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.
- 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. https://www.cdrnet.org/
Hi! I take the RD exam really soon and I am freaking out. I felt like I just didn’t prepare how I should have and I’m nervous I am going to fail. I know a lot of people don’t pass on their first try but I will be so disappointed if I don’t pass. Since it is broken into those sections, do you think it is wise to focus more on studying for those questions. Like the MNT and then either principles of dietetics or management? My weakest subject is food service in general so could you technically pass by failing the food service parts but passing the rest? Is this a bad mindset to have while studying? Is the exam randomized so not everyone gets the same makeup of questions? Like some people may have more MNT vs some will have more food service? Thank you
Great questions. You’ve been preparing for this exam your entire internship, so you know more than you think you do! The RD exam gives you questions in a randomized order from all 4 domains. The questions are pulled from a large question bank, so not every student will receive the same questions. Each student will receive the same percentage of questions per domain, for example in this 2022 RD Exam, 13% of your questions will be taken from the Foodservice Systems domain. I might receive a question on foodservice sanitation, but you might get a question on scoop sizes! The test is also adaptive, so if you get a question wrong on a particular topic then you are likely to see another question on that same or a similar topic.
I recommend reading our blog titled “How do I study for the RD Exam”. Review all 4 domains, but if you have limited time, try to build your knowledge and confidence in topics that you are less proficient in. Try some of our active study resources. We have a lot of great videos to explain those tricky foodservice concepts and test questions to get you in the right mindset. By practicing test questions that mimic the RD exam, you will be more prepared on what to expect when you do sit for the exam. Knowing how to read their questions is half the battle.
Best of luck!
The RD Boot Camp Staff
Is it better to answer only the minimum number of questions (125) or the whole exam?
Good question. You don’t really have a choice. The test shuts off if you have answered enough questions correctly when you hit 125 questions and have passed the exam. That’s usually a good sign. If you are given question 126, then you need to keep going in order to attempt to pass the exam. Don’t get discouraged. You still have a fighting chance at that point. Good luck on the exam!
Does the score of 25 of 50 mean you need to get 50% of the questions that count correct to pass?
Good question! The RD exam uses Computer Adaptive Testing (CAD) technology which tends to be more of a valid and reliable measurement of competency. Some exam questions are designed to be easier than others and some are designed to be more difficult to answer. The computer looks at your previous answers, recalibrates, then gives you a question that you have about a 50% chance of answering correctly based on your ability. Each question is weighted differently, so a score of 25 out of 50 does not mean that you got 50% of the questions correct. CAD is an algorithm calculating points until you reach the “passing standard” that is set by the test administrators.
The points per say are based on the number of questions that you answered correctly using a weight assigned by the difficulty of the question. For example, in a 10-question math test, if you answered 1+1=2 correctly you might be given only 0.1 points, but if you answer a long division problem correctly you might get 2 points. The computer then gives you more long division problems once you answer a few correctly giving you a higher chance of passing the test with fewer questions. I hope that helps clarify.
When you are taking the exam, there is no way of calculating your own score so focus your attention on answering each question to your best ability. Relax, and trust in yourself. Good luck on the exam!
Do I need to bring my diploma or paperwork to prove.i have a bachelor’s to the exam?
No, you do not need to bring anything like that to the test center. The Commission of Dietetic Registration will provide you with Authorization to Test upon successful completion of the dietetic internship. Once you receive this authorization, you can log into the PearsonVue/CDR test center to register for the exam. This ensures you have the proper credentialing. All you have to bring to the test center is yourself, an unexpired government-issued photo identification, and, currently, a face mask. Good luck!
If you don’t pass within the year timeframe, how would reauthorization by CDR go about?
Once authorized, you have 365 days to register, schedule, and pass the exam. If 365 days expire, or you do not pass the exam, you must contact the CDR to reauthorize. According to the 2022 CDR Handbook for Candidates, you can do that in the following ways: 1) go online to reps.cdrnet.org/reauth or 2) email firstname.lastname@example.org. Email requests should include the candidate’s name and CDR candidate ID/Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics membership number. We hope that helps!
What if we didn’t pass the exam in 2023, and we are not planning on doing a master’s degree?
Great question! The answer depends on whether you are eligible to take the RD exam in 2023. Most RD programs have updated their requirements to ensure you have a master’s degree to take the exam, so this is not an issue. However, if you are among those who have a bachelor’s degree and completed your internship, you must establish eligibility with CDR to take the exam before Jan 1, 2024. (Your internship is responsible for sending that information. Check with them if the timing is close.)
Here is a link to the CDR’s registration eligibility information: https://www.cdrnet.org/program-director/student-instructions.
Once eligible, you will receive an authorization to test, which lets you schedule the exam. If you take the exam and fail in 2023, just reapply for the authorization. Your eligibility does not change.
According to the CDR, only those who are seeking to become eligible for the RD exam on or after Jan 1, 2024 are required to have the master’s degree. If you established eligibility prior to that without a master’s degree, you are not required to obtain it in 2024.
The RD Boot Camp Staff
2024 GRADUATE DEGREE REQUIREMENT – REGISTRATION ELIGIBILITY – Commission on Dietetic Registration (cdrnet.org)
Student Instructions — Timelines and Procedures for Registration Eligibility – Commission on Dietetic Registration (cdrnet.org)