June 10, 2020
Written by Fariha Nuzhat

The perceptual ability test or PAT for short is one of the four main sections of the Dental Admission Test. This test is for gauging your visual acuity. The perceptual ability section is further divided into six subsections. You will not be allowed to use any form of measuring instruments, such as a scale or a pencil or even your own fingers, during the examination. Therefore to help you along, we will be breaking down each of the six subsections and provide you with little tips and tricks that you can use to ace the DAT- Perceptual Ability (PAT) test.

Syllabus/ format for DAT- Perceptual Ability (PAT)

The DAT- Perceptual Ability (PAT) contains 90 questions in total. It is further divided into six subsections each containing 15 questions. These include the following-

  1. Apertures (Keyholes): You will be shown a 3D object along with the outline of 5 different apertures. Your job is to determine which aperture the 3D object will fit through. You are allowed to turn and flip the object in any direction you desire before you move it through the aperture. Once it has entered the aperture, the object cannot be turned, flipped or twisted. The object will smoothly move through the aperture because the outline of the aperture and the external shape of the object is the same. However, the drawings are drawn to scale. Therefore, a certain aperture might be the perfect fit for the 3D object, only smaller. On the other hand, because you will not be allowed to take any form of measuring instruments into the exam hall, any difference in size will be prominent enough to be detected by the human eye. There will be no irregularities in the part of the shape not visible in the picture.
  1. View Recognition (Top/Front/End): You will be given pictures of various objects from various viewing angles such as the top, front, and side view. The pictures provided will be without perspective which means that the points on the viewed surface are viewed along parallel lines of vision. You will usually be given two views of an object and will have to figure out the missing view from the given options. Dashed lines represent the hidden lines.
  1. Angle Discrimination (Angle Ranking): You must arrange the given angles in ascending order, i.e. smallest to largest.
  1. Paper Folding (Hole Punches): A flat piece of square paper is folded once or multiple times with a hole punched through it. Your job is to unfold the paper and identify the position of the punched hole in the original paper. The solid lines on the diagram represent the folds of the paper. Remember, the paper was never twisted or turned and it always remains within the edges of the original square.
  1. Cube Counting: Various figures are created by attaching a number of cubes of the same size together. All outer sides of the cube, except the bottom part, are painted. Your job is to figure out how many cubes have how many of their sides painted.
  1. 3D Form Development (Pattern Folding): A flat, 2D pattern of a 3D object will be given. The flat pattern can be folded to form the 3D object. You will have to correctly choose the 3D object that will be formed from the given flat pattern.

Understanding what each part represents can be a little difficult. Therefore, refer to the given pictures to get a clearer understanding of the six subsets of The DAT- Perceptual Ability Test (PAT).

Tips and tricks to ace DAT- Perceptual Ability (PAT)

Here are some tricks you can employ in various sections to answer them correctly and quickly. But keep in mind, what works for someone else doesn’t necessarily have to work for you. So try out various methods to see what works best for you.


This is, perhaps, the hardest part of the PAT. There is no ingenious shortcut to this. Simply look at the picture and try to envision what the object would look like from the top and bottom and other angles. Practice over and over again to increase your expertise in imagining 3D objects.

View Recognition (Top/Front/End)

There are a couple of different approaches to this. Starting with-

Line counting method

This was once a tried and tested method of approaching the view recognition part of the PAT. However, the DAT exam has evolved over the years and now this subset includes questions that cannot be solved using the line counting method. Therefore it is recommended that you don’t solely rely on this method. Here is how the line counting method works-

  • Look at each view -the top, front, or end- that is given in the question and then count the number of lines that are present in that view.
  • Match each given answer choice to the number of lines you have counted and eliminate the answers that do not match. And by the process of elimination, you will be able to come to the correct answer.

Top/ front/ end method

It is a method where you work backward. Instead of visualizing what the top view of the given 3D object looks like try visualizing the given options as 3D objects. Then from your visualized objects figure out which one most closely resembles the objects given in the question. The corresponding option with that visualized object is your answer.

Angle Discrimination

Laptop Method

This is a rather deductive method where the accuracy of your answer depends On your visual perceptual ability. For this method simply imagine each of the given diagrams as a laptop being viewed from the side. The base of the laptop is the baseline and it is fixed whereas the screen moves to represent different angles. Then ask yourself which laptop would be the easiest to close? Of course, it would be the one whose screen is closest to the baseline or the base of the laptop therefore this would have the smallest angle.

Laser Method

This method can be especially handy when you are trying to differentiate between two angles that don’t look all that different. Simply count the horizontal or vertical line as the fixed baseline. The laser or the line created by the laser begins at the point where the baseline ends and the angular line begins as shown in the diagram above (the red line represents the laser line). Then simply extend the existing line at the same angle i.e. cast a laser from that point to see which line is steeper to differentiate the two angles.

Circle Method

This method can be used to determine which angle is smaller between two very similar looking angles. Mentally draw a circle around the innermost part of the angle, and then quickly look back and forth between the two circles and the two angles and you should be able to determine which one is smaller. Refer to the picture given above if you have any confusion.

Looking at the diagrams from a distance

Another way you can figure out which angle is the largest and which one is the smallest is by sitting back from your computer screen and examining the diagrams from a distance. This method can be especially helpful for those who are using the laser method. Because it allows you to sit back and observe the extended lines from a distance.

Paper folding (Hole Punches)

The idea is to fold your piece of paper according to the dotted lines given in the diagram and then mark in X on the paper where the hole is punched in the diagram. Then unfold the paper one step at a time each time marking where the X where the hole is supposed to be. Then match the pattern of X’s drawn by you on the paper with the given options.

Cube counting

Cube counting is probably the easiest subset with the simplest measuring method. As mentioned above only the outdoor exposed sides of the cubes are painted. Therefore on the given diagram mark the number of exposed sides for each cube. This is also the number of the colored side for that cube. Here is a picture so that you can understand better.

Just Draw a table that looks like the following –

The numbers in the column represent the numbers of the colored sides on the diagram. Then tally the number of sides colored for each representative number. Be wary of the hidden cubes. If you are careful and count vigilantly and correctly you will be able to ace this subset without breaking a sweat.

3D form or pattern development

This subset can be a little tricky at times. Therefore, here are three different methods of approaching the questions in this subset.

Side counting method

This method may be applicable to some problems but might not work for others. The idea is to find the largest shape within the pattern and then count the number of sides of that shape. Then compare the number with the given options. Even if you are unable to find the correct answer in the first try you will be able to eliminate the majority of the wrong answers.

Shape Matching Method

Find the largest shape in the given pattern and then compare it with the largest shape of each of the given answer options. Again you might not be able to determine the correct answer in one go but you will be able to eliminate some of the wrong choices.

Color matching method

This method is similar to the previous one. The only difference is that you compare the shaded part of the flat design with the shaded part on the answer options. If all the shaded parts correctly correspond with the shaded parts on the given options then you have your answer.

The key to answering this subset and acing it is through deduction. Most of the time you will not be able to determine the correct answer in one go. Instead, you will have to use to process of elimination.

Things to remember about DAT- Perceptual Ability (PAT)

  • Don't forget that the PAT is timed. You will be given 60 minutes to complete all six subsets. While the difficulty level of each question barrier it is recommended that you try and complete each subset within 10 minutes.
  • The most important thing to remember when preparing for any sort of a test is to practice, practice, and then practice some more. Websites such as PATCrusher and DATPrep provide free Dat PAT test exams.


These DAT Perceptual Ability skills will be very useful to you as a dentist since you will need to construct mental images of teeth from X-rays, deal with casts and fillings, and otherwise work with complicated 2D and 3D objects.

The DAT- Perceptual Ability (PAT) part of the test may seem difficult for some but the key to cracking any exam, as mentioned before, is to practice, practice, and then practice some more.

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