Mastering the Registered Dietitian Exam: Preparation Tips and Career Advice for Aspiring RDs

Published on: May 24, 2024

We all know that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only 4 in 10 children in the United States, and 1 in 7 adults eat the recommended daily amount of fruit. Similarly, fewer than 1 in 10 adults and children in the United States eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables. While this message is simplistic, the underlying message rings profoundly true: the food we consume shapes our health in many ways. As levels of chronic diseases such as heart disease, and type 2 diabetes rise, so does the need for proper nutrition guidance to maintain the health of our population. These statistics make one thing very clear: registered dieticians (RD); defined as health professionals who have special training in diet and nutrition, are integral to the field of public health, and are needed now more than ever. 

The roles of RDs include maintaining the health of individuals, and improving health at a population level. On an individual level, RDs work to address specific health issues such as diabetes and hypertension through individual nutritional therapies. Moreover, RDs are responsible for promoting public awareness about proper nutrition standards, enhancing the accuracy of food labels, and improving the nutritional quality of preferred foods through collaboration with food manufacturers. Registered Dieticians' impact on public health is vast, and an RD’s ticket to national certification and a successful career is passing the Registered Dietician Exam

This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide for preparing for the registered dietician exam, insights into the dietician career path, educational requirements, exam preparation strategies, and tips for success.

Exploring Career Paths:

The expertise of registered dieticians is integral to the prevention of chronic conditions. Many registered dieticians will go on to work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and state and local governments. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports faster than average growth compared to other occupations, projecting a 7% increase in employment of dietitians between 2022 and 2032.  

Career opportunities for registered dieticians are vast. They can work in clinical settings such as hospitals, HMOs, and long term care facilities. RDs in clinical settings work as part of the healthcare team alongside physicians, nurses, and therapists. In these environments, RDs can use their unique skill sets, such as translating complex scientific information into digestible nutritional advice for patients. RDs can also specialize into particular areas within the clinical setting, such as transplant nutrition, diabetes, eating disorders, cancer, and pediatrics. 

Registered Dieticians can also work in the realm of community and public health. RDs working with community and public health organizations and programs to educate and advise the public on proper nutrition. They may specialize in health promotion of specific communities such as pregnant people, children or the elderly. 

RDs can also work as self employed private consultants or consult for health care or food companies. Private consultants conduct nutritional screenings for clients and advise on diet related concerns such as cholesterol reduction or weight loss. Private consultants may also provide nutrition assessments to entities such as food vendors, companies employed or athletes. 

Registered dietitians can also pursue careers in research and education. RDs may work at universities, medical centers, pharmaceutical companies, or governmental agencies. Registered dieticians can use their expertise to conduct research and craft nutrition recommendations for the public. They can also educate other healthcare workers, and students on the science of nutrition.

Considering the Educational Requirements:

An undergraduate degree is required for all paths to becoming a registered dietician. No specific undergraduate degree is mandatory, but those interested in pursuing dietetics must take several prerequisite courses such as anatomy, biology, and physiology. Individuals interested in becoming a registered dietician may get their bachelor's degree in Nutrition or a related field. Requirements are also changing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that you are required to get a graduate degree if you received your bachelor's degree after December 31, 2023 to become an RD. You may receive a graduate degree (e.g master's degree, practice doctorate, or doctoral degree) from an accredited institution in nutrition or any related concentration such as public health.

In addition to an undergraduate and/or graduate education, dieticians typically receive supervised practice, as either part of a graduate program or dietetics internship. Students interested in completing an internship apply through the Dietetic Internship Centralized Application Service (DICAS), a centralized site for applying to dietetic internships. Once matched with a program, a dietetic internship offers a variety of practicum experiences where you work under a Registered Dietician. Graduates of these programs are then eligible to take the Registered Dietician exam.

A Primer on the RD Exam:

Registered Dietician Exams are administered at the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s testing agency, Pearson VUE. Exams are offered year-round at over two hundred fifty Pearson VUE testing facilities nationwide. Once you find a test center, you can schedule your test. Most centers are open Monday through Friday, and some are open on Saturdays as well. Each site has varying test appointment availability depending on the time of scheduling.

As the field of nutrition is rapidly changing with the advancement of nutrition science, the exam content is restructured every five years. The last content update took place on January 1, 2022. Currently, the test includes four domains. The Commission on Dietetic Registration reports the following breakdown:

  • Domain I: Principles of Dietetics (21%)

  • Domain II: Nutrition Care for Individuals and Groups (45%)

  • Domain III:  Management of Food and Nutrition Programs and Services (21%)

  • Domain IV: Foodservice Systems (31%)

Examination testing appointments are three hours long and completed on a computer using a specific system known as Computer Adaptive Testing. Candidates are given two and a half hours to take the examination, twenty minutes to complete an introductory tutorial and 10 minutes to complete a post-examination survey. The 10-minute tutorial allows candidates to familiarize themselves with the computerized examination, and work through some dietitian practice questions before the exam begins. The timer begins at the first examination question. If a minimum of 125 questions are not responded to by the end of the two and a half hour texting window the exam will be inconclusive, and thus an automatic fail. 

The format of the exam is multiple choice, and varies in length. Each student receives a minimum of one hundred and twenty-five multiple choice questions. Of the one hundred and twenty-five questions, only one hundred are scored, and twenty five are considered pre-test questions. The maximum number of questions a candidate may receive is one hundred and forty-five multiple choice questions, in which one hundred and twenty would be scored, and twenty-five would be unscored pretest questions. As mentioned previously, at least 125 questions must be answered by the end of the two and one-half hour testing period for the candidate to avoid an inconclusive test, considered an automatic failed score. 

There are a few other exam details that are worth of noting. You may choose to have the timer visible on the exam or not. Moreover, you are offered an on-screen calculator, or a handheld test center calculator upon request. Each multiple choice question has four options, with one correct answer. You may not skip questions, or change question responses. You must complete a question to move on to the next one, and you are not permitted to go back or review previous questions.

Our Tips and Strategies for RD Exam Prep:

CDR publishes a Study Guide for the Registration Examination for Dietitians which is a very valuable resource for candidates preparing for the Registered Dietician Exam. This study guide outlines specific topics to review under each domain. The Commission on Dietetic Registration also outlines ten tips for studying in their guide How to Study for an Exam. The ten steps are outlined below, broken down, and backed with additional research.

  • 1. Create A Detailed Weekly Study Schedule:

    Setting aside a specific amount of time that you can realistically commit to each week is helpful. Moreover, being specific about the days/times you plan to study, and what topic you hope to study can improve efficiency. The CDR guide also notes that retention can be improved by studying for many short bouts of time. Furthermore, studies have shown that short breaks can help our brains to learn new skills; thus short bouts of studying with short breaks may help to facilitate effective and efficient studying.

  • 2. Join a Study Group:

    Studying with others can provide support and accountability. Explaining concepts to others can help them understand difficult content. Research has shown that even explaining to fictitious others can improve learning.

  • 3. Study, Study, and Study Some More:

    Studying can be improved by utilizing multiple study resources such as flashcards, videos, online courses and instructor led training. The CDR guide also recommends refraining from using electronic devices, or even moving them to another room while studying. Many scholars argue that phones are a distraction that impedes learning and their removal will enhance education.

  • 4. Ease Test Anxiety:

    Self-care techniques such as meditation, and breathing exercises can help to ease test anxiety. Research has shown that daily mindful breathing can alleviate testing anxiety and alleviating test anxiety can improve academic performance. Activities for fostering mindfulness and easing exam stress anxiety include practicing simple breathing techniques, easy movements such as yoga or walking, or utilizing body scans and body tapping techniques.

  • 5. Improve Your Testing Endurance:

    Practicing timed mock exams can help to improve your testing endurance. Moreover, mock exams can help you to identify and place additional focus on your weakest content areas.

  • 6. Master Test Taking Skills:

    The CDR recommends implementing strategies for answering multiple choice questions. A complete list of multiple choice test taking strategies adapted from test taking strategies for medical students, and provided in the CDR’s exam taking guide can be found here.

  • 7. Know the Exam Format:

    The CDC recommends familiarizing yourself with the exam format, which is included in the Exam Overview section of this article.

  • 8. Determine the Best Date/Time to Schedule the Exam:

    It is important to check your calendar before scheduling your exam. The CDR offers exams year-round and at over 250 sites, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to avoid scheduling your exam too closely to big events that may distract from studying or test-taking. Moreover, research has found that taking tests in the morning may reap better results, as cognitive abilities tend to diminish later in the day.

  • 9. Day Before Preparation:

    The day before your exam it's important to move your body, and get plenty of fluids and rest. Moreover, preparing logistics for your tests such as directions to the testing center, choosing comfortable clothing and gathering supplies is recommended.

  • 10. Take the Exam Like a Pro:

    On test day, before your exam, eating a nourishing meal is important. You do not want to “crash” or go into your exam with an upset stomach. It is also a good idea to arrive at your testing location at least one half hour early to minimize stress. When taking the exam, breathing techniques such as focusing on your breath for one minute can help decrease your heart rate and calm your nerves.

Registered Dieticians Share Their Exam Prep Tips

Final Thoughts:

We all know “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but that doesn’t seem enough. Our health is significantly related to the food we consume, and as the burden of chronic diseases rises, Registered Dieticians remain imperative actors in the field of public health. The path to becoming a Registered Dietician is no easy feat, nor is the Registered Dietician Exam, but the rewarding nature of the profession makes it all worthwhile.

























About the Authors

Written by:

Jessica Weissman

Jessica Weissman is a Masters student at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. At Mailman she studies in the Sociomedical Sciences Department and is pursuing a certificate in Sexuality, Sexual and Reproductive Health. Jess is interested in reducing health disparities for sexual and gender minority populations. Jessica holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

jess weissman headshot

Jessica Weissman

Contributing Author

Education: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Reviewed by:

Katherine Paul, MPH

Katherine Paul, MPH is a senior project manager at a leading medical communications and publications organization. She supports multidisciplinary teams handling large-scale accounts, the deliverables of which improve health outcomes and patient well-being. Ms. Paul holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Health Promotion from Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health and passed the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) shortly after graduation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Dickinson College.

Ms. Paul previously worked at a public health non-profit where she managed all aspects of diverse health-related projects, including the implementation of a randomized controlled clinical trial on sexual health for teens with developmental disabilities, as well as the evaluation of a statewide tobacco cessation program with more than 20,000 annual cases. She has developed and delivered posters and presentations at national conferences including the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Opinions and information published by the author here on are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer or other organizations for my designated roles.

Katherine Paul

Katherine Paul, MPH

Editorial Lead

Education: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health

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