The RD Exam Explained!

by | 5 Feb, 2021 | Exam | 0 comments

Congratulations! You’ve reached the point in your dietetic internship program where you’re considering the last and final step: the Registered Dietitian exam.

You know it’s the last step in this multi-year process, but what exactly does it entail? How do you get started?

Fear not. As now a registered dietitian and someone who has (obviously) passed the exam, I’m here to help shine some light on this beast that around 2500 candidates take each year.

The RD exam is a computer-based, multiple-choice exam comprised of 125-145 questions. The exam must be paid by credit card and is administered through Pearson Vue. To be eligible to sit for the RD exam, there are a few avenues. For simplicity’s sake, I am assuming that you have completed your bachelor’s degree, including a didactic program in dietetics, and are finishing up the dietetic internship. (There are a few other paths to get to this point. Regardless, you must confirm eligibility with the Commission of Dietetic Registration (CDR) prior to signing up for the exam). Once eligibility is confirmed through the CDR, you have 1 year to take the exam or must get reauthorized.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering: Why does this exam have a varying number of questions?

Great question. The RD exam is a computer-adaptive test (CAT) that improves and adapts as you take the test. The CDR states that this “results in more measurement efficiency as it administers questions that provide the most information about the examinee’s competence”. For this reason, you cannot go back or review previous questions once answered. The only way through is forward! The minimum number of questions you can receive is 125. If the test ends at 125 questions, then most likely you have passed the exam. The maximum is 145. When I took it, I got 127. It all depends.

There are also what the CDR calls “pretest” questions. These are questions that are not scored but are being tested to see if they will become part of the official question bank in the future. However, you will not know which ones are scored or unscored. On a 125-question test, you would receive 100 scored questions and 25 unscored pretest questions. On a 145-question test, you would receive 120 scored questions and 25 unscored pretest questions.

How long does the test take? Do I find out my results when I finish the RD Exam?

For the exam, you get 3 hours per appointment, unless special accommodations were made. In this 3-hour window, you will have a 2.5-hour window to complete the RD exam, 20 minutes to take a tutorial on how to use the system, and 10 minutes to complete a post-exam survey. 145 questions in 2.5 hours sounds like a lot, but it is plenty of time. You will receive your score immediately upon completion as well as a breakdown of your strengths in the domains. Scores are scaled 1-50, where 25 is the minimum required to pass.

What do I need to know about the Testing Center?

You will need a government ID (driver’s license, passport), and you will be fingerprinted. You will put all your personal belongings in a locker and turn your cell phone off. There are no scheduled breaks in the RD exam and unscheduled breaks must be approved by the test administer. You will be provided a scratchpad and physical calculator upon request. You may not bring your own into the testing center. There is a computerized calculator available within the test itself. Additionally, there is an optional 20-minute tutorial to help you acclimate to the testing software. It can be helpful—especially knowing how to turn off the clock!

Now, that was all the test schematics itself. What’s actually in the exam?

Fortunately, it’s things you’ve been studying in all your courses and throughout your internship. This exam is designed to evaluate your performance at the entry level—not an expert in any given field, but knowledgeable in all of them. These testing guidelines are updated every 5 years.

The Domains:

  • 25% of the questions come from Principles of Dietetics. This includes the areas of food science and the nutrient composition of foods; nutrition and supporting sciences; education, communication, and technology; research applications
  • 40 % of the questions come from Nutrition Care for Individuals and Groups. This includes the NCP that you’ve been using for so long! Screening and Assessment; Diagnosis; Planning and Intervention; Monitoring and Evaluation
  • 21 % of the questions come from Management of Food and Nutrition Programs and Services. This is those business classes you took; Functions of management; human resources; marketing and public relations; quality management and improvement
  • 14 % of the questions come from Foodservice Systems. This includes menu development; procurement, production, distribution, service; sanitation and safety; equipment and facility planning

This looks overwhelming but remember to take it in small chunks. You have been learning this material throughout your schooling and internship. It’s in your brain already. Use your inner confidence to reach for the information during the exam. Good luck!

Key items to remember about taking the RD Exam

It is computer-adaptive with 125-145 multiple-choice questions

  • You are given 2.5 hours to take the exam
  • It’s divided into 4 Domains: Principles of Dietetics, Nutrition Care for Individuals and Groups, Management of Food and Nutrition Programs and Services, and Foodservice Systems
  • You must receive a 25 or higher to pass
  • You are given a 1-year authorization to take the test and must be reauthorized by CDR after the year passes


Commission on Dietetic Registration.



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How do I study for the RD exam?

How do I study for the RD exam?

The answer depends on two key subcomponents: How much time you have before the exam. How You study best. As you’ve learned throughout school, everyone learns differently, and studying for the RD exam is no different. How much time do I have? Is it three weeks?