CSCS Exam FAQ – CSCS exam pass rate, CSCS test difficulty, and Info


I’m sure if you’re reading this you’re getting prepped or trying to figure out how to for your NSCA CSCS certification. Well I’m here to help.

This article will be breaking down how the CSCS exam is structured and how each section of the overall structure counts towards your final score. You will learn all about NSCA CSCS size, scope, pass grade and difficulty as well as the current CSCS exam pass rate for 2019. You will also learn about the differences between the practice offerings and the actual final exam.

If you are looking for great CSCS study materials, definitely check out Trainer Academy for study guides, practice tests and flashcards. They boast a 99% pass rate. I also have a free CSCS study guide in practice test here on my website.

We will also go through the CSCS test fees as well as other relevant CSCS frequently asked questions. So with that said, let’s get right into it. And just so you don’t feel completely off guard, please check out my free study guide and practice flashcards here!

If you’re still not quite sure about which PT/Strength and conditioning certification to take, I recommend you take the quiz and find out what best suits you. The menu at the top of this page will answer any question related to personal training that you have. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment here (I’ll respond within 24 hours). Also, visit the home page for the most recent and popular articles.

CSCS exam breakdown

NSCA CSCS exam breakdown

The current 2019 CSCS test comprises 2 sections.

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The first section is made up of 80 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions. This section is split into 2 domains.

Section two is a bit bigger and features 110 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions. This section comprises 4 domains. 

We will be looking at the January 2019 NSCA CSCS Handbook as our guide.

  • Section 1 (1.5 hours/95 questions): Scientific Foundations. This section covers the fundamental principles governing exercise science.

    This is the very basic stuff you need to know before learning how to actually apply it in a client scenario. This section is 1.5 hours long.

    Section one consists of the first 2 domains out of the total 6 domains. Domain 1 is a focus on physiological and biomechanical elements of exercise science while Domain 2 is a focus on nutrition and energy transfer systems.
    • Domain 1: Exercise Science. Percent of section (74%). Total questions (59 questions)
      Anatomy (musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, joints and connective tissue). Biomechanics (movement patterns, mobility, agility, functional range of motion). Biochemical activity (metabolism, energy pathways, endocrine system). Psychology.
    • Domain 2: Nutrition. Percentage of section (26%). Total questions (21 questions)
      Nutrition as it affects performance and general health. Nutritional choices, macro monitoring. Diet-related psychology and disorders.
    • 15 non-scored questions
  • Section 2 (2.5 hours/125 questions): Practical/Applied. Here you will be focusing on how to apply the principles of Section 1 into actionable instructions and programs for your clients as well as the administrative side of operating as a PT. It includes image and video resources to test your competence across its domains.

    Section two consists of the remaining 4 domains out of the 6 total domains. Domain 3 is exercise technique, Domain 4 focuses on how to design programs, Domain 5 test your organizational and administrative competencies and Domain 6 is your client testing and evaluation grading.
    • Domain 3: Exercise Technique. Percentage of section (35%). Total questions (38 questions)
      In this domain, you will be tested on, resistance, agility, sprint, and plyometric training. Energy systems, ATP cycle and metabolic conditioning. Flexibility conditioning and spotting techniques.
    • Domain 4: Program Design. Percentage of section (35%). Total questions (39 questions)
      In domain number 4, you will be graded on your proficiency in creating tailored plans and programs for your clients. The focus will be on raining methods and modes; Exercise selection, order and intensity as well as determining volume, progressive overload, unloading and reconditioning. Determining functional range and one rep limits as well as warm up and recovery protocols.
    • Domain 5: Organization and Administration. Percentage of section (12%). Total questions (13 questions)
      This domain is what you will need to know in order to run an effective business. You will be tested on organizational structure, administrative layout. Legal and ethical standards, insurance and bookkeeping.
    • Domain 6: Testing and Evaluation. Percentage of section (18%). Total questions (20 questions)
      Domain 6 tests you on test selection and administration. Testing methods, tools and protocols. How to read, interpret, evaluate and apply results.
    • 15 non-scored questions

Non-scored Questions

You will notice that each section has 15 non-scored questions. These questions do not count towards the final score but are used by the CSCS Exam Development Committee to evaluate potential new questions.

You won’t be able to spot which questions are non-scored or scored as they are interspersed within the exam sections.

CSCS test difficulty – How hard is the CSCS exam?

CSCS test difficulty – How hard is the NSCA CSCS exam?

The CSCS exam is known to be quite a challenge. It is considered one of the highest strength certifications available at present. This is why I recommend my students to use Trainer Academy study materials. Check out my free CSCS study materials here.

The level of difficulty is understandable considering the level of development given to the cert as well as the level of credibility it grants successful candidates.

The CSCS exam was developed for use with top performing athletes. It goes far beyond a personal trainer level certification.

Because of this, it is a prerequisite if you have any ambitions of getting into the pro athlete training game, and the exam challenges you appropriately.

The CSCS is designed to separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak. It requires a level of technical aptitude needed to push college or career athletes to the podium, and as a trainer, you’ll want to aim for that same top tier level.

That’s also the reason why the prerequisite to even be allowed to take the exam is:

  • A bachelor’s degree or enrollment in an exercise science or equivalent degree
  •  Up to date AED/CPR certification.

With all that said, it’s not impossible. It really boils down to prep. Many people who have tried and failed probably didn’t put in the adequate amount of time and focus in to prepare, and that’s why I’m here to help.

In my opinion, the best way to prep is by taking advantage of a mindset fresh full of cutting edge exercise training or hands on experience. As an idea, I recommend that you only take on the CSCS off the back of a good cert such as one from NASM or ACE. Studying a degree in exercise science, is also a great platform for preparation.

So aside from just honing in on the study material you should:

  • Be fresh off a degree or a degree level certification
  • Have regular experience working with athletes
  • Be stuck in or just completed an athlete training internship
  • Have a well-rounded and tested applied knowledge of high-level exercise science.
  • Devote yourself to the study material. 2 – 3 months of dedicated immersion will give you the edge you need

So to sum it up, the CSCS exam is difficult, but with the right kind of prep and immersion in the world of hands-on exercise science, you will nail it. This one is not for the first timer for sure.

CSCS exam pass rate

NSCA CSCS exam pass rate

As I’ve just covered, the CSCS is a doozy, it’s a challenging exam meant to equip you for a challenging career. As such, the pass rate hovers around 56%. That means you’re almost as likely to pass as you are to fail on your first try. Just another reason why I recommend picking up Trainer Academies study materials as they boast a 99% pass rate. This is especially true with the grueling retest costs one needs to pay if you fail.

As of 2018, the exam statistics were as follows:

  • 66% Pass rate for the Scientific Foundations (Section 1)
  • 67% Pass rate for the Practical/Applied (Section 2)
  • 56% Pass rate for both sections.

When you consider that the pass mark is 70%, which many would consider generous, it just goes to show the level you are gunning for when taking this exam.

So with a 44% fail rate, I cannot emphasize how important it is to prepare correctly.  Good thing you’re reading this!

CSCS practice test

The CSCS program doesn’t come with a fully crafted practice exam like some of the more general PT certs would have. Instead, they offer several practice or example questions in the official textbook.

The Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning textbook is your bread and butter when it comes to beating this challenging exam. It also comes loaded with mini practice tests that will give you a good enough handle on what to expect come exam time.

Remember to go for the latest possible edition of the book. The most relevant edition is the 4th.

This is because the theory and practice surrounding the concepts you’ll be tested on are continuously evolving through research and evidence based science.

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There are also several useful third-party guides and ebooks out there with practice questions and relevant test scenarios to help you. You can find the best CSCS Practice tests here. Check out my free CSCS practice test here.



Here are additional NSCA CSCS exam frequently asked questions I get.

Are there CSCS practice exams?

Not exactly, the CSCS does not include a fully designed test exam as is common with a lot of similar certs. Instead, the various study materials such as the text book come loaded up with some practice questions and exam scenarios you can make use of.

You can also find loads of mock tests and example questions from previous CSCS exams created by reputable third party sources. You can find the best practice exams here.

What is the exam enrollment period?

Once you feel prepared (and I mean REALLY prepared) you can register online to take the exam. You will be given exam authorization within 2-3 working days through an Authorization to Test email from Pearson VUE. The email will instructions on how to schedule your exam.

From there, you have 120 days to take the exam. Your eligibility dates will be listed in the authorization email.

How many questions are on the CSCS exam and what’s a passing grade?

The CSCS comes packed with 80 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions in the first section and 110 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions in section 2. This gives you a total of 220 multiple choice questions.

The passing grade for the entire exam is 70%.

Where can you take the CSCS exam?

You can take the CSCS exam at your nearest Pearson VUE testing center. There are several nationwide which cater to the specific requirements of the CSCS.

To find out which center is nearest to you, take a look here.

What are the prerequisites for the CSCS exam?

The NSCA CSCS exam prerequisites are pretty straight forward. You need to hold a bachelor’s degree or be enrolled in a college degree program in exercise science or similar field of study to be eligible. You also need to have an AED/CPR cert locked down before you can enroll.

What happens if you fail the CSCS exam?

Failing the CSCS is a common occurrence. You have a slightly higher chance of passing than failing, but the possibility of failing is high enough that you should consider the retake option.

According to the NSCA website, the retake criteria are as follows:

  • You need to wait 90 days to retake an exam from the last exam you took. This is standard procedure, allowing you to optimize your prep
  • You can register online fir a retake within the 90-day time period. You can do this 4-5 business working after a failed exam before signing up for a retake.
  • You have an unlimited opportunity to retake the exam.
  • You don’t need to resubmit your AED/CPR unless it has expired.
  • If you only failed one section of the exam, you only need to retake that section. You do need to make sure you get a pass in both sections or you’ll have to resit the whole exam

When do you receive your certificate after taking the exam?

After successfully completing the CSCS exam, you will receive your certification package within 6-8 working weeks.

There is no electronic version of the certificate available currently.

How long is the CSCS certification valid for?

Your certification is valid for 3 years from the passing of the CSCS exam. You will need to retake the exam before this period expires.

If your cert does expire, you can petition for reinstatement as long as you get these things down

  • All CEUs earned during the reporting period you missed.
  • Submit proof that all needed CEUs were earned since the last successful recert and earned in line with the the recert policy  at that time.
  • A verified, current CPR/AED cert
  • Payment of reinstatement and re cert fees of previous recert timeframe

How much does the CSCS test cost?

The CSCS exam has multiple cost structures depending on your NSCA membership status and whether you’re retaking the exam.

The costs are as follows:

NSCA Member         

  • Exam Registration                  $340
  • Retake fee for both sections  $340
  • Retake fee for one section     $250


  • Exam Registration                  $475
  • Retake fee for both sections  $475
  • Retake fee for one section     $385

CSCS exam conclusion

And that’s a wrap for my in depth break down of the NSCA CSCS exam. To be honest, this is probably the most difficult exam you can take as a personal trainer. And that’s because this program isn’t really designed for your every day PT.

This one requires dedication and focus, so take the quiz and find out if the NSCA CSCS is really where your path leads.

The CSCS exam is simply very difficult. They also have an extremely steep retest fee for it. Make sure to pick up a fantastic study guide in practice test in order to make sure you pass on the first try. Check out my free CSCS study materials here.

The CSCS is for the big leagues, literally. It is the gateway to a lucrative, but high pressure career in the realm of professional athletics.

It is designed to enable you to guide ambitious athletes towards victory on the field hence the level of challenge.

It’s still a great cert for general PT clients and will give you an absolute edge in any situation.

Find out more about the CSCS here and don’t forget to drop a comment with your thoughts below.

Until the next one…

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