Advice Background Information Dental School Portfolio Tips

My Personal Letter of Recommendation Experience

Prior to asking for letters of recommendations, I had reviewed what to-do and not to-do in order to receive strong letters of recommendation and on time. You can find much of this information on my post All You Need to Know about Letters of Recommendations and in the Letter of Recommendation section of the FAQs. While religiously following the strategies I have learned, several of my letters of recommendation did not go as smoothly planned. Planning ahead provided a reassurance that the letters of recommendation would be completed on time expecially in these unexpected circumstances.

It is important to review the requirements of the dental schools you intend to apply to. Some dental schools may require a letter of recommendation from a specific individual like a (general) dentist, chemistry professor, biology professor, etc. Based on my selection of schools (and in most cases), it was best to have a letter of recommendation from a dentist, a biology professor, a physics/chemistry professor, and a principle investigator in my research lab. The research lab letter of recommendation is focused towards the research funded dental schools. A fifth letter of recommendation was requested by a specific school in order to meet their unique requirement.

The following is a breakdown of each letter and any unique circumstances/complications:

  • Dentist (Prosthodontist)
    • Requested from a specialist  that I have known and worked closely with for many years.
    • Least formal request (email) since I was hundreds of miles away.
    • A previous letter had been drafted for a job 3 years ago and letter was updated with further developed for dental school applications.
    • No documents requested (familiar with my experiences).
    • Conclusion: Close friends. Submitted on time no problems other than a identification verification with letter of recommendation storage service.
  • Biology
    • Requested from a Human Physiology professor in early January whom I have taken two classes with.
    • Asked through email for an appointment and summarized the appointment’s reason.
    • Dressed professionally with a suit and a portfolio of documents.
      • Professor commented on professionalism.
      • Declined any documents. Professor prefers to write letters of recommendation based on previous knowledge.
        • This was an unexpected. However, if I was writing a letter of recommendation, I would do the same.
    • Brief interview with professor about dentistry.
    • Letter of recommendation received within the time frame.
    • Conclusion: ALWAYS come professional and prepared. It can have a significant impact in situations just like this.
  • Physics
    • Requested from a mechanical physics professor in late December.
    • Personal interaction with professor.
    • Asked in person for a letter of recommendation after office hours and provided a portfolio.
    • Professor took a 6 month international vacation making it difficult to communicate.
    • Emailed a few reminders over 4 months and offered to ask another professor for a recommendation if she could no longer.
    • Letter completed in April.
    • Conclusion: In this case it really paid off to ask early. I would have been in trouble if I only asked 2 months in advance.
  • Research Principle Investigator
    • Requested from principle investigator from drug addiction research lab in May.
      • Waited until after several research events and awards in may.
    • Provided portfolio to compliment research achievements.
    • Principle investigator is also Dean of the Graduate School and is very busy.
    • Deadline of letter of recommendation near that of many research grants. As a result letter could not be completed on time.
    • Conclusion: Be weary of your letter writer’s schedule. They are busy people too and this can delay your application if not requested early enough.
  • Priest
    • Priest of nearly a decade. Served as an alter boy.
    • Requested a letter of recommendation and provided a resume.
    • Completed and received by dental school within 2 weeks!


As you can see from my experiences, no two situations were alike. Take some advice from my experiences and be sure to plan ahead, ask early, and come professional and prepared as if you are going to an interview for dental school. If you attend a large university, expect many other students to be asking for letters of recommendation. If you attend a research institution, professors are extremely busy managing time between lectures and research. In cases like these, be sure to give your letter writer as much time as you can. They will greatly appreciate it and write you a better letter.

Advice DAT Dental School Tips

Dental Admissions Test (DAT) Part 2 – Planning, Strategies, and Resources

Shortly after my exam, I started to receive multiple messages a day asking of how to best prepare for the DAT. The truth is, there is no right way to prepare. Each person has a unique background in the subjects tested and their own way of mastering them. With that said, it is important to research the many resources available to pre-dental students preparing for the DAT. It is best to plan out your strategy beforehand rather than exploring the resources as you prepare. Here are a few tips and resources I used to construct my own study schedule for the DAT:

  • IF POSSIBLE, give yourself at least 6-8 weeks of studying.
  • Understand, DON’T memorize!
    • The material may become overwhelming towards the end of your preparation and understanding the material will help you retain information or help select the best answer from the possible choices.
    • Understanding will significantly help in increasing your speed, a vital part of success on the DAT.
  • Create a schedule beforehand and plan out your attack!
    • Review your schedule of the day every morning and at the end of a session, review the next day’s goals.
    • Creating a schedule REALLY helps to keep you on target and focused on completing your day-to-day study goals.
  • Use a base structure like dentalWorks 8 Week Study Guide on Student Doctor Network for  your schedules foundation. Modify to fit the resources you are using!
  • Check out our DAT resources section on the Pre-Dental Ultimate Resources page for more useful resources such as practice questions.
  • Try to schedule your DAT as early as you feel comfortable. Having a definitive date really kicks motivation into high gear!


Since I am applying this year, I had limited time to prepare for the DAT. As a result, I used the sample schedule above and condensed it into a 4 week program, doing double the work per day. While it is possible, I DO NOT RECOMMEND doing this. The experience was extremely exhausting and in retrospect was risky.


To prepare for the DAT I used the following materials:

  • Chad’s Complete DAT Prep Videos, Notes & Quizzes (30 day subscription) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
    • Bio Videos (Incomplete)
      • As a biology major, these videos were extremely fundamental. I do not recommend them for people with strong biology backgrounds.
      • The videos have not been finished and as a result, only cover a fraction of the bio needed.
    • General Chemistry
      • Excellent! With only one run through, I understood a large portion of the material covered on the DAT. Notes are a great review tool and reference throughout studying.
    • Organic Chemistry
      • I am horrible at organic chemistry! These videos did not work the same as his general chemistry videos. Repeated review of the notes was a key aspect of understanding the material! Take great notes. Don’t be afraid to pause the videos to add more detail!
    • Qualitative Reasoning (Math)
      • I have a very strong background in math and I found these videos essential to improving my calculation speeds without using a calculator.
    • Angle Ranking Questions
      • Hundreds of questions. Most are only 3-4 degrees apart making them similar to the most challenging angle ranking questions that you will see on the DAT!
      • Formatting of the questions are poor and letter choices can be confusing from time to time.
    • DAT Destroyer does exactly what its name implies. It DESTROYS your DAT self esteem. With that said, the system works! It makes sure you don’t forget the subjects you have been painstakingly learning and expands upon them. Several of my DAT questions were extremely close to the questions in DAT Destroyer. To maximize the benefits of this resource, you should understand why every answer choice is right/wrong.
    • It is widely recommended that the book is reviewed in its entirety multiple times.
    • It is normal to get ~50% of the questions right the first time around.
    • Contains difficult qualitative reasoning questions that cover the breadth of the section on the DAT. Mastering this book teaches you all the techniques you may need and exposes you to the type of questions to expect.
    • I was skeptical about buying Math Destroyer with a strong understanding of math.
    •  It is very difficult to finish within the time allotment on the DAT (45 minutes). I finished the QR section on the DAT in 30 minutes and had 15 minutes to go over my answers. The DAT had many similar questions to the MATH Destroyer which really helps out.
    • It’s the last section of the DAT and your adrenaline starts pumping like crazy which can make it hard to focus knowing your score is on the next screen.
  • Glimmer1991’s Ultimate Breakdown Collection – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
    • An excellent resource that brings together many of StudentDoctorNetwork’s finest DAT preparation content.
    • Excellent bio guides, PAT tutorials, strategies, and answer sheets for DAT Destroyer.
    • Excellent compilation of DAT breakdowns for hundreds of members.
  • DAT Kaplan Blue Book (in-book and online practice tests)
    • Decent all-in-one DAT resource. PAT section does not hold up to the difficulty of the DAT. Provides decent practice tests with full explanations. The online tests closely replicate the real DAT, even includes the tutorial!
  • Cliffs AP Biology
    • Great reference guide for the breadth of the biology section on the DAT.
  • ADA 2007 Practice Exam – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
    • Easy, but free, practice exam by the ADA. A great first practice test midway through your preparation!
  • NEW (2018) ADA Practice Test and Practice Modules – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
    • Candidate will have 24 hours to complete the testing module from the time of purchase.
    • Individual modules are identical to the modules included in the Full Practice Test, except that there are two additional modules provided for the Perceptual Ability Test that are not in the Full Practice Test.
    • $20 per Module – Individual Modules
      • Biology 101 (40 items)
      • Organic Chemistry 101 (30 items)
      • General Chemistry 101 (30 items)
      • Reading Comprehension 101 (25 items)
      • Perceptual Ability 101 (30 items)
      • Perceptual Ability 102 (30 items) – NOT INCLUDED IN FULL SET
      • Perceptual Ability 103 (30 items) – NOT INCLUDED IN FULL SET
      • Quantitative Reasoning 101 (40 items)
    • $100 – Full Practice Set
      • Biology 101
      • Organic Chemistry 101
      • General Chemistry 101
      • Reading Comprehension 101
      • Perceptual Ability 101
      • Quantitative Reasoning 101
      • 3 hours and 5 minutes, divided into timed sections to simulate the actual test
    • The number of correct answers will be reported upon completion. Scores will not be provided.
    • I recommend ordering the Full Practice Set & Perceptual Ability 102 + 103
  • RETIRED – “ADA 2009 Practice Exam” – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
    • A practice exam by the ADA that comes in a print or computerized form.
    • I highly recommend the print version as the computerized one does not let you review your mistakes, but only shows your scores.
    • Please make sure to order ahead of time as the test must be shipped.
      • Exam costs $27 dollars + $8 dollar shipping.
    • Test contains several mistakes, however a corrections packet should come along with the exam.
    • This is as real as it gets! This should be one of the last practice tests you take.
    • High quality timed practice questions.
    • Focuses on key concepts and targets commonly misunderstood material.
    • Used when DAT Bootcamp only had 1 test ready. Now contains 5 tests per section.
    • A current 3 month subscirption costs $97 dollars.
    • 5 or 10 practice PAT tests that are great for developing strategy and an eye for the section. Can significantly improve one’s score. I ordered the 10 test version, but only completed half of the tests before my DAT.
    • 5 test version costs $99. 10 test version is $129.
    • Great simulation of the testing environment.
    • Comes with demos of other DAT section material. Be sure to try out the reading comprehension demo!
  • TopScore DAT (3 Test) – RECOMMENDED
    • I found the biology and qualitative reasoning sections to be more difficult than the actual DAT.
    • PAT section is worthless after the first test. The other two tests are variations of the same questions and are no longer a challenge.
    • Includes several DAT guides including strategies and a prep checklist.
    • Surprisingly accurate on predicting actual DAT Score.
    • Order it in advance! While it is a digital download, keys are manually provided and only provided during business hours.
      • 3 test version costs $59.95.
    • A free and recently updated exam produced by the ADA for the OAT. Since the exam is also made by the ADA, its Survey of the Natural Sciences, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning sections are identical to the DAT.
  • NEW (2018) OAT Practice Test and Practice Modules
    • Similar in design & cost to the new DAT practice test. May contain identical questions (unknown).


Other Popular Resources:

  • Kaplan DAT Prep Course
    •  Focuses on building a foundation for all topics. A great resource for non-science background pre-dental students.
    • Great for those who need a set study schedule.
  • DAT Achiever – RECOMMENDED
    • Advanced topic tests that are preferred by high scoring pre-dental students.
    • A great resource to review if you have extra time.
    • PAT section is considered one of the most accurate representations of the DAT.
    • Up to 7 tests depending on price plan ($69.99-139.99)


Please understand that this is just a review of study material I and many others have used. No one has to follow it 100%, there is no guarantee that you will score a high or low score by following it.

Advice Background Information Dental School Portfolio Tips

Why is Manual Dexterity Important?

Manual DexterityHello everyone! My name is Kristine Angeles, and I am the Internal Vice President for the Pre-Dental Society at UC Irvine, and I am Elias’ guest blogger.

As a returning board member for UC Irvine’s Pre-Dental Society, a lot of our members ask me, “What can I do to become a more competitive dental school applicant?” A competitive applicant is well rounded both academically and personally. It is important to focus on the following areas: recommended science courses that dental schools like such as anatomy and or biochemistry, exploring dentistry such as shadowing and assisting, and involvement in giving back to the community. Many other components make a strong dental school candidate, with the most frequently overlooked being manual dexterity.

When the idea of manual dexterity comes up, members ask me for advice on what they can do to prove their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. As a child, I have always loved drawing and painting, and was able to hone these abilities by practicing them during my leisure time. As I grew up, I got exposed to many mediums in which I can express my artistic ideas. I started to explore as many art forms such as printmaking, woodcarving, tying knots and cross-stitching. Although these are excellent ways in which one can sharpen fine motor skills, there are far more things one can do.

What is manual dexterity?Sistine Chapel

Manual dexterity is the ability to perform fine motor skills using ones hands and eyes in an orderly fashion. These skills might come naturally for some people such as the legendary pianist Mozart , or Michelangelo’s lifelong painting found at Sistine Chapel, but unfortunately, these abilities do not develop over night for most people.  Luckily though manual dexterity is something we can practice and truly polish over time.

What are some things I can do to refine my manual dexterity skills?

I have provided a list of activities that I have found useful in practicing fine motor skills. Please note that there are far more things that can be done to enhance one’s manual dexterity, this is merely a list.

  • Learn a musical instrument that require extensive hand-eye coordination such as the piano
  • Draw and paint
  • Woodcarving, sculpting and linoleum printmaking
  • Sewing, cross-stitching, crocheting, knitting
  • Soldering
  • Jewelry making

In practicing manual dexterity, do not forget to find something that you truly enjoy doing! Make it into a hobby, and really hone those skills. Good luck!