studying for the RD

I’m an RD! (Can I have a pony now?)

This past week I decided I wanted to take my board exam a little earlier than my original goal of August 2. In fact…I wanted to take it three weeks earlier.

So I did. It looked like this:

23432Controlled chaos. I especially like my nutrients in the gut absorption sheet on the left.

image-45I live by making cheat sheets for everything.

imageVegan pizza, ice cream, and high ball….that’s just normal study fuel, right?

I PASSED!! I am officially a board-certified Registered Dietitian! I can’t help but look back to my senior year in high school (2007) when I decided I wanted to be an RD. If I had known that this road would have left me in tears of frustration over failing my first college chemistry course, or with a total dependence on caffeine in any and all forms to get through studying for exams, or would have tested my ability to push my own boundaries in every internship rotation I had…I might have reconsidered my decision. But one of my mottos in life, and one of my tricks to living joyfully, is to take things one baby step at a time. So bit by bit and piece by piece, I chipped away at this degree and this registration. Walking out of that exam room, knowing that I was officially an RD, was the sweetest reward after years of specialized study.

Yeah, I’m gonna enjoy this feeling for a long time.

One of the immediate perks about being a baby RD is that I get to write my very own post about how to study for the exam! This is always a hot topic item for pre-RDs, so I hope my point of view is helpful.

Thoughts going in:

“I’m prepared. I’ve studied Inman’s back to back. I’ve reviewed the RD in the Flash note cards, and made 100+ of my own. I’ve reviewed carb exchanges, drug-nutrient reactions, researched countless odds and ends that I wasn’t sure about, and have memorized all the food service equations (sort of).”

Thoughts coming out:

“What in the…?”

My friends, it was rough, and weird test. Why? The RD exam questions your ability to think critically, creatively, and to reason with yourself. Oftentimes your first instinct will be right, but only if you’ve trained your brain to search for the most right answer, and for the answer that would make sense in the time frame of the question.

I was a little miffed at Inman‘s, if we’re being honest. I learned a lot of solid, useful nutrition information when studying it, but I felt that <20% of it applied to the exam. There were multiple questions that had terms that I had never heard of, or managerial situations that I’d never experienced, in which I simply had to take my best guess. In fact, I was unsure about my answers for at least 70% of the test.

I also took a CDR practice test, which was similar to Inman’s but only provided rationales for about 10 questions out of 125. Not very helpful unless you’re already feeling comfortable with the subject matter and just need some reinforcement.

The RD in a Flash was useful and covered a wide range of topics. I actually wouldn’t have known the answers to several questions on the exam without those flash cards.

I’m going to sum up what I want you all to know about this test:

1. Review basic nutritional parameters. The test will ask mostly quite general questions about nutrition care, and you need to be familiar with what an RD would do when caring for a patient with any number of conditions. I remember a lot of content on malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, diabetes, and sports nutrition.

2. You will have plenty of time. I had a 2.5 hour limit and finished the whole thing in just under 1.5 hours, and I’m a slow and steady test taker. So take your time! If you feel like you’re losing control of the situation, just take a few minutes to gather your head. I found it helpful to write out my reasoning on the scrap paper provided.

3. Be prepared for surprise questions, and don’t be scared of them. There are some questions that you will have absolutely no clue what any part of it means. Again, sit back, approach it from a different angle, and try to deduce the answer. Most of the managerial and food service portions are just basic common sense, and even if you don’t remember an equation you can probably figure out the answer using basic math. Trust in your fundamental education–we went to high school for a reason! Also, some of the questions on this test are dummy questions that are being tested out, and aren’t going to count for your final score. It’s possible that the surprise questions fall into that category.

4. Don’t skimp on studying community nutrition principles, especially related to governmental assistance programs and the scope of practice for different programs like WIC, Elderly Nutrition, SNAP, etc. It’s helpful to know who runs which programs, and whom they serve (example: the home-bound elderly, prison inmates, school children, etc.).

5. Trust your education and your internship. Bottom line? It’s in the Academy’s best interest to churn out more and more dietitians each year. The test will be challenging, but not too challenging that you won’t be able to pass it if you have paid attention in college and done well in your internship.

After taking the test, I actually think that everyone coming out of an internship could take it right off the bat. Don’t spend weeks and weeks studying for this. You will do better just to review the basic principles of each domain of dietetics, and then trust in your gut intuition and basic reasoning skills to get you through the rest. I’m so glad I didn’t waste time studying more than I needed to!

I’m confident that if you’ve had a solid internship experience, like I did at Oregon Health and Science University, you’ll be fine. You’ll end up with a shiny new RD credential, and maybe even a delectable vegan chocolate cake. Please comment if you have anything to add, or any questions about the test. Cheers and good luck studying!