Alright friends, here is the blog post I have been looking forward to writing for the last five years – how to pass the mother-loving Registered Dietitian credentialing exam!
If you’re reading this right now, you are probably stressed out, full of anxiety, and really freaking ready to be done with studying. I feel you friend, and I’m going to do my best to help you figure out what to do to be your most prepared moving forward.
Why I Only Studied For Two Weeks
When I graduated from my internship program, it was smack dab in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak. In fact, because of COVID I graduated about 2 months early, which was awesome! But it also meant that there were very, very few testing centers open and even fewer spots available. When I was finally able to schedule my exam (CDR will send you an email after you graduate and they’ve received your paperwork from your director), it was either take the test in two weeks, or two MONTHS.
Y’all, I needed a dang job. And to be honest, I wanted to become a RD before I turned 30 – which happened in August. So I closed my eyes and clicked on that appointment in two weeks.
Most people will tell you to study for a bare minimum of three weeks, up to two or three months. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but let’s be honest – if you study for two months, you’re probably going to study kind of casually for the first 5 weeks, then bust your ass for the last 2 or 3 weeks. Right?
I truly do not think you need to study for two months. Now only giving myself two weeks was pretty brutal, so I’d say 3 weeks, in my opinion, is the optimal amount of time to study.
But can you do it in 2 weeks, or even less? Hell yeah you can.
Materials I Used
- Sage Nutrition Associates
- This was provided by my internship program and included a study guide (similar to this one) along with powerpoints and worksheets. I really liked the study guide, but the powerpoints weren’t my favorite and I didn’t really find the worksheets helpful. The online practice exams were also set up in a way that you couldn’t see the questions and the rationales at the same time – not helpful! I don’t believe the package I got is available for general purchase so if you want a comparable study guide book, check out this one!
- Visual Veggies
- I’m a Visual Veggies fan girl – I bought it with a little over a week to go before my test and it was a game changer. It’s mostly practice quizzes and exams (there are also some matching games) but each question comes with an in-depth rationale that not only explained the information in the question, but how to answer it. Download the trial version before you buy to get a discount code!
- This is a website that provides about 65 free RD exam practice questions with rationales. I used this up before I bought Visual Veggies, and I really liked it! There are other free resources out there that are very similar but I’ve found they all use the same bank of questions.
- Jean Inman
- I had access to an older version of Jean Inman and some recordings, and honestly I didn’t use it that often. The layout just didn’t appeal to me (I’m not a book learner OR an audio learner) but so many people love Inman, so I wouldn’t rule it out! It just wasn’t for me.
“Which Study Materials Should I Get?”
I honestly don’t think it matters all that much. There aren’t that many options out there. But what I DO recommend is that you have one study guide and one study program – and by that I mean, a book that you can read and highlight and take notes in (for me, it was the Sage guide) and a program on the computer that lets you take practice quizzes and exams (Visual Veggies for me).
I don’t think the study guide matters as much – they will all have pretty much the same information. Pick one that has a layout you find easy to navigate and you should be all set. But taking practice exams is crucial – and the more similar they can be to the actual exam, the better. I found the experience of taking practice exams in Visual Veggies to be very similar to the actual exam – and I felt that the questions were similar enough that I was well prepared.
I’d also suggest getting comfortable using an on-screen calculator – it’s kind of annoying so if you aren’t used to them, try taking a few practice exams with it instead of your handheld calculator.
My Study Schedule
- I spent my first four days watching the Sage powerpoints and taking notes on the provided worksheets – this honestly was a frustrating four days because I knew it wasn’t a method that was working for me, but I couldn’t decide on what else to use and I didn’t want to spend a ton of money.
- I spent the next six days reviewing the domains in the Sage study guide, and this was much more helpful. I used a highlighter and wrote notes and drew pictures in the margins to help me remember things.
- I spent two days on domain 1, two days on domain 2, and one day each for domains 3 and 4 because they were shorter and I was tired of reading.
- By this point I had purchased Visual Veggies and was also taking practice quizzes each time I finished a domain (specific to the domain I had just finished, not comprehensive quizzes). I would take a quiz the evening I finished the domain, review the rationales, and then take another quiz the next morning to see how well I had retained the knowledge.
- I ended up taking one day off between domains 2 and 3 because I was in an absolute panic and crying constantly because I thought I didn’t have enough time and that I was going to fail. My husband, bless his soul, made me promise to take a day off and it helped SO MUCH. I improved on my practice exams by 14% after my day off! After that I started taking more breaks throughout the day because it was obvious I did better with more time to rest.
- My final four days before the exam were spent solely taking practice exams on Visual Veggies. I took a comprehensive practice exam in the morning each day, read through rationales thoroughly, wrote out the ones I got wrong in my own words, then went back and took domain quizzes for the material I missed. I also took redemption quizzes a handful of times (VV keeps track of the questions you get wrong and lets you take them again in the “redemption section”)
- On Wednesday (the day before my exam) I took one last practice exam and two redemption quizzes. I made a study sheet using the info I just couldn’t nail down or things that I felt hung up on (mostly equations, lab values, and baking-related stuff)
- I took the second half of the day on Wednesday off and spent a lot of time meditating and preparing mentally for the exam. Which brings me to …
Mentally Preparing For The Exam
- Because I was experiencing so much anxiety (and I am not a person who gets test anxiety), I started meditating using the app Insight Timer. It is totally free and I found some absolutely amazing meditations on there! I listened to a confidence building one multiple times per day leading up to the exam as well as right before heading into the testing center.
- Exam Affirmations – I printed out a list of exam affirmations I found online and taped it to my desk to look at throughout the day. It’s really important to have positive thoughts in your brain going into the exam – the more confident and calm you are, the better you’ll do!
- I started telling myself a few days before the exam that I was already a RD – I just had to go pick up my credentials at the testing center. I also put my future name – Kelli Yates, RDN – on a letterboard and propped it up on my desk. Any positive mind games you can play with yourself are great!
- All the things I did to mentally prepare for the exam were, in my opinion, WAY more important than the way I studied or even how much information I knew going in. If you’ve gotten to this point, you know a LOT – enough to pass this exam even. You just need to get your noggin in the right place.
What It’s Like To Take The RD Exam
All testing centers vary in how they do things, but this is roughly what you can expect going in. Please make sure to check what the protocols are for your specific situation.
I got to the testing center super early, so I meditated in my car before heading in. Once I went in (still half an hour before my test time), they let me start early. Yay!
They will provide you with a locker to put your stuff in that you hold the key to while you take the exam. You cannot bring ANYTHING with you into the exam other than that key, your ID, prescription glasses, and a sweater. If you are wearing a sweater (not a jacket, but a hoodie or cardigan), you MUST leave it on once you enter the exam room. I chose to wear a short sleeve shirt and a light cardigan and I was just fine (I don’t get cold easily though). You cannot bring water with you – if you get thirsty or have to pee during the exam you can leave and come back, although the timer will keep running.
Once you arrive they will take your name, scan your fingerprints or palm, and take your photo. Then you head to the back (go to the restroom first if you need to) where they will scan your prints again, check your ID, make sure you don’t have anything on your wrists or in your pockets (some centers pat you down, mine didn’t), and then they will give you a dry erase notebook to take notes on. You will have access to a very simple pop-up calculator on the computer.
I was hit with this overwhelming sense of calm once I entered the testing room – it honestly felt good to finally be taking the test and not just studying for it. For the next 2.5 hours I didn’t have to worry about or think about anything other than answering those questions. I knew what I knew.
Now friends … it’s a LONG and monotonous test. I knew that going in … but by question 40 I was thinking “how am I going to get through 100 MORE questions???”. I was also really surprised by how 2.5 hours almost wasn’t enough for me. I usually finish tests way, way earlier than everyone else – to the point where I would check my answers three or four times before handing my exams in so I wouldn’t feel awkward being done so early. But I only had 11 minutes left when I finished!
Don’t spend too long on questions you can’t figure out – especially the math ones. Some of the earlier math questions I probably spent 10 minutes on and I still wasn’t getting one of the provided answers – this is probably why I didn’t have much time left at the end. If you don’t know something and can’t figure it out after a couple of minutes, go with your gut and move on!
The test shuts off at 125 questions if you’ve gotten a high enough score to pass, or will continue going until you pass or reach 145 questions (or run out of time). Once you finish your test, you have to take a short survey and then your score will pop up on the screen. On your way out, they will give you a print-out of your score report.
My test shut off at 125 questions, so I knew immediately that I’d passed – I’ll admit, I didn’t read any of the survey questions because I knew I had to get out of there fast before I burst into hysterical tears (which I did immediately after I crawled into my car).
What It Feels Like To Pass The RD Exam
I have never, ever felt so proud and relieved as I did when I passed that exam. I kept thinking over and over in the elevator ride down “Your life just changed, your LIFE JUST CHANGED” and it was really hard to keep it together. Once I got in my car and finished freaking the hell out, I called all my family and friends (and my program director!) to tell them I passed. Then I got myself a freaking Starbucks coffee and enjoyed what it felt like to not have to study for something for the first time in 5 years.
Here’s what I want you to focus on above all else – imagine how good it will feel when you pass that exam. Imagine it as often as you can, and feel those feelings deeply. Tell yourself you are already an RD – because truly, the only difference between me before I went into that test and me after I left was a piece of paper.
You have the knowledge in you, you really do. What will make the difference is your mental state, how confident you are, and how well you can manage your anxiety during the exam. Prepare yourself for THAT more than worrying about what study guide to buy. That doesn’t matter (although I do love me some Visual Veggies).
You can do this. You will pass this exam and you will become an RD. Focus on getting your mind right and I have no doubt I’ll be welcoming you into the RD club soon! ❤