How to Pass The RD Exam

This post is meant for current nutrition students and dietetic interns looking for advice on taking and passing the RD exam. And get comfy, because it is looooong. But if you are not a student and are still interested in my exam experience, keep reading! And for those wondering what the RD exam is, it is the registration exam that dietitians are required to pass once we complete our dietetic internship, and allows us to practice as professionals and use the “RD” or “RDN” credential.

OMG…the RD exam. Let me just tell you that I am an awful test-taker. Or, at least, that is how I see myself. A lot of the advice surrounding this exam says that you should study the way you have always studied. But for me, it took a long time to figure out the study methods that worked best, which wasn’t until almost the end of college. Sure, I had to pass all of my exams and classes to get matched to a dietetic internship, but that did not come easily. It took a while for me to try different study methods until I felt comfortable before a test and didn’t panic and overthink every question and answer. I had to keep reminding myself during the end of my internship that the RD exam is the very last step in becoming a registered dietitian. The last step in a very long, anxiety-inducing series of steps. It took a lot of hard work to get to this point, and passing this exam wouldn’t be any different or more difficult. So, tell yourself that too :)

The last official day of my internship was in the beginning of April. I was verified the week after by CDR (this means that the Commission on Dietetic Registration verifies that you have completed the required hours and competencies of the dietetic internship to be eligible to take the exam, and sends you an email to let you know). I scheduled my exam for May 12th. Sounds like I had a nice, long, free month to study right? Not exactly. I got a job as a clinical RD under a temporary license, and was scheduled to start on May 2nd. Starting a new job, especially in a hospital, involves a lot of preparation and small tasks to be done….like getting my shots, filling out forms and papers, and making sure my temporary RD license application went smoothly with the state’s health department so that I could start work on time. Not only that, but Kevin and I had just moved to our new apartment in March and I was still in the “adjustment” phase of this new life and living space. Slightly overwhelming, to say the least.

Because I was starting my job prior to taking my exam, I was originally under the impression that if I failed the exam, I would lose my position. I put a lot of pressure on myself because of this. It wasn’t until my first week of work that I mentioned this to my boss that she immediately told me not to worry. Thank GOD for kind and patient bosses! Apparently I had three months to take and pass my exam. She said, “Are you kidding?! That test is so hard! Only take it if you’re ready! Of course it is OK if you don’t pass. Just relax and retake it!” This was a HUGE relief. So towards the end of my studying, the only thing putting pressure on me was the fact that if I failed, I would have to keep studying, and I could not imagine studying any more than I already was. There is so much material, and most of it is boring or seemingly outdated. I just wanted to be credentialed already! 

And with that, here is what I used to study:

Jean Inman Study Guide

If your budget only allows you to purchase one study guide for this exam, make it Jean Inman.. I was able to get a copy of a slightly older version along with the recordings. I like to be fully prepared in order to feel confident, so I was skeptical about this older version at first. But, the guide from her site costs around $350, and I honestly don’t know who has that kind of money to casually throw down after almost a year of an unpaid, full-time internship…ya know? Ha. Anyway, I realized that the material is roughly the same and she only makes a few updates each year, so I went ahead and continued to study with my older version. (Note: I have also heard of groups of internship friends splitting the cost of the binder!)

The Inman guide is basically a very large outline – over 150 pages of dense notes, divided up between the 4 domains that are included in the exam: Nutrition and Food Science, Clinical/Community, Food Service, and Management. At the end, she includes a little over 1,000 practice questions and an answer key.

At the beginning of this post, I said it took me a long time to figure out which study methods worked best for me. During MNT in college, I did very well because I would re-write my notes over and over again to familiarize myself with the concepts. When I started to study Inman, I attempted to do this with the first domain. Looking back, that was a complete waste of time because there is so much material in that study guide, and only 125-145 questions on the exam. I made tons and tons of pages of notes from that domain and never had time to look back at them. So, I had to switch up my study methods to include more quality studying. Quality over quantity is essential when preparing for this exam.

The recordings for the Inman guide are basically Inman reading her notes out loud. I listened to each recording at least once while I sat with my big fat binder and a highlighter. In her recordings, she often says “Note”, making me think these were the concepts she wants us to focus on. I highlighted the material she noted and any other concepts I was unfamiliar with. If there were any sections I was confused about, I wrote down which recording it was and went back and listened later. Some people also listen to these recordings in the car during long commutes. I tried to do this, but would tune out every time because, like I said, the material is pretty boring.

Once I had gone through each section thoroughly with the recordings, I went back and made my own flash cards of the highlighted material and separated them out by each domain. (I talk more about the flash card set I also purchased below). I absolutely love flash cards. Even though the exam is very conceptual and less straight-forward than I am used to, making flash cards in my own words was very helpful. I separated these out by domain and color-coded rubber bands, and would put the ones I was comfortable with in a separate pile once I felt confident about them. For the ones I was still studying, I carried around in a zip lock bag and brought them everywhere – Starbucks, car rides with Kevin, our trip to NYC, even the gym!

ALL THE FLASHCARDS.

ALL THE FLASHCARDS.

I also did every single practice question. If there is one recommendation I can make about studying for this exam, it is to do these practice questions and study them. I started to do the questions even before I had thoroughly gone over each domain, just to see where I was at. This ended up being helpful for me, though I know other interns who waited until a few days before their exam to do the questions, and that is fine too.

I would answer one page of practice questions at a time, write down my answer and then look and write down the right answer…then highlight the ones I got wrong. This was time consuming but well worth it (for me). The week prior to my exam, I focused mostly on these practice questions, especially the ones I highlighted. I went over each one that I got wrong and studied why the right answer was the right answer. This was very beneficial. The exam is very conceptual, as in all the answers could be right but you have to choose the one that is “the most right”. Crazy, I know.

After taking the exam and talking with the other interns who had also passed, we all agreed we could not have done it without Inman! Looking at the binder initially is overwhelming and almost seems unnecessary given the amount of material it includes vs. what is actually on the exam. But, you never know what you’re going to get on the exam and it is best to just be over-prepared. Inman’s guide definitely covers each domain thoroughly.

Visual Veggies

When I was preparing to start studying, I spent a lot of time on Google searching for other RD bloggers’ tips on how to pass the exam. A lot of them mentioned Visual Veggies, which is a software created by another RD that is set up in a similar format to the actual exam. I really liked this, especially because besides re-writing notes, practice questions are my other go-to study method.

So I bought and downloaded it! They also have a free sample download, which I did first and enjoyed it. When you first download the program, it gives you the option to take a “Pre-test” just to see where you’re at with each domain. It is timed just like the exam, which is 2.5 to 3 hours I think. I did this fairly quickly and without a calculator to solve the math equations, and got an average of 65%. The results show how you did with each domain, as it has a large question bank for each one. I noticed that the management section was my weakest point, so I knew I had to focus a lot on that section when studying.

Once you do the pre-test, you can continue to do full and timed practice exams, or quick quizzes of either random questions or specific domains that are 25 questions each. I never did another full test on Visual Veggies, but did a ton of small quizzes. The nice thing about this program is that it keeps track of all your scores, so it really helped my confidence to see my scores going up the more I studied. The other great thing about Visual Veggies that the Jean Inman guide did not have, is an explanation for each answer. The RD exam is very tricky in that it is multiple choice, and all the answers could be right, but you are challenged to pick the best possible answer, which involves a lot of critical thinking. Visual Veggies definitely helped me practice this skill.

The explained answers were EXTREMELY helpful when it came to the food service/math-related questions. Unfortunately, this has to be part of the exam even if you never work in food service. Having the answers explained thoroughly was great for me. I dislike math and always have, and I tend to make silly mistakes when solving problems. The food service and management-related material you’ll encounter on the exam is not overly complicated, but it is important to practice equations when studying, know what to expect, familiarize yourself with the terminology, and learn how to read the questions thoroughly. Again, Visual Veggies was perfect for this.

A few of my fellow interns took the exam a little before I did, and mentioned that they barely had any math questions at all! This happens. I was kind of bummed out that I had spent money on Visual Veggies and likely wouldn’t get a lot of math either. Welp, I ended up having about 20 equations and am SO glad I bought it. I would highly recommend VV too if math is something you don’t feel comfortable with. Some other interns didn’t think they needed it either, and the Inman practice questions were enough for them.

RD In a Flash

This is a set of pre-made flash cards you can buy for about $120 online. The set includes a little over 600 cards, I believe. One of my internship friends was given them by her preceptor and I really liked them when I saw them…quickly. I decided to go ahead and order them because I love flash cards, other RDs had recommended them, and I figured a little extra study material wouldn’t hurt. At first I was really excited about these cards. (Type A…seriously? I was literally excited about expensive flash cards.) They, like other study materials, are divided by each domain. I would quiz myself and start separating out the ones I knew already. But like I said before, there is SO MUCH MATERIAL! Once I was deep into the Inman guide (the most trusted source!), I sort of forgot about these cards. I went back over them a few weeks before my exam and realized they were not actually that great. While some cards were definitely helpful and similar to the Inman material, I found a lot of them to be either very awkwardly worded or way too specific to be found on the RD exam. Kevin tried to quiz me one night and he kept pointing out how the answers made no sense, and I realized I shouldn’t focus too much on these. Another thing I had heard about the exam is that the questions and answers are not very specific and to the point. Like I said earlier, you have to pick the best answer, because the questions are somewhat broad. Some of the answers for RD in a Flash were extremely long and there was no way I could memorize them.

We had also found a couple of errors in the cards, which was a little nerve-wracking. I wouldn’t want to choose the wrong answer on the exam based on what I had learned from those cards. Instead, I learned it was a lot more beneficial to make my own flash cards, in my own words, from the material I knew I did not feel comfortable with yet.

If you find yourself short on time because you’re busy working or have a family and just need some quick study material, by all means order these flash cards. They were not horrible, but I realized that they were not necessary for my studying. I basically just ordered them as a security blanket before I realized I could just make my own, which I had time for.

Quizlet

In addition to making my own handwritten flash cards, I made several sets on Quizlet, too, 1) because it was faster and 2) I was literally running out of room to store all my cards. The note cards I wrote out were mostly based on the Inman study material, before the practice questions. I made sets on Quizlet from the practice questions that I got wrong from Inman (separated by domain), vitamin deficiencies and properties, food and drug interactions, and disease states. I studied these cards sporadically, the same way I would do short quizzes on Visual Veggies, just to keep my mind fresh on the topics and to break up long periods of studying and staring at paper. I did not spend a ton of time on my Quizlet sets, but it was nice to have that material stored in one spot for easy access, especially on my phone if I was out.

Exam Day!

I took my exam on a Thursday at 1 pm. I really wish I could have scheduled an earlier time, but none were available for another month and I really needed to get this exam over with. So, 1 pm it was.

I took the day before my exam off from work, and spent time reviewing last minute material but no hard studying – just some practice questions, math problems, and Quizlet sets. But, I’ll be honest and say that when it hit 10 pm, I started to panic and even cried. What if I failed this test? Seriously, every step in becoming an RD led up to me taking this exam, and it would be so frustrating and disappointing if I failed. I had been feeling confident, and suddenly I felt like I had to study every page of Inman all over again just in case I forgot anything. I texted some friends and other interns and they calmed me down, thankfully.

I was calm the next morning prior to my exam. However, I was planning on taking a walk on the beach to relax and distract myself, but I couldn’t get myself to leave the house. Instead, I stress-cleaned my kitchen, had an early lunch, looked at some last minute notes, and off I went. Again, I really wish I could have taken my exam at 8 or 9 am.

My testing site was about 35 minutes away. I arrived half an hour early, sort of knowing what to expect based on other students’ experiences.

I had one page of notes with me in my bag, and the woman at the front desk immediately made me bring it back to my car. I came back, and she took my finger prints and picture, gave me forms to sign, and then I had to put all of my things in a locker. I had to take off my jean jacket, my Fitbit, and even my Cape Cod bracelet, which, mind you, is very uncomfortable to remove. I don’t even have to take it off at airport security!

Another woman brought me into the small testing room and logged me into my computer. I was given a small dry-erase sheet and marker and a teeny, tiny calculator. I remember it was very warm in that room, which is not ideal, but oh well.

I began my test knowing that there was a minimum of 125 questions and maximum of 145 questions. From my understanding, you have to get a certain amount right in each domain and get a score of at least 25 to pass. It is based on a scale of 50. If you didn’t “pass” by #125, then it could go up to 145 questions. So, at 125 it could either shut off because there is no way you can pass, or because you already passed. I also knew that 25 of the questions were fake questions, just CDR’s way of testing them out. There is no way to tell which questions are fake, so I tried not to overthink this.

I was very calm during the exam. Like I said, I am an awful test taker and have had some pretty bad experiences in the past – but I have come a long way and kept reminding myself that I had to know a lot about nutrition to be able to get to this point. A lot of the questions did not seem like they were directly from the study material I used, but practicing questions and realizing that I knew a lot more than I thought I did, is what ultimately helped me pass this exam.

At question 125, I took a deep breath and read the question maybe 10 times. I chose my answer and started to internally freak out. Suddenly, my screen froze, and then a survey regarding the exam experience from CDR popped up. I was expecting this already. At first I was answering the questions thoroughly and honestly, but then got really impatient. (Sorry CDR, but you should totally tell us if we passed or not BEFORE making us answer those questions! Otherwise, I would have been very happy to answer them.) Once the survey was up, I was expecting a large text box to pop up either saying I passed or did not pass. This is what the other interns from my program had gotten. Instead, I got a page similar to the print-out you get at the end. It had very small text and I had to LOOK around to find out what it said. I was so nervous that all I could really see was a blur. Finally, I found a line that said “Status: Passed” (!!!!!!!!!!). All of the weight on my shoulders just went away. I would have screamed and jumped on my desk but, ya know, didn’t want to distract all the other test takers in the room.

I raised my hand and the proctor came to get me. I told her I passed and she didn’t seem to care! I expected this, also. They see several people a day so this was nothing new. Kind of a bummer because I was just ready to celebrate! I was given my print-out and then left the building officially as Cynthia Miranda, RD :) Naturally, I got to the car and excitedly texted and called everyone I knew.

Other Tips:

Schedule the exam as soon as you are eligible!

Everyone says this, and it is true. I pushed off scheduling mine for about a week because I thought there was an error going on with the registration site, but there actually wasn’t. I am just challenged when it comes to that stuff. But, scheduling the exam takes the pressure off of thinking if you’re going to get a good date and time. It also really helped me to start focusing on studying with an end-date in mind! I also did not think there would be a problem with getting a date and time that I wanted, but when I logged on to register, there were only a few days available in both May and June, so I panicked! Keep in mind that if this ends up being a problem for you, that you can always reschedule because testing times do open up, you just have to keep checking the site and make sure you reschedule at least 48 hours prior! Otherwise, you have to still pay the $200 exam fee.

Make a study schedule. But not a strict one. 

The last few days of my internship were actually spent at a worksite wellness conference run by my program site. During one of the presentations, I had a silent moment of panic with myself about how much studying I should do that weekend. I took out a piece of paper and pencil and jotted down an extensive study schedule for myself for the next week. I attempted to start tackling it over the weekend, but I was so tired from the week’s events that I pushed off my schedule for about 3 days, and ended up mentally beating myself up for it. Instead, I made a lighter schedule for myself, allowing time for wiggle room and “make up” time if needed. I basically blocked off several hours a day during the week to focus on studying, and I would focus on one domain at a time, and break it up with practice questions and quizzes on Visual Veggies. There are several print outs available online to help make a study schedule, even ones specifically for the RD exam. This ended up not working for me personally because it just added more pressure. If scheduling strict study times work well for you and keep you on target, by all means go for it, but don’t feel like this is necessary. After all, life and unexpected events do get in the way.

Be confident!

Confidence was not always my strong suit when it came to academics. I am naturally a nervous wreck. But because I had wanted to become a registered dietitian for so long, I was already employed at a great hospital, and I had worked so hard to get to this point, I knew I had what it takes to pass this exam. Though I was so worried the night before, I walked into my exam with the mindset that I would absolutely pass. When answering the questions, there were plenty that I either had no clue what the answer was or was very unsure of my guess. But at this point, there was nothing I could do about it and just had to trust my gut and choose what I thought was best. And hey, it worked. Like I said earlier, I realized during the test that I knew a lot more than I thought I did. I was able to make a solid educated guess based on material that I remembered from undergrad, or was able to pull from valuable experience during my internship.

With that being said…Make the most of your internship!

I did not spend a lot of time studying material on TPN and tube feedings, but ended up having several questions on this topic during the exam. I could have easily become hysterical, but luckily I remained calm and was able to answer them to the best of my ability. I owe this to the fact that I completed half of my clinical rotation at a rehab hospital and saw patients on nutrition support almost daily. I also had several questions on infant and pediatric nutrition, and owe it to my rotation at WIC for helping me breeze through those questions. The fact that I had a lot of hands-on experience and paid attention to my preceptors during the internship was the greatest form of education. Yes, the internship is frustrating at times because we are essentially working for free, but I encourage you to not focus on that, and instead focus on soaking up as much knowledge as you can. That, and the critical thinking skills you will build during your experience, are guaranteed to help you with this exam.

CELEBRATE!!!!

A celebration after passing this exam is SO DESERVED because you EARNED IT! Most RDs choose this career path out of pure passion, so nothing feels as good as finally getting to the point of being able to start your life as a credentialed nutrition professional. It is not a $40 online course on nutrition, Dr. Oz episodes, or whatever else so-called nutritionists do that gets you to this point. It’s at least 4 hard years of science and management courses, a full-time internship with well-rounded and quality experience, long hours of hard work and studying, dedication, and passion that gets you here. After I let almost everyone in my life know that I was officially an RD, I went straight to the salon to get my nails done. A full-time, unpaid internship does not allow for much time for self-care, that’s for sure, so this was a must. Then I went home and told Kevin all about my test (while excitedly pacing around my living room). We popped a bottle of champagne (definitely a little buzzed in the photo below ), went out for dinner, and of course concluded the night with Americone Dream from Ben&Jerry’s! And continued to celebrate over the weekend. But honestly, one of the most satisfying moments of my celebration was walking into work the next day, officially as a Registered Dietitian.

Happy studying and GOOD LUCK!