5 Things to Know Before Taking the RD Exam
Nervous about the RD exam? Here are five things you should know before taking the test to become a registered dietitian nutritionist.
UPDATE: This article was originally posted in November 2015 and was updated in January 2021 with new information.
Listen, first things first — you did it.
You completed the degree, you finished the internship and now you're here. Think of all the long nights you spent with your biochem book, the notes you read over and over and over, and the satisfaction you felt when you aced that test.
This is no different, it's like any other test. You put in the work and you do your best.
But you're scared, I understand. It doesn't seem like just another test when it is standing between you and those coveted credentials after your name.
How can this 125 question exam evaluate all you've learned over the last 5 years of your life? How can you even prepare when the subject matter is so broad? Why in the world do you need to know the proper counter height in a kitchen pantry workstation?!?!
Take a deep breath, try to relax and keep these five things in mind before you take the RD exam to become a registered dietitian nutritionist.
📚 1. You've done all the work.
You've likely spent the last 3-4 years of your life eating, breathing and sleeping dietetics:
- You finished a difficult degree based on hard science, which means you had to suffer through organic chemistry, biochemistry and advanced nutrition metabolism.
- You applied to and were matched to an internship, which is a feat in itself.
- You completed said internship, which included at least 1200 hours of working as a RD-in-training, which means that you're ready to work as an entry-level RD.
The RD exam is just that — an exam. A weird exam in that it tests you on a wide range of topics and no two tests are the same, but in the end it's just a test.
The experiences you've had along the way in your internship, work experience and volunteering is what solidified the topics you learned in your dietetics program and made you the almost-RD you are today.
📝 2. You've taken harder tests. Trust me.
Like I said before, the RD exam is just…weird. It's hard to describe but anyone who has taken it has agreed — it's an odd test and you will probably feel underwhelmed when it's over.
BUT, that does not mean you shouldn't study. Likely you already have an idea of what area of dietetics you'd like to work in and are wondering when you are ever going to need to know management questions or why a green vegetable turns brown in an acid. But because dietetics is such a broad field we all must know a little of everything.
Pick a study guide and do the work, but also realize it's very possible to overstudy for this exam as well. You have no control over the questions and it's impossible to know what will be on your version of the test, so don't get lost in the details. Stick to the main topics, do the practice questions and don't freak out about the small stuff.
🧘♀️ 3. You will have freakout moments during the test. Prepare for them.
Your nerves will likely get the best of you during the test and that's totally normal. Everyone's test is different and your weaker questions may be lumped together and will make you think you're failing.
Go into the test knowing that you will have moments when you're doubting yourself. Have a plan for when this mindset starts. I find taking 5-10 deep breaths helps to calm my nerves.
My experience: The test started off at a slow, steady pace and I knew some of the answers and made educated guesses on others, but from question 25-60 I seriously thought, “Oh my god, I'm going to fail this test.” I had random management equations that were oddly worded and questions about herb-drug interactions that I had never even heard of.
I did my best not to freak out and answer each to the best of my ability, but it wasn't easy to stop my mind from creating unnecessary anxiety. Around question 70 I started to get in the groove and was answering them more quickly and after question 100 the questions seemed much easier overall.
I'm not sure if this was because I had already answered enough questions to pass or if it was just the luck of the draw, but I felt much more confident.
Lesson learned? Don't let your anxiety get the best of you, keep pushing through.
⏰ 4. You will have enough time.
You will have about 2.5 hours for the test, which is more than enough time.
There will be very direct questions and others that require steps to answer, but you'll likely find you have a lot of time left over when you're finished so don't freak out about the clock.
Read each question and its answers thoroughly. Don't rush!
🤔 5. You won't know all the answers.
Know this going into the test: there will be questions on the test that you have never seen before.
I had about 3 questions with topics I had never heard of and a good 6-7 that I literally thought “well, I haven't picked C in awhile.” I do not suggest that as a tactic to pass the exam, but only want to draw attention to the fact that you won't know everything and that's ok.
Of the 125 questions on the exam, 25 are “practice questions”, or questions the test maker is testing to see how many students get right. These questions do not count toward your score.
You will not know which of your questions count and which do not, so answer every question as best you can — but if there are a few you guess on, know you're not alone.
💯 Go ace that test!
Feel a bit better? Stress is a funny thing — a little of can help motivate you to do your best, but a lot of it can hinder your performance and make you sick.
So get some rest, eat a good meal, and remember these five pep talk points before the test to go into the exam with your best foot forward. You're gonna kill it!
👉 More dietetic internship application tips
- How to Become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
- 4 Things to Do NOW as a Dietetics Student
- Everything You Need to Know About the DICAS Dietetic Internship Application
- 5 Mistakes You Shouldn’t Make When Writing Your Personal Statement
- How to Rock Your Dietetic Internship Interview
Have a question or want more information on becoming a dietitian? Comment with your questions and sign up in the box below for my favorite resources and tips for nutrition students.