How I Studied For (And Passed) My Registered Dietitian Exam in Two Weeks
Welcome to my first ever BLOG POST on Salt and Sage Nutrition!! Thank you for being here and I hope this post finds you well. I want to start out by saying I promise to never be one of those bloggers who makes you scroll down through three pages of stories about my childhood just so that you can get to a recipe for brownies. I mean, seriously-no one reads those.
As you may know, I am a Registered Dietitian by trade and love anything and everything food and nutrition. I decided to major in Nutritional Sciences during my sophomore year of my undergraduate studies. If you are a nutrition student, you know that this does not mean you are simply learning about food and talking to people about how to build healthy habits. NOT. AT. ALL. Nutrition schooling consists of tons of extensive coursework regarding biochemistry, metabolism, and also food service (I literally had to know off the top of my head what the temperature was for the "danger zone" when holding food on a tray line, 40-140 degrees to be exact). Not to mention, no one tells you that your bachelor’s degree does not actually get you a job and that you have to pay for an internship AFTER that to actually become a dietitian. Lucky for me, I met some of my best friends during my internship (s/o Frankie, Megan, and Pat) and got to have some amazing experiences in clinical, corporate, and community dietetics.
So THEN, when you are finally done with your internship- you get to take the exam that determines whether or not you *actually* get to call yourself a dietitian (yay!). And that is why we are here today.
My experience with studying for and taking the Registered Dietitian exam was much different than I thought it would be. I am the type of person who knows that a healthy studying schedule consists of plenty of rest, balance, taking study breaks, and giving yourself plenty of time to understand/internalize information. HOWEVER, old habits die hard and I totally procrastinated and crammed for my exam. I had every intention of studying for at least two months on the weekends and at nights after my rotations (seriously, I told my friends I couldn’t hang out for like ten weeks), but every time I tried to study far in advance I always fell back into thinking “well, I have plenty of time”.
And I thought that way until I really (REALLY) did not have plenty of time. It was two weeks before the exam and I realized all I had really done is focus on how many different colored highlighters I could find because that was totally necessary. So, it was time to buckle down and make months of studying happen in two weeks. I do want to say- I do not necessarily recommend doing this by any means. My stress levels probably would have been much lower if I had given myself a full month of studying BUT if you work well under pressure, here is how I did it:
Day 1 of Studying: 14 Days until the exam
My first piece of advice is to try to get your hands on the Jean Inman Study Guide. This study guide is 70% of the reason that I passed my exam (I will talk later about where that other 30% comes into play). This study guide is broken up into four parts, comes with 1000 practice test questions, and recordings so that you can fall asleep at night to the sound of good old Jean reading you her study guide word for word. It was truly my bible during these two weeks.
On my first day of studying, I listened to the recording of the entire study guide on my computer and followed along with my booklet- twice. I want to say this took about 8-9 hours total (told ya, it was an intense two weeks). The first time I listened to the recording, I highlighted important points in my study guide and tried to just skim over the information as best I could. I color coded by using a different highlighter in each section of the guide to keep things interesting (knew those would come in handy).
The second time I listened through the recording with my study guide in front of me, I made little notes in the margin of my page when I thought something was important. During the recording, Jean says the word “note” before several key pieces throughout the study guide. I did my best to star each time she said it to make sure that I remembered that these points were accentuated in the recording.
After going through the study guide twice, highlighting, and making notes. I called it a day.
Day 2 and 3 of studying:
During the next two days, I really focused on memorization/understanding of information. I went through and made approximately 400 notecards (not exaggerating) with different definitions, key points, and concepts. If there was a concept I did not understand, I made sure to go back into my notes from my internship, undergraduate studies, and master’s degree. I did not move on from a subject until I fully (or at least mostly) understood it. I focused in on different charts throughout Jean Inman such as vitamins, food temperatures, and tube feeding formulas. I tried to get a grasp on at least the basics of as many concepts as possible.
Now with that being said, try to remember that you are not going into this exam knowing NOTHING. At this point, you have spent five years studying and certain things will come back to you very easily even if you have not visited them in a while. At the end of the day, this is more about just trying to make sure that you are as prepared as possible for the test questions that might be thrown your way. Another thing to keep in mind- it is completely impossible to know absolutely everything. You are most likely going to get at least one question wrong on the test and that is fine. Your score DOES. NOT. MATTER. All that matters, is that you pass the exam and that you get your license.
Now that I had 400 flashcards in front of me, I broke them down by category. I had about 100 flashcards per section of the Jean Inman study guide and then I broke each of those piles in half. I went through 50 flash cards at a time and made two piles; which answers I knew and which ones I didn’t know. Then I would go through the pile I didn’t know until I had all of those definitions/concepts memorized. THEN I would go back to all 50 and make sure I got all of them correct. I would move onto the next 50 cards and use the same process until I felt confident that I knew the information on almost all 400 flashcards. Like I said, I devoted approximately two days to just focusing on these flashcards and skimming through the concepts that I highlighted in the book (probably about 20 hours total over the course of these two days).
Day 4 of Studying: 10 Days until the exam
On day four, I finally started working my way through the practice test questions that were provided by Jean Inman. Her study guide comes with about 1000 practice questions. I broke it up by doing about 25 questions at a time, and then I would go through with the answer key and grade myself. If I got a question wrong, I would make a flashcard for it on Quizlet (had to start saving the trees at this point). Once I got through 250 practice questions, I would go back and study the ones I got wrong on Quizlet until I knew how to answer them.
I maintained this process throughout all 1000 questions so in total I had four
Quizlets full of questions that I needed to focus on. I spent the entire day learning these answers and understanding why I got these questions wrong.
Day 5-7 of Studying:
Over the course of these next three days, I reviewed my original flash cards and all 1000 practice questions in the Jean Inman review. I made note pages, drew the Kreb’s Cycle, and re-wrote charts over and over again. I skimmed Jean Inman from front-to-back multiple times, focusing on the points that I had originally highlighted and made notes on. I tried to absorb as much information as possible in these three days and work hard to understand more concepts than I did before.
I read blogs about test-taking strategies, called friends who had taken the exam, and tried as hard as possible not to psych myself out. At this point, I had completely burned out my Jean Inman resource and knew I needed to change it up. I felt as though I was not getting enough exposure to practice questions (even though I had 1000 of them in front of me). My philosophy when studying for the RD exam is that you can only absorb so much information, but you can ALWAYS use practice with test questions. There is no doubt it is a tricky exam, so the more you know about how questions are going to be worded and why the correct answer is correct, the better.
Day 8 of Studying- 6 Days until the exam:
My eighth day of studying consisted of me spending more money on resources. Not the most ideal situation but remember in the beginning when I mentioned that Jean Inman was only responsible for 70% of my success? That is because the other 30% came from the eatrightPREP for the RDN Exam platform that is available in the eatrightSTORE on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. This platform provided me with over 1300 practice questions and in-depth explanations for each answer. These questions were so similar to the questions that came up on my actual exam and the explanations helped me understand WHY I should choose that specific answer. I truly believe that if I did not use the eatrightPREP platform during the week leading up to my exam, that I would not have passed.
Day 9-13 of Studying:
During the last five days leading up to my exam, I pretty much just reviewed all of the resources that I had. I would spend a few hours in the morning reading through my Jean Inman study guide and then for the remainder of the day, I would use my practice questions. I made more note sheets, reviewed my Quizlets, and took my notecards with my everywhere that I went. I also downloaded the Pocket Prep app which has exam practice questions that you can do anywhere.
I really cannot stress the importance of doing as many practice questions as you possibly can. Learning about how these questions are going to be phrased and understanding strategies for how to use the process of elimination are the most important skills you can acquire while studying for the RD exam (or any exam for that matter). Using Jean Inman, eatrightPREP, and the Pocket Prep app helped me a lot but there are so many resources out there that you can use to ensure that you have plenty of exposure to practice questions.
My last piece of advice is to reach out to your preceptors, classmates, or internship directors if you need guidance. I received so much direction from dietitians in the community leading up to my exam which helped me feel more prepared. They suggested resources, provided me with their old study guides, and helped me answer my own questions when I could not figure out certain concepts. I owe these dietitians big time when it comes to passing my exam. Having a support system of other dietitians who you can look to for help will make all the difference during your studying period.
Day 14: Day of the Exam
Well, here we are. On the day of my exam I woke up, had coffee, meditated, cleaned my apartment, listened to my favorite song, had a totally positive attitude, and felt great about my studying.
The morning started with me battling a black hornet.
My apartment had an infestation of black hornets that I had been dealing with for weeks. They were terrifying, had legs that dangled down from their scary little bodies, and always seemed to show up when I was most stressed about my exam- a win-win!!
After literally chasing this black hornet around with my textbook (and eventually squishing it against my window), I was extremely shaky and riled up. I tried to calm myself down with some tea and looked over a few of my notecards. People always say that you aren’t actually supposed to study on the morning of your exam- but I am just not one of those people who can be cool, calm, and collected on the morning of a big day. I gave into the feeling of wanting to squeeze in every last moment of studying and let myself go over all of my resources.
About two hours before my exam, I decided to leave my apartment and make my way to the testing center (partially because I was just anxious to get there and partially because it was 50 minutes away). The next fun and exciting twist that happened on that morning was that I started to GO BLIND on my drive to my test. That is right, my car was in motion and I could not see. This was caused by a combination of stress, anxiety, and oh yeah- I forgot to eat. Now let me tell you, when I started this blog post and decided to talk about my experience, my Editor-in-Chief (my mom) told me not to sound pathetic when describing the series of unfortunate events that occurred on this day. While I agree with her, I need to acknowledge that 1. I am someone who has hilarious things happen to them and I am always willing to share that and 2. I want you to be prepared if something like this happens to you on the day of your exam.
I immediately pulled into a plaza, took some deep breaths, had a couple sips of water, and waited for my vision to return. I went into a CVS and grabbed a massive bag of Smart Food popcorn. Now this part is not very cute, but I sat in my car and pretty much shoved handfuls of popcorn into my mouth until I started to feel better. After focusing on breathing, drinking water, and loading myself up with cheesy popcorn, I started back on the road to my exam.
I arrived approximately one hour early and sat in my car (do not recommend this). This time in the car really allowed me to get into my own head and start to freak out about if I was ready and if my two weeks of studying was actually going to carry me through to a passing grade. About 30 minutes into my hour of panic, I called my best friend and she quickly calmed me down. She convinced me to go inside and just focus on what I had to do.
I walked into the testing center and got myself seated at my station. I clicked open the exam and started. Before I knew it, I was halfway through and going WAY too fast. Like, I had to force myself to sit on my hands to slow myself down- that is how bad it was. I was so confident in all of my answers that I was just flying through this exam. I had no idea if this was because I was doing really well or literally bombing. I finally got to the minimum number of questions (125) and clicked submit. The little loading circle popped up and I thought “this is it- I either got a 100 or I got a zero and there is no in-between”.
My score popped up on my screen and I blinked 47 times trying to register whether or not that was passing grade (they don’t make it very clear- they should work on that). I realized after about ten seconds that I had passed. I wanted to faint and cry and scream and hug the person next to me- but instead, I just gathered my things, took my paperwork from the proctor, and went back out to my car. I was elated.
This is absolutely not the typical experience for people who take the RD exam. Most people give themselves at least a month (usually more) to study and they are much more prepared. With that being said, no one (at least no one that I have ever talked to) walks into that exam feeling confident. I would love to sit here and tell you to just be confident! It is going to work out! You know more than you think! But you have heard all of that before. While that IS true, I know from personal experience that there is nothing that anyone can say to you that will calm you down in those hours leading up to the exam. The best advice I can give for the morning of the exam is to breathe, eat breakfast, and drink water. You will get through this!
So that is the story of my experience! To sum things up, my biggest pieces of advice are as follows:
1. Invest in the Jean Inman study guide and eatrightPREP platform
2. Focus your energy on learning how to answer questions and implement test taking strategies (process of elimination, context clues, etc.)
3. Do as many practice questions as possible- these questions were the most helpful tool that I had when it came to preparing myself for the exam
4. Stay positive!!
With that being said, I hope you found this post helpful and I hope your experience has less black hornets and more study time than mine did!
If you have any questions about my experience, would like some more advice, or simply feel like you need to vent about how badly you want to shove your study guides down the garbage disposal- feel free to reach out to me! I would be happy to assist you in any way that I can!