How to Ace the Perceptual Ability Test on the DAT – A Student to Student Guide
By Jason Steiner
When initially studying for my PAT section, I did everything wrong. Thankfully, I was able to learn from my mistakes before my exam and recovered enough to score a 26 on the PAT. My hope in writing this blog post is that I will save the reader from making the same mistakes I did, as well as some panic and time. I will start with what I did wrong, move on to what I did right, including some section-by-section advice, and conclude with what I would do differently. It is also important to note that I never scored above a 23 on any practice exam. Do not get discouraged by low scores. Use them as motivation to do better. On my very first PAT section I scored a 15. Scoring low initially only means that you have a high ceiling!
What I did wrong:
Where to begin? The first wrong thing I did was initially use one source to study from. After reading a few dated reviews, I purchased Crack DAT PAT, thinking it would be all I would need. I do not regret making this purchase, but it was misleading for the hole punching and top, front, end (TFE) sections of the PAT. The hole punching section was only misleading because it was much easier than the real DAT. The Crack DAT TFE problems are seriously dated. Almost all of the questions on the Crack DAT TFE sections of each practice test can be solved using the line-counting method. If you do not know what that is, consider yourself lucky. A few years ago the makers of the DAT caught on to the line-counting strategy and developed questions to nullify this cheat. Because I only used Crack DAT PAT, I became dependent on this strategy for solving TFE questions. However, when I began taking DAT Bootcamp and datQvault practice PAT sections, it became immediately apparent that line-counting was useless. It took me multiple days to recalibrate my brain to visualize each of the shapes instead of trying to count the lines. The second thing I did wrong was stop reviewing PAT sections after I scored a 22, 23, and 23 on my last three Crack DAT PAT practice tests. This was 4-5 weeks before my DAT, and when I tried my first Bootcamp PAT 2.5 weeks before my exam, I was rusty. A combination of the line-counting method not working, being out of practice, and the Bootcamp exams being more difficult dropped my score from a 23 to an 18. I had to sacrifice days of studying for other sections to reestablish my PAT skills and learn to visualize shapes instead of line-count. The final major flaw I experienced was panicking when I knew I was not doing well on a practice test. Though panicking on any section is bad, doing so during the PAT section is deadly. Your mind has to be relaxed to properly perceive/visualize each shape, and panic almost completely blocks this ability. Not surprisingly, perceptual ability is not part of the fight or flight response.
What I did right:
Even though my practice schedule was erratic and ultimately wasted a lot of time, I did practice a lot. Between my Crack DAT PAT, datQvault, and DAT Bootcamp practice exams, I probably took 40 practice exams (I did some twice). By the time I took my DAT there was nothing I had not seen. Taking a lot of practice exams taught me not to spend too much time on any questions I found confusing, how to manage my time, and how to suppress stress quickly in a timed setting. Avoiding spending too much time on any one question was an effective way to make sure my brain did not switch into panic mode. The second thing I did right was taking at least 1 PAT section almost every day for two weeks prior to my exam. I only did this because my drastic drop in score scared me, but I would recommend this routine regardless.
Given that practice is important, it is useless if you do not have some sort of strategy moving forward. In terms of general strategy on how to go about each section, I read a lot of threads on the Student Doctor Network about which sections to do first or last. I think that what you do first or last does not matter. No section helps with any other section, so I found it simpler to go in the order the questions were numbered, but that is personal preference. Unfortunately, there is no grand strategy that applies to each of the 6 PAT sections. The six sections are: keyhole, TFE, angle ranking, hole punching, cube counting, and pattern folding.
Keyhole: They are going to try to trick you. When you choose an answer, ask yourself if there is any reason at all why your answer could be wrong. If you are on the fence about the length or location of a shape, even if everything else seems right, reconsider other options before moving on. Another strategy I had was to look at the simplest hole first. Many times there is no simplest hole, but, if there is, this is a quick way to eliminate answers or choose the correct answer right away. The more challenging keyhole shapes take longer to analyze. While this strategy may not help you get the right answer, it will save you some valuable time.
TFE: Visualize, visualize, visualize. Again, line-counting does not work. At first, many of the shapes, especially those in Bootcamp, may be difficult to picture. But with a lot of practice, certain holes, overhangs, and protrusions will become natural to visualize. This is the section for which practice matters the most. Bootcamp has a TFE generator. If you need TFE practice, spend time with the generator.
Angle Ranking: It is not nearly as hard as the angles in Bootcamp. The way I see it is that Bootcamp only has medium and hard problems, while the actual exam has easy, medium and hard problems. My only strategy for this section was to sit back from my computer and make an order without looking at the answers. If you are too close to your screen, it is easier to get tricked by longer and shorter angle arm lengths. At least that is what I found.
Hole Punching: Make grids. There is a 15 min tutorial before you begin your exam. Use this time to make however many grids you need to complete the 15 hole punching questions. I used 1 grid per 3 questions and altered what marking I used. This strategy worked well for me, but how you want to format your grids is up to you.
Cube Counting: I did not use that table method some people really like. Instead, I counted the cubes for each individual question. This section is pretty straight forward, and becomes second nature with enough practice.
Pattern Folding: Undoubtedly my worst of the six sections. Bootcamp’s pattern folding explanations really helped me, and if you are struggling with this section, definitely check them out. The big idea that helped me was creating a reference point, and then folding each side towards that reference point. It is also good to note that the pattern folding on the real DAT is not as difficult as Bootcamp’s.
What I would do differently:
- Choose the right resources originally. I recommend DAT Bootcamp and datQvault.
- Do at least 1 PAT section every other day. The PAT requires a different way of thinking to do well, and it goes away quickly if you do not practice frequently.
- This goes for every section, but do not study the PAT section in isolation. Doing smaller doses more often will keep you sharp, while still giving you the practice you need.
Note: The views expressed in this blog entry are exclusively those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Admissions Helpers or its staff