5 Strategies For Passing The Biggest Exam of Your Life

Is it possible for a heart to pound so loudly that other people can hear it, too?  This thought passed through my head as I stared at my computer screen in a packed, yet dead silent testing center. It was so quiet that I panicked a little every time my mouse made a noise. The bottom right-hand corner of my screen told me that I was on question 125. I knew that after I submitted my answer, there was a chance I had scored enough correct questions to pass the exam. If I went on to question 126, however, this meant my score was still too low, and I had only 20 questions left to make it or break it. No pressure.

I took a deep breath, double-checked my answer, said a quick prayer, and made one last deafening “CLICK!”

Loading...loading...loading...this is taking a little longer than the last ques- OMG I PASSED!!!

As soon as I read the words, “Congratulations! You passed...” little happy tears gathered in the corners of my eyes. I was FINALLY a Registered Dietitian!

If you’re preparing for a big exam, it is my wish that you will read those words soon, too. I’m happy to share the strategies I used to pass the RD exam, and I hope you will find them to be just as helpful. Let’s get this study party started!

Strategy 1: Purchase a study guide

Purchasing a comprehensive study guide was one of the best decisions I made to help me prepare for my exam. It gave me such a peace of mind to know that everything I needed in my noggin’ to pass was in all in one organized place.

For all you RD2BE’s, I bit the bullet and purchased the Inman Review at its full price. I figured if it could help me pass on the first try, it was worth the investment (and it was!). If you’re looking for a cheaper option, you can buy it with a friend and share it, or purchase an older edition from someone who has already taken the exam (and to those of you who are wondering, my BFF has already called dibs on mine...sorry!)

Strategy 2: Create a study plan

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help get you started.

  • How much time do I have to study?
  • Realistically, how many hours a day can I study?
  • What kinds of measurable goals can I set for myself to help me stay on task and move forward?

I studied for a total of 2 months. This was much longer than I anticipated, but it also was long enough to help me feel like I had truly mastered the material. You may need more or less time to study, and either way, that is totally fine! I studied about 4-6 hours most weekdays, and on the weekends I tried to relax (although I did study the weekend before the exam).

Here is the study schedule I aimed for:

Study Task

1 & 2

Review and re-learn the material

Reading through the study guide

Reading through the study guide while listening to the CD’s + highlighting areas I wanted to focus on

Looking up topics that I wanted to review more in detail

3 & 4

Transcribe the material onto flashcards + create visual aids

Creating flashcards using Quizlet

Drawing and writing out processes, tables, and equations

5 & 6

Memorizing the flashcards

Repeating every set until I knew every card like the back of my hand

7 & 8

Practice exams

Memorizing every Inman Review practice test question (they sometimes appear word-for-word on the RD exam, which I found to be true) using Quizlet

Practicing the exam as if it were real life (I did this several times)

Strategy 3: Use a timer

If you’re like me and sometimes need a little extra help staying on task, I found this strategy to be tremendously helpful. First, set a timer on your phone (I recommend anywhere from 25-45 minutes), then place your phone far enough away from you so that you aren’t tempted to pick it up, but also close enough so that you can still hear it when the timer goes off. Then, in the time you have given yourself to study, concentrate like your life depends on it. No music, no bathroom breaks, no snacks, etc- for the next x amount of minutes. It’s just you and the material. You’ll be surprised by how quickly time passes when you immerse yourself so fully in what you’re doing. Once the timer goes off, give yourself a 10-15 minute break to recharge, and repeat! 


iphone timer for studying


Strategy 4: Talk it out

One of the best ways to fully understand a concept is by teaching it to someone else. This is especially helpful when you need to understand certain processes like energy metabolism or the hormones involved in digestion. There were plenty of times when I would stop my husband, Ben, in the middle of whatever he was doing and say, “Hold on. Can I just explain something to you real quick?” Ben also helped me prepare for the exam by running through flashcards with me. Studies show that saying things out loud can help you retain the information better (see this article by Psychology Today). Considering how much Ben listened to me blabber on, I’m pretty sure he could have passed the RD exam, too.

Strategy 5: Take a chill pill

Feeling anxious about the exam? You’re not alone. A little stress can be a good thing, but not when it starts to mess with your mental and physical health. The single most important thing that helped me find peace was talking to God, talking to friends and family, petting puppies, going for walks/runs, and random dance parties. Write a list of your favorite ways to wind down and reference it on the days when you’re feeling a little extra tense.

Yeah Girl! Nutrition

I believe in you, friend! It’s important that you believe in yourself, too. No matter what happens, understand that you are worth more than an exam score. Be proud of yourself for the hard work you’ve put into mastering all this difficult material. When you walk into the silent testing room, may your confidence be a powerful, resounding force that can’t be reckoned with. Yeah girl!


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