Food & Nutrition: Comprehensive Exam Advice

Master of Science students are required to pass a comprehensive exam before graduating. Two recent graduates of the master program tell how they studied for the comprehensive exam.

First Graduate Interview

How long did you study?

"I'd say 3-4 months depending on how much studying one does each week. I tried to do an hour or so everyday or several hours a few days a week. On weekends or days off, I put in all day study sessions."

How did you approach the review of your coursework?

"Overall - I went through all the material for the courses taught by my panel members. I did a thorough review including looking at notes, exams, projects, etc. I made study notes as well. So basically I took notes from all the material. I actually typed it all out which I find easier than hand writing. I focused on applying the material to real scenarios which I think is key. I made sure I could explain and discuss each topic. I also made flash cards. I had family members and friends quiz me on them which was great practice. So, it wasn't about memorizing, my focus was truly understanding the material and making connections within and between each topic."

What specific approaches did you use for particular topics or content areas?

  • "clinical — I used my MNT notes and also the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Nutrition Care Manual online. I reviewed most of the topics from the background on the disease all the way through monitoring."
  • "biochemistry — I reviewed the major topics from . . . Human Nutrition Science and Nutritional Biochemistry. . . courses, mostly the pathways and metabolism."
  • "foodservice management — reviewed all notes and made flashcards for theories, definitions, formulas, reviewed examples."
  • "research — again reviewed all notes, made flashcards, reviewed my lit reviews and the study designs."

Was study for the RD exam helpful?

"I also used RD exam study material for all topics."

What final words of wisdom do you have for graduate students?

"I think the most important thing is putting in the time to study, which I did!! I studied so hard but it was worth it. I really feel studying for this exam was soooo beneficial."

Second Graduate

The best advice I can give to anyone preparing for the oral exam is to be organized and pay attention to deadline dates!


I worked with a small group of five that started studying around January with the intention to take the exam in May. We had previously divided up all topics studied and designated a person responsible for outlining the aforementioned topics. We reviewed every disease state, in detail, covered in MNT individually, making sure to pay individual attention to the practical treatment of each disease from a medical and nutrition standpoint. We also equally covered each PowerPoint from HNS and Nutritional Biochemistry. We sectioned these off into carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, vitamins, and minerals, paying special attention to pathways and physiology. We divided up community and foodservice as our last topic area, and reviewed what we had done in our rotations.

Our group met once per week for anywhere from 2-4 hours. Each person was responsible for teaching their section to the rest of the group. I thought this provided a solid review for the intense studying to come. About two months before the exam I moved into solo and two person study groups. Beforehand, I went through every outline and topic we had discussed and made flash cards that I put on large rings. I carried them with me everywhere I went. I would have about 100 notecards per ring and rotate a different stack daily to keep reviewing and reviewing the material until it became second nature. This was the most useful and successful study method I found. The individual work I did made my study group with one other student the most useful. We had both put massive amounts of hours into individually preparing which made this the most successful study group of the entire process.

The final step in studying was to create diagrams of various pathways. As a group we identified which pathways we thought were more relevant and diagramed these (images and words); this helped to teach each other. We utilized these diagrams to discuss hypothetical scenarios and how they would affect the pathways.

Take Home Advice

  • Plan & be organized
  • Work in a small group and try to find people to study with who are equally as prepared. If the group gets too large there are often people on different levels and it may be less conducive for studying.
  • Put in the work ahead of time and as the exams approaches you will be doing more reviewing and your recall will be impressive.
  • Always be studying, the more repetition the easier the information becomes to recall, the more sense everything starts to make! Carry study materials on you no matter where you are going.
  • There is an overwhelming amount of material. Focus on what was covered the most in lectures and big picture topics. As you begin to truly understand the big picture, the smaller topics become much easier to understand.