How I Prepared for my RD Exam (and passed)

How I Prepared for my RD Exam (and passed)

I've had some people asking me about the RD exam, and I thought writing a blog post about it might be helpful. I also googled "how to pass/study RD exam" many times during the last few months, so I'd like to add to that search, especially since the test just changed. My advice is at the end, feel free to scroll straight to that section.

The 2017 Test

First of all, the test is a minimum of 125 multiple choice questions, a maximum of 145 questions. 100 of those first 125 are scored -- the other 25 (that are randomly mixed in) are for research purposes, so they can see if it's a good question for future tests, or for other reasons that I don't know. Once you've answered 125, if you have scored high enough to pass, the test will end. You will be asked to answer a short survey and then receive your score. If you don't have a high enough score, you can continue to answer questions up until 145, then the test will end and you will be scored. You pass by achieving a score of 25 an adjusted scale of 1 to 50; I have no idea what adjustment is being made. The AND handbook states that the adjustment is to accommodate for students who receive a 'harder or easier test.' So if you receive an 'easier' test, you will need to get more right to achieve 25; a 'harder' test, less right. I'm uncertain exactly how that difficulty is determined.

The RD exam recently changed material, altering how much of each domain is on the test. The new breakdown is as follows since January 1st, 2017:

Domain I, Principles of Dietetics went from 12% to 25% of exam content
Domain II, Nutrition Care for Individuals and Groups went from 50% to 40% of exam content
Domain III, Management of Food and Nutrition Programs and Services remains the same, 21%
Domain IV, Foodservice Systems went from 17% to 14%

Studying (Being an #inmaniac)

I studied using the Jean Inman study guide from 2012, and the audio CDs associated with it. I listened to the entirety of the CDs for every domain, totaling about 8 hours. (Now that I calculate it I'm surprised because it seemed like so much longer. Whomp.) I did not listen to it while doing other things like in the car or working out, rather I sat down and highlighted what I perceived to be important as I followed along in the study guide. Someone shared some practice questions that they had, so I answered about 60 questions related to Food Science and 60 questions related to MNT from that shared document.

Once I finished that, I reviewed a bit from RD in a Flash flashcards -- I found this pretty unhelpful, because the domains seemed to be inaccurately divided, and I didn't feel it was representative of what the test would be like since the RD exam is multiple choice. I studied with these probably a total of 2-3 hours, with 1 hour spent on working with food service equations (percent yield, inventory, etc).

Lastly, I did about 600-700 of the practice questions included with the Jean Inman study guide. I did all of the questions from Domain I, about 350-400, and I did most of the questions from Domain II, about 250-300. I also did about 30 from Domain III and Domain IV (they were combined into one practice question section). I did all of these the day prior to my test. I was scoring about 60-80% correct per set of 15 questions. I also reviewed glycolysis/TCA cycle again.

Over the course of 1 week, I would estimate my study breakdown as follows:
Domain I: 40%
Domain II: 35%
Domain III: 15%
Domain IV: 10%

I studied Domain I the most because I felt the weakest in regards to food science. I could not remember what role eggs played in baking or how reducing the sugar by 25% would affect cookies (I said they would become inedible, apparently Jean Inman and I have differing opinions on that matter). I studied Domain II a lot because I knew it would be such a large part of the test. I figured that I didn't have to spend much time on Food Service/Domain IV because I had a lot of experience in it, and if I really knew the first two domains, that already put me at 65% of the exam content.

Taking the Actual Exam

I scheduled my exam for 8am on a Saturday. I prefer early exams, so I don't have a ton of time to be anxious. I got up, ate a banana, and got a tall Starbucks latte. I had studied a bit at Starbucks and I find their coffee really comforting (well, their lattes), so that was what I wanted. I recommend you do whatever morning routine feels most comfortable for you whether that's eating breakfast, consuming caffeine, both, or neither.

I got to the testing center about 45 minutes before my exam started, and they weren't open yet so I had to wait in my car. Around 7:25a they started letting people in. I took a number and waited for my turn. I recommend getting there 20-30 minutes prior, otherwise you might end up starting after your scheduled time because they have a lot of people to get through. I brought two forms of ID (just in case) and used the earphones at the computer to cover my ears (I did this during my GRE too, habit I guess?).

I wrote, "You can do it!" at the top of my scrap paper. I wrote myself positive messages during my GRE too. Am I crazy? Probably, but it made me feel better. Again, personal preference.

Questions are numbered, so I knew where I was in terms of pacing. I ended up finishing with about an hour left, maybe a bit more, so timing wasn't an issue at all for me. When I got to question 120, my heart started to race and I felt a lump of anxiety in my stomach (I cringe thinking about it). I answered 125 and...

The exam continued. I hadn't passed yet. After convincing myself that I hadn't done poor enough to fail yet at least (not sure if they stop you or not for that), I soldiered on. After 8 or 9 more questions, I got a long loading screen then a survey. I gathered that I had passed at that point, and after the survey it told me! Hooray! I had to hold in my celebration in the silent testing room.

Something to remember: the test will adjust. It's smart. So if you are getting all your food science questions wrong, you will get more of them. I had heard from people that food service was a large part of their exam -- I had very few questions on it, likely because I got them right. So I was pleased that I didn't spend forever studying that domain.

Why I think I Passed

I studied smart and totally immersed myself in the content. I talked about it with my boyfriend, my boyfriend's friends (sorry guys), with my cat, my coworkers, and anyone who would listen, honestly. Talking through things helps me remember them better. I tried to connect things to my daily life, to my job, or to remember fond memories of grad school. Riboflavin decays in UV light -- so don't leave the milk out in the sun, and I pictured my friend's amazingly cheesy doodle of a cow from back in my Vitamins and Minerals class.

I went to a really, really good program for my DPD courses. The University of Michigan School of Public Health is one of the top 5 (sometimes top 3, depending on the year) dietetics programs in the country. I think I would have had to study a lot more if I didn't have so much familiarity with the material from my classes. Also, I learned things in my program--if you are coming from school and just studied and brain-dumped the material afterward, you might need some extra time. (Not saying I didn't also do that from time to time...)

I constantly asked my preceptors questions during my internship. I was the one distracting them in the morning, drinking coffee as we chatted about whatever I could bother them with that day. This was more applicable for certain rotations, and certain preceptors. For my food service management, I was at a school system. I recognized my low level of knowledge about programs, and constantly asked my preceptor about struggles, victories, and changes for all the programs that she was involved with. On another rotation, I learned a lot about what WIC is NOT supposed to be like from a WIC nutrition educator who probably wasn't the best fit, and a lot about what WIC should be from my preceptor, a certified lactation consultant.

Hindsight is 20/20

1. Schedule your exam ASAP after you finish your internship. I procrastinated and wasn't able to get the appointment I originally wanted (I moved it up by two days because I can't stand waiting).

2. Study for more than 1 week if you are working (and maybe even if you aren't working). I finished my internship January 6th, moved across the country from MI to AZ, then started working full-time on January 16th. I started studying for my exam around the 21st, and took it on the 28th. I was able to get the 27th off of work so I could study all day, but that was really the only full day I spent just studying. I know myself: I do best under pressure, and I am good at standardized tests, I always have been. I know how I studied best in undergrad, and grad school. It was always panicked, last minute, and usually involved a breakdown. Healthy? No, but I followed my pattern and managed.

3. I wish I had studied some of the "common sense" management stuff more, AKA Domain III. I had a lot of questions on management (likely meaning I was getting them wrong), and a lot of questions where you had to pick the BEST answer, not just the RIGHT answer. So sometimes even if I could narrow it down to two answers (which is usually possible), I was totally stuck there. When I listened to domain III, I thought it seemed like it just made sense. If I had more time, I would go back and do more practice questions for that domain.

4. Study the WHY behind the questions you get wrong, or right. As you study, see if you can determine why 3 answers are wrong, rather than determining why just 1 answer is right. You will get more out of the practice questions that way, and get better at process of elimination.

5. Don't think of studying as a bunch of random facts or information in your head -- know how to apply it. Think about a patient showing up with cracked lips and a purple tongue for a deficiency. Think about what labs are altered for different kinds of anemia. Try to think of the information as it applied to your internship.

6. The world will not end if you don't pass, and you have also been preparing for this exam longer than anything else. You aren't just spending a few weeks (or months) preparing for this, you've spent the last few years. You had schooling, your internship, and now your studying. Deep breath.

Remember: everyone is different. You might study more and not pass the first time. You might study less and pass right at question 125. You know how you test, you know how you prepare best. Do what is best for you and you will succeed.

Share your experience in the comments!

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