Studying for the RD exam

Updated: Apr 24

You’ve done it! You’re at the end or nearly the end of your internship! Woo! But there’s that looming feeling. You’ve graduated college, you’ve gotten matched to a DI, you’ve done your projects and hours but you’re not done yet. The RD exam sits in the corner like a big scary monster judging your readiness to be a dietitian.

Up front, I’m not an expert. I didn’t get a perfect score on my RD exam but I passed comfortably on my first try, with honestly not an excessive amount of study and without spending any money on study material. So I figured I’d share my experience studying for the RD exam and what I thought helped and didn’t help.

I’d like to note I took a 10 month break between my internship finishing and sitting for my RD exam in which I did absolutely nothing related to dietetics and forgot basic things like converting inches to meters and what the AMDR for macronutrients are (please don’t judge me, I have a terrible memory). So I probably had to do MORE work than most to get me test ready.

  1. Absorb and get real experience in your DI If you’re already finished with your DI go to step 2. But if you’re not, this is your time. You remember 90% of what you do (yes this is a potential test question). Having experience to rely on during the test helps tremendously in the RD exam. Maybe you don’t remember what exactly is contraindicated or the exact amount of protein per kg but you remember giving them Nepro or putting a patient on a potassium restricted diet. If you don’t feel like you are learning or if you don’t feel like you are a real dietitian during your internship, talk to your preceptor. Sooner rather than later. Ask questions, ask for tasks. You should be continuously challenged during your DI and feel real responsibility for patients. You shouldn’t just be shadowing, they key part of supervised practice, is the practice.

  2. Don’t try to learn everythingBefore I give you study tips, just don’t think you need to know everything. You don’t. You should have a good foundation from ALL the four domains but you absolutely do not need to memorize every single detail. There is a lot of possibilities for questions on your exam. Honestly, I wasn’t asked about a single thing that I spent most of my time on but the knowledge I gained in studying could be applied to help me figure out the right answer. There are going to be topics you don’t know. You will most likely get a question on your RD exam asking about something you’ve literally never heard of. But you’ll be prepared to make an educated guess and that’s what’s important, having a solid base.

  3. Get yourself a reliable study guideMy DI provided Jean Inman for us which worked well for me. It is very general. If you don’t remember some concepts from your college courses, it may require additional research outside of Inman to clarify. I personally went through Jean Inman before my 10 month break and made flash cards of concepts I had never memorized in college and a condensed study guide of things that I definitely needed to review. This turned the 1000 page Inman into 15 pages of hand-written notes and 50ish flash cards. Inman is a lot but it gives you a good idea of the basics and where you need to spend the most time. I spent 4 half-days re-reading it at the beginning of my study month to refresh my brain. Give yourself time to get through whichever study guide you choose, they’re dense and you don’t want to burn yourself out to early

  4. Study how you studied in collegeI was big into flashcards in college so I kept that trend going for the RD. I made flash cards for foodborne illnesses, vitamins and minerals, management theories, MNT, and some small random knowledge. These were my main study focus. I spent two weeks (a couple hours a day, 5 days a week) just using these guys. As I did in college, I divided each topic into mini stacks until I got them down. Then reviewed the ones I had down while I learned the next stacks. By the end of the two weeks, I could get through all the stacks within an hour or two. Coming up with small ways to kickstart my memory really helped me get the gist of the topic. I.e. Chromi”yum” because it’s used in insulin action but the sources are not “yum”, oyster & liver. While this sounds pretty silly, when you have that much information to learn, small things to jog your memory can help a ton!

  5. Practice ExamsIn all honesty, knowing all the information won’t help you on the exam if you can’t apply it. Very few questions are knowledge based. I’d say majority are situation-based questions which require you to take all that knowledge and pick the best option. I used the Jean Inman practice exams (there was 3 in total) one per day starting 5 days before my exam. These gave me an idea of which topics I needed to review a little more and also helped me work on my educated guesses. I got a lot of questions wrong, averaging 70-80% on these. For each one I got wrong, I sat down and worked out why my answer was incorrect and why the correct answer was right. I took the 3 days before my exam off of work to focus solely on studying and staying relaxed. Two days before my exam, I started an Eatright Pro free trial and used their practice exams (there are 6 exams), 3 a day for the two days. These exams are around the same number of questions as the actual RD exam and actually contain a mix of questions from all four domains. They’re also timed which just gives you a good idea in case you’re worried for the exam. I found the questions to be similar to the actual exam and they helped me again, narrow down that estimated guess logic. I was pretty nervous because I couldn’t get above an 80% on these, my average was 72% and I was pretty sure that meant I would fail. I couldn’t find anyone online telling me their averages compared to their test results but a quick text to a friend settled my mind. I highly recommended using the Eatright Pro free trial to just get you in the mindset of being more of an investigator than a dietitian.

  6. Relax It’s just a test. That’s it. You’ve been working for at least 4 years to get to this point. Just breathe and do your best.

Nervous about test day? I’ll be posting a pre-test post here!


© 2020 Julianne Mahoney