I am not the traditional dietetics student. I am not Type A. I am not a perfectionist. I struggled HARD throughout undergrad.
It’s not that I don’t like school, or that I didn’t try. But after years of feeling like nothing was clicking, I did some exploration, saw some counselors, and was diagnosed with a learning disability. Though receiving my diagnosis provided some relief (I finally felt like all the struggle was not a personal failure!), most science programs are not conducive for people with learning disabilities. And any class that was based on multiple choice exams- (aka science classes) continued to be a challenge for me, no matter how much I studied, focused, exercised, meditated, and no matter how many brain-health promoting foods I ate.
Once I finally completed my internship, and checked off my list almost everything I never thought I’d do (like get an internship and complete said internship), I worried ENDLESSLY about passing the RD exam.
I ended up passing my exam on the first try. I NEVER thought I would do this. But I think my belief in myself, coupled with positive visualization, self-care, and a solid study routine really helped me through. I’ve read a lot of exam tips from other bloggers that I found to be super helpful, so I figured I’d make my own.
The main thing I want to say before I go over my tips and tricks for studying for the exam, is that if I could do it, so can you!!! I started my undergrad in 2009. I passed my exam in 2018. It took me almost a decade from start to finish to become a dietitian. I never thought I would become a dietitian, yet here I am. If nutrition is your passion, never lose hope in yourself. If you love this field, then this is what you are meant to be doing. If you are having trouble with classes in undergrad, don’t give up. If you did not get an internship, don’t give up. If you failed the exam, don’t give up. We all have different journeys, and the way that we approach them and go along them is what makes us unique. I am a better dietitian because I struggled. I share my story with you because I want to let you know it was NOT easy for me. But here I am.
I want to also share my story about working after graduating undergrad, and how I applied for and landed a distance internship. Look for a post on this soon!
MY MOST GENERAL PIECES OF ADVICE
Make sure you give yourself at least a month of time to study before the exam. Create a schedule before you begin studying which includes what you are going to study, and for how long, and stick with it!
I know it sounds crazy, but memorizing concepts isn’t going to do you any good. You need to be familiar with all of the concepts, and which answers are associated with each concept. If you try to memorize everything, you will kill yourself.
In my opinion, practice questions are one of the easiest ways to test your knowledge because they are the format most similar to what will be on the exam. If you only buy one study guide for the exam, buy Eat Right Prep. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself during study time, and telling yourself that you CAN do it!
I think the number one thing that helped me in passing the RD exam is that I had taken the DTR exam two years before, so I knew what to expect. The DTR exam is nearly identical to the RD exam, except the RD exam has more challenging questions. I took the DTR exam because I felt having the credential would help on my application for internships, and also because I wanted to see if I could pass. I ended up purchasing a study guide, studying for a few hours each week for a few months (while I worked at my full-time job), and passing! I think taking the DTR exam helped me to be way less anxious as I knew the exam format, what it would be like in the testing center, as well as the time limit and layout of the questions. If you are an undergrad or recent grad thinking about applying to internships in the future, I HIGHLY recommend taking the DTR exam if you can. If you have a B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics, you can take the exam. The Academy has the instructions for registering on their website.
The number two thing that helped me pass is that I had a ton of support. I want to recognize this because I didn’t do anything to deserve this, and I have this because I am a privileged person. I ended up doing a distance internship, and was able to live with my parents while I completed my rotations and studied for my exam. I really have a problem with how expensive most of the internships are, considering that you are basically working for someone else. I think this weans out of a lot of smart, capable people from becoming dietitians simply because they don’t have the money or support. I think that’s not fair. For me, after taking out some student loans, it was a great peace of mind to live with my parents and not have to worry about making rent. Not everyone has this opportunity.
MY STUDY SCHEDULE
I ended my internship in mid-April 2018 and scheduled my exam for July 12 2018, giving me a full three months to study. I actually wanted to schedule my exam a bit earlier, because my boyfriend and I were leaving to live in Peru on August 29, 2018, and I wanted to be able to re-take the exam before we left if I failed (you have to wait 45 days before re-taking it). But the test center was all booked up! If I failed and needed to re-take it, I would literally have to do so the day before we left on our trip. This worried me a bit in the beginning, but the good news is that I never ended up having to re-take it! Whoop!
After I finished my internship, I held a few part-time jobs to get me through the next three months while I was studying. I worked the front desk at my local gym for about ten hours a week. This was actually the best job I could have ever imagined, because I got to study while I worked and also work out while I worked. Not sure how I got so lucky, but I did. I also had a gardening job one day a week for about six hours, along with housesitting and babysitting. In total, I was working about 20-25 hours a week, and probably dedicating about 20-30 hours a week to studying.
One of the best pieces of advice I have related to studying is to create a calendar. I got this advice from Jean Inman and think it’s crucial.
She suggested looking at how many days you have until the exam, and looking at realistically, how many of those days you will study. She recommends breaking up her guide and assigning a number of pages for each day that you study. Since I didn’t just use the Jean Inman study guide, I also added in some of my other study materials into this study plan such as “complete 50 practice questions on this date” or “do 100 Visual Veggies Food Service flash cards on this date. This helped to keep me on track and not become overwhelmed with all of the study materials and practice questions I had.
VISUALIZATION, POSITIVE THINKING, AND SELF-CARE
One of the most important aspects of studying for the RD exam that I think is often overlooked is making sure you are taking care of yourself. For me, that looks like exercising regularly, as this realllly helps me relive stress, as well as doing yoga a few times a week, getting enough sleep, and of course eating well. I also made sure that I often did visualization practice, and envisioned how I would feel when the “YOU PASSED” came up on the computer screen when I finished the test, and how good I would feel exiting the test center. I also made sure to speak kindly to myself during these months and tell myself I could do it. This really made a difference in my anxiety and self-confidence leading up to the exam.
MY GUIDE TO STUDY GUIDES
The first step in preparing for the RD exam is choosing which study materials to use. I admittedly spent a whole lot of money buying pretty much everything available on the market, so at this point I’m pretty much a study guide connoisseur. Below I’ll go through each one and explain what I liked about it, so you can decide which is best for you. I ranked them in order, meaning the first one listed (Eat Right Prep) was my favorite, and the last one (Mometrix) was my least favorite.
Eat Right Prep is the Academy’s study software which you access online. Don’t get me wrong, this is PRICY at $199 for three months, but to me it was worth it.
Not only does Eat Right Prep contain over 900 practice questions, but it also contains practice tests that mimic the set up of the actual exam, plus flashcards and lessons. Right after I finished my internship, I got an email from the Academy (I was a student member at the time) which included a code for a free trial (which I think was like a week or something? can’t remember) My code was EPREPSTU which I redeemed on the website and I’m not sure if it will still work but it’s worth a try! After using it for a week or so, I knew I was going to go all in and purchase the whole thing. Why? The questions are made by the Academy, who are also the people making the exam! Thus, the questions are most likely super similar to what will be on the exam, and from my firsthand experience, I can confirm that this is the case. If you only get ONE study material- get this one!!!!
Visual Veggies was an awesome study program, and my second favorite, despite another hefty $199 price tag. Visual Veggies is a software program created by an RD who also happens to be great at computer programming. This software includes instructional videos, digital flashcards, matching, and tons of practice questions. It also has different length tests, and you can take tests in a way that mimics the actual exam. Probably the best thing about Visual Veggies is that it includes explanations for each answer of the practice questions. Most other practice questions don’t have this! This is sooo helpful when you get an answer wrong.
The other thing that’s cool about Visual Veggies is that it tracks everything you do. It records all the hours that you study, all the different types of studying you do, as well as your results when taking practice questions. I loved that it gave me suggestions for what to study next and also told me what I had studied a lot of. It also makes sure that you are getting new practice questions and not repeating the same ones. Plus, it was actually kind of fun! Lastly, Ryan, the creator, is SO nice and will respond immediately to you if you have any questions about how to use the program. He also wishes you well on the exam! Highly, highly recommend VV.
RD Exam Prep , Pocket Prep and Med Preps
Although these are all different, I am putting them together because they are all practice question phone apps, and I found them all to be relatively similar. I think Pocket Prep is probably the most popular and reliable one, as I did fine some errors and strangely worded questions with the other two. The benefits of having a practice question app on your phone is that you can study anywhere- while waiting in doctor’s offices, in line at the grocery store, anywhere! I would highly recommend getting one of these so you can study anytime you have some unexpected downtime.
I was required to purchase the Jean Inman study guide as part of my internship. I attended her lecture as a part of my internship orientation actually, so before I even began my rotations! In total, this was $385 dollars. Jean Inman is like the bible of study guides, and probably the most well known one among dietetics students. During her two-day live lecture, she took us through the entire guide, and highlighted key concepts that we should know for the exam. One thing I did not expect from the live Jean Inman lecture was how funny and charismatic she is. She made a ton of jokes throughout the whole thing which actually made it pretty enjoyable. If you cannot attend a live lecture, you can purchase a recording on a CD, so that you can go along with her voice as she explains the study guide. The guide also comes with a bunch of practice questions. The practice questions were probably the most useful part, but unlike Visual Veggies, they do not have explanations to the answers.
After reviewing the guide during my internship, I ended up going through the entire guide for a second time when I started studying, and wrote down all the concepts I struggled with. This helped a lot, but to be honest I didn’t come back to the guide much after going through it initially. I really only used the practice questions, because as I mentioned before, you want to be familiar with all of the concepts, not just memorize every little concept. I also realized there were a few errors in the guide. For these reasons, it is not at the top of my list.
This is a website-based study software created by an RD, and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. There are many videos in this program that explain complicated concepts, which I like. Also, the layout of the questions are SUPER tricky in this program, so it really teaches you how to read the question and understand what it is asking before answering. I bought the one-month package for $149.00, but there are many other time lengths and options on their website. I recommend for anyone that is looking for another study material, but again, would recommend you buy any of the ones listed about before you get this one.
This is a textbook that you purchase, and it is basically a very detailed guide that outlines absolutely all of the content that would be on the exam. To be honest, I didn’t end up using it too much, only when I needed clarification on a concept. Though it was helpful to have, I would recommend buying the aforementioned guides before buying this. Although it is helpful as a resource, I really didn’t find myself going back to it often. You can buy different versions on Amazon, I believe some of the older versions you can get for pretty cheap.
This was a set of practice questions I purchased for $40 before I began studying for the exam. I actually wouldn’t recommend this one, because I found that the questions had a lot of errors as well as some outdated information. And to be honest, by the time I had purchased all of my study materials, I had already amassed so many practice questions that I didn’t even get to them all! If you are on a budget, I recommend purchasing the other study guides first. I guess this company also makes flashcards as well, which I never used.
This was one guide that I didn’t purchase and I’ll tell you why. When I took the DTR exam, I purchased the CDR DTR study guide to help me prepare. The guide was $60, but in all honesty, all you were paying for was 110 practice questions. The only other things that were in the binder that you get were the exam outline (which you can get online for free) as well as study tips. In talking to other students, I learned that the CDR RD Exam study guide was exactly the same thing. I wasn’t going to waste $60 for another 110 practice questions. Instead, you will get much more bang for your buck in purchasing Eat Right Prep.
If you don’t already have a FB group or know actual people in your internship, it can be helpful to join a group like this if you have questions on studying for the exam. The other good thing about this group is that they have a Files/Document section, in which I found some extra practice questions from the Academy (not sure if that’s really legal but whatever!)
DAY OF THE EXAM
I wasn’t able to schedule my exam early in the morning, like Jean Inman suggests, so I was a bit bummed about getting it scheduled at 3:00 pm, but it was the only slot they had. That day, I woke up around 8:00, went for a quick 20-minute run to get my blood flowing (this always helps me wake up). I then ate a quick breakfast (avocado whole grain toast with 2 fried eggs for the win), took a shower, packed some snacks, said goodbye to my dad, and headed out to a coffee shop that I like that’s near the testing center to do some last-minute studying.
I sat at the coffee shop and just did some practice questions while I ate a chocolate muffin and drank an ice coffee. Everyone is different, but for me, I love studying in coffee shops. I sometimes struggle to study at home because I always end up getting up to go do something, like get my clothes out of the washer, go clean something, go check on something, go make a snack etc. Once I start these tasks, I often completely forget I was even studying in the first place. Hello ADHD.
This is pretty funny, but when I left the coffee shop and got in my car to drive to the exam center, I googled “motivational videos” on my phone and watched a few of them in my car. I don’t even remember which ones I watched but I remember that they were about sports teams (lol). I then shouted “I CAN DO THIS!!!! A few times and banged the steering wheel, and visualized myself completing the test, and the computer screen saying I passed. Though this was silly, I think it really works. When we are not confident, we tend to second guess ourselves more, and don’t trust ourselves to do the job that we set out to do. By envisioning the best version of ourselves, we are better able to make it a reality!
I got into the testing center, got assigned a computer, put on the strange noise-cancelling headphones, and got to work. As far as the questions go, it was mostly a blur, but I remember getting a ton of questions that were totally out of left field on topics I had never even heard of before! And to be honest, I was totally unsure of most of the questions, and was getting less and less confident as time went on.
One piece of advice that I learned is to re-read the question so you know what it is asking. I am normally an impulsive person, so I had to learn how to do this while studying practice questions. This is part of the reason why I recommend practice questions as your #1 study tool! I think re-reading the questions helped me in the end, but I guess I spent a long-time doing this, because when I got to question 120, I only had like 10 minutes left, so I started panicking that I wouldn’t finish in time.
When I answered question 125, the test survey came up. Why they make you take this before you get your results is beyond me. I did not read any of the survey questions and answered whatever answer my mouse clicked on first (sorry Pearson Vue, these results are my whole life and I couldn’t wait). I clicked through this as quickly as I could, and I was so nervous I had failed. Then, the survey questions were over and in small text in the left-hand corner of the screen, (they don’t make it big for some reason) I saw “congratulations!” You have passed the exam, and then I immediately started bawling.
I went out to the waiting room, got my certificate paper from the front desk lady, and apologized for crying, and told her it was because it had been a ten-year journey for me. She congratulated me, and then assured me that she sees criers every day. This made me feel better.
I then went out to my car and took a selfie of me crying along with my results page and then sent it to my family and friends, who all sent encouraging texts back to me rapid fire. My mom said she was crying too! Then I put on some music, particularly my favorite song at the time “Slow Burn” by Kacey Musgraves and drove to my boyfriend’s house, and took like three wrong turns on the way there because I was still so in shock and not paying attention.
I win at ugly crying.
My boyfriend’s parents bought me champagne and we grilled and chilled and ended our night with a walk down by the water. I kept thinking “Holy crap now I’m an RD” and just being so in awe.
For me, passing the RD exam was a big milestone in my life. As I mentioned before, overall it was a ten-year journey, and with my grades in undergrad, I never thought I’d get an internship and never thought I’d become an RD, so it was pretty special. It felt really, really good to have accomplished something like this, but honestly, its only the beginning of my career, and I have a lot of things I want to do as a Dietitian. So the best is yet to come!
Once I passed the exam, I gave all of my study materials to my cousin, who is currently in a master’s/DI program. I can’t see myself ever needing any of them again!
I hope you found this post helpful. If you are a dietetics student or a dietetic intern who is prepping for the exam, feel free to contact me and ask any questions. I love talking about this stuff. And if you have your exam coming up, GOOD LUCK!!!!