How I studied for (& passed) the RD Exam

Mentoring dietetic interns is one of my favorite parts of my job. I love talking with them not only about my job, but I’m open with them about salary difficulties I’ve had, my favorite website for designing my resume, and networking tips. Another thing they often ask about is, of course, the RD exam.

On my second blog I made (if at first you don’t succeed, try again) I made a fairly successful post - but lost it because I didn’t save my work and deleted my blog thinking I was out of the biz for good (yet I keep being pulled back in). So I wanted to spend some time (a lot of time) rewriting that post because I know when I was studying, I read at least 20 posts on how others had studied for their exam (and passed). There’s tons more posts out now than when I took my exam - let yourself be inspired! You can do it! There’s also many good youtube videos as well, if that’s your preferred medium.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you purchase something from a link provided, I may get a small commision for recommending it to you.

Celebrate once you pass. Or celebrate after your DI before you start studying.  Maybe just drink margaritas.

Celebrate once you pass. Or celebrate after your DI before you start studying.

Maybe just drink margaritas.


Quick Facts:

  • I spent 10 days total studying

  • I took my DPD courses as part of an MPH program, which was coordinated with my DI coming immediately after graduation (I also went straight to my MPH after my Bachelor’s so I had no gaps in schooling)

  • I passed on the first try

  • I took my exam January 2017

For the exam:

  • You can receive minimum 125 questions (100 scored, 25 piloted) to maximum 145 questions (120 scored, 25 piloted). You won't know which questions are piloted.

  • Because the number of questions may vary from candidate to candidate, the exam uses a scaled score out of 50 points. 

There are four domains on the exam, each with subtopics.

  1. Principles of Dietetics (25%) 

  2. Nutrition Care for Individuals and Groups (40%)

  3. Management (21%)

  4. Foodservice Systems (14%)

Look at the most up-to-date CDR outline. The exam has been updated in 2007, 2012, and most recently 2017. Be aware of materials published before January 1, 2017 because they won’t be related to the recent version of the exam. The main differences are a shift in focus on Principles of Dietetics (12% -> 25%) and the trickle down effect of reducing percentages of other domains (particularly the reduction in Foodservice Systems, which many people were happy about, except for me because I worked in that sector for 3 years throughout my education)

If you've got more questions about the actual exam, look at this great FAQ by Bailey Debarmore.

Important note from her comments section: While the CDR test is adaptive, it does NOT rely on the previous question to present you with your next one. It does not supply a harder question when you get one right or an easier one if you get one incorrect. It is a classification test, meaning that the questions are already set when you start. 

Materials used

Jean Inman (2015)

Welcome #inmaniacs! This was my bible for studying, as it is for 90% of RD2Bes. I got a copy through my DI, including audio from someone else — one problem was that I had the 2015 materials, whereas the exam had changed in 2017 to include less food service (which I had a lot of experience in) and more in the Principles of Dietetics (including food science - which I hardcore struggled with because I did not pay nearly enough attention in that course, and it was only 2 credits during school; I prioritized clinical nutrition above it, naturally, so that came back to bite me during studying).

I definitely didn’t spend enough time studying the Management domain. I kind of dismissed it as .. easy? But then my exam had questions like, “what would you do FIRST” which is the absolute worst because then that means multiple answers are right, but you have to pick the answer for what is top priority. Ugh.

I was not someone who listened to Jean in the car, or shower, or while I did my makeup (mainly because I wasn’t wearing any makeup because I became a complete heathen/shut-in while studying). I cannot learn without a visual component (I’m finding that to be the case with my Japanese right now as well). I need to be highlighting and reading and … I don’t know, pointlessly drinking my 10th cup of coffee. If I don’t have something in front of me I will totally tune out. I also feel like this gives you a false sense of security, like “oh look I’m studying.” Unless you’re an auditory listener (thx I hate you) (just kidding) then you’re not studying, you’re setting yourself up to fail. When you sit down to study, commit to it.

BIG TIP ALERT: I read somewhere when you are doing your practice questions, don’t think, “Yes this answer is right because…” STOP. Go back, and figure out why every other answer is wrong. I found this SO USEFUL! You get so much more out of the practice questions this way because you are reviewing more material than the question covers. Think about why a specific answer doesn’t make sense, is it related to TPN instead of EN? Is the rate outrageously high or low? Is that food temperature range for fish instead of poultry? This turns 100 review questions into 400 topic reviews. (You won’t be able to do this for every answer, but you’ll find yourself knowing more!).

HOT TIP AGAIN: If you don’t know an answer, don’t guess. If you get it right, you’re more likely to skip over it (as if you originally knew the answer). If I was <50% sure about the right answer, I would just mark the question wrong and review that entire topic. You don’t want to miss an important topic because of a lucky guess.


RD In a Flash

These flashcards were… okay. I found it difficult to utilize them appropriately because they were based on recall, not recognition, which doesn’t equate to the RD exam. (Recall meaning that you have to pull the answer out of thin air, versus recognition of being able to pick the correct answer in a series of answers.) I found these useful to keep in my bag at all times so that when I was waiting for a prescription at CVS I could use them. Or when I was stuck in a car ride (or someone was stuck in one with me) I would have them quiz me. Or when I was at the airport. Or anywhere else that I would have normally scrolled Facebook. I reviewed these slowly throughout the last 2 months of my DI, and used them less once I seriously started studying.

The other reason I didn’t prefer to use this resource was that some of the information felt less applicable than I would’ve hoped. It didn’t necessarily correlate to what I saw in Jean Inman later. If you’re budget-conscious, definitely pass on these. They were nice to have around, but certainly not critical or game-changing (kind of like the RD hangman - sorry but I don’t think I’d find that very helpful, and I’d rather relax with something completely unrelated to studying than half-heartedly do something).


It may seem weird to mention, but Zebra Mildliners are what you’ll see in the picture below (instead of highlighters). When you’re studying on paper and reviewing a lot of material, highlighting is important so that you can revisit topics easily. If you want to burn your eyes and possibly make text harder to read, be sure to use highlighters. If you want pretty pastel notes that are easy to read and also still want the usefulness of highlighting, get yourself some Zebra Mildliners from Amazon. (affiliate link) You might also be able to find them at Target, or an office supply store, but they are originally Japanese. I used these all throughout grad school and still use them in my planner today.

Coffee and Jean Inman were my only friends.

Coffee and Jean Inman were my only friends.

What I didn’t use (and why)

Visual Veggies Software

While it looks straight out of the 1990s, many RDs swear by VV. It required too much buy-in from me (shout out to my broke interns) and I know that I have a habit of getting things like this and not utilizing them. The Jean Inman materials seemed overwhelming enough, I knew that I wouldn’t have enough time (or energy) to dedicate to another program with more questions. This was a good choice on my part, because I didn’t even get through all of the practice questions from Jean Inman.

CDR Study Guide

Honestly, again, I was a broke dietetic intern. I also don’t feel like it offers enough - suggested study topics? Covered by Jean (along with the actual info, not just a table of contents). I spent years learning all about dietetics, I didn’t need someone to tell me, “Oh yeah, study that stuff again!” Duh. Jean gave me practice questions too, I didn’t need more.


This was just getting started (I think) when I was getting ready for my exam. I felt overwhelmed enough by my flashcards and binder of Jean Inman. If you like to over-prepare, this would probably be a good resource (if you’ve used it, comment below so others can get feedback!). I’ve also heard you can get a 3-day free trial so check it out before you purchase!


I was already working when I started studying for the exam. I found that pressure helpful to get me to focus - I didn’t just want to pass the exam, I NEEDED to pass the exam. My supervisor and fellow RD were counting on me to pass so that I could start seeing patients ASAP and have full privileges at the company. Also my program had a 100% pass rate on the first try for the previous 5 years of interns (or maybe they just told us that) so I felt a lot of pressure to succeed.

I am very good with standardized testing. Not bragging, just being real. I scored very well on the ACT, I scored very well on all parts of the GRE, and I believe that plays a role for how you prepare. If you are terrible with these kinds of tests, you might need to prepare a bit differently than I did. (Small plug for Headspace and Calm - great apps with some free meditations to help you chill out a bit while studying!)

The best way to study for this exam is to study the way you’ve always studied. This is the tip you will see on every single post. I have always been someone who crammed, but didn’t pull all nighters. So I did exactly that for this exam. I studied extremely hard for 10 days and focused intently on my one main resource (Jean Inman). I also learn well by interacting with information, so I talked constantly to my boyfriend about what I was learning, what I found confusing, and did my best to interact with the practice questions (like I mentioned in my big tips above). He ignored me 90% of the time, but it helped me anyways. I also ate a delicious breakfast, but avoided bacon and greasy foods that would upset my stomach. I drank coffee because I did that every morning, despite knowing it would spike my anxiety further. I’m a creature of habit, what can I say.

I didn’t pass right at 125; I got 7 extra questions and passed after 132 questions (why do I remember that 2 years later? Because I’m an obsessive Type A and if you’re becoming an RD you probably are too, so don’t @ me). You will get an INFURIATING survey before they show you your score (did I pass? fail? what are these questions? I can’t breathe!) and then move on with your life. If you fail, try again. Don’t give up. But I have faith in you. Study hard and you’ll move from RD2be to RD.

Be well,



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