually improving as the weeks of study went on.
- I definitely still had my bad days, where my focus wasn’t there, or I felt distracted, or tired. Don’t be discouraged when this happens to you and remember that it happens to everyone. The important thing is to get in as much high quality study time as you can and then move on with your day.
- I left the test feeling like I did poorly, that I had missed a lot of questions. Remember that they will throw out some questions (my repeat questions for example) and probably use the test to demo new questions (like the biostats questions I got), so even if you feel like you did poorly your score may not be that bad after all of the adjustments.
- Despite my test score and Navy resume, I only got 2 interviews this cycle, and my test score was only mentioned a single time by a single interviewer. I say this not for the sake of sounding gloomy, but just to remind you that your test score isn't everything.
I hope that helps! Good luck to all of you and remember that you are smarter and stronger than you think.