CSCS Exam FAQ 2023 - Pass Rate, Costs, and More

Welcome to PTpioneer, and I hope this article assists you in learning about the NSCA-CSCS.

This is a complete FAQ and CSCS information page to learn everything you need to know about the CSCS certified strength coach program. This page will cover topics like:

Frequently Asked Questions
General NSCA CSCS Certification Info
Exam and Other NSCA Costs

Get your copy of the CSCS exam cheat sheet and our study plan. It helps immensely in studying for the exam.

Make sure to check out Trainer Academy for premium NSCA CSCS study materials. They will reduce study time by 50% and have an exam pass guarantee. Read my full review of them here. You can save $100 on their MVP study system with the code: PTPSUB

NSCA CSCS Study Series


CSCS Exam FAQ in Video Form

CSCS EXAM FAQ 2023 - CSCS Exam Pass Rate, CSCS Test Difficulty and Info ✔️

CSCS Exam Breakdown

NSCA CSCS exam breakdown

The current 2023 CSCS test is comprised of two tests.

The first test is made up of 80 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions. This test comprises 3 domains. The testing structure was updated most recently in 2021.

Test two is a bit bigger and features 110 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions. This test comprises four domains. 

If you are wondering how to become a strength and conditioning coach with NSCA, then you will need to pass these two separate tests of the CSCS exam.

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Test 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 3 domains out of seven. Domain 1 has a focus on physiological and biomechanical elements of exercise science, and Domain 2 focuses on the psychology behind exercise and sports, while Domain 3 has a focus on nutrition and energy transfer systems.

  • Domain 1: Exercise Science. Percent of section (55%). Total questions (44 questions) Anatomy (musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, joints, and connective tissue). Biomechanics (movement patterns, mobility, agility, functional range of motion). Biochemical activity (metabolism, energy pathways, endocrine system).
  • Domain 2: Sports psychology: (24% of section score/19 questions). Psychological techniques and knowledge to enhance training.
  • Domain 3: Nutrition. Percentage of section (21%). Total questions (17 questions)
    Nutrition as it affects performance and general health. Nutritional choices, macro monitoring. Diet-related psychology and disorders.
  • 15 non-scored questions

Test 2 (2.5 hours/125 questions): Practical/Applied Section. Here you will be focusing on how to apply the principles of Test 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.
Test two consists of the remaining four domains out of the seven total domains. Domain 4 covers exercise technique, Domain 5 looks into the design of programs, Domain 6 tests your organizational and administrative competencies, and Domain 7 is over client testing and evaluation grading.

  • Domain 4: Exercise Technique. Percentage of section (36%). Total questions (40 questions) In this domain, you will be tested on resistance, agility, sprinting, and plyometric training. Energy systems, ATP cycle, and metabolic conditioning. Also, flexibility, conditioning, and spotting techniques.
  • Domain 5: Program Design. Percentage of section (35%). Total of questions (38 questions) In domain 5, you will be graded on your proficiency in creating tailored plans and programs for your clients. The focus will be on training methods and modes, exercise selection, exercise order, exercise intensity, and determining the volume, progressive overload, unloading, and reconditioning. Determining functional range and one rep limits, as well as warm-up and recovery protocols.
  • Domain 6:Organization and Administration. Percentage of section (11%). Total questions (12 questions) This domain will go over the things you need to know so that you may run a business effectively. You get tested on the organizational structure and administrative layouts, as well as the legal and ethical standards, insurance, and bookkeeping.
  • Domain 7: Testing and Evaluation. Percentage of Section (18%). Total questions (20 questions) Domain 7 will test on the selection and administration of tests, as well as the methods of testing, tools, protocols, and more. Some other parts will be over reading, interpreting, evaluating, and applying 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.

The actual pass rate is right around 57% in the most recent studies of the exam. That is just barely over half of the test takers passing the test.

This is why I recommend my students 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 CSCS certification 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 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 an adequate amount of time and focus on preparing, and that’s why I’m here to help.

In my opinion, the best way to prep is by taking advantage of a fresh mindset 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:

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  • 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

Using CSCS flashcards will make studying for CSCS testing less stressful as you prepare for final exams with the CSCS test questions 2019 that are available online.

How long is the CSCS exam?

The actual test is going to take you around 4 hours in total, with 2.5 hours reserved for one part and 1.5 for the second part.

It is definitely important to know how to study for CSCS testing to do your best.

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 one fails.

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 CSCS pass score 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!


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

CSCS Exam Conclusion

And that’s a wrap for my in-depth breakdown 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 everyday 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 tests 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.

How much do strength and conditioning coaches make?

The CSCS certification salary is one to look forward to after passing the exams, with the average salary being in the range of 50-60k.

The highest-paid strength and conditioning coach makes around 787,000$ in a year, so there is a high ceiling for pay.

It is designed to enable you to guide ambitious athletes toward 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 your thoughts in the comment box below the FAQ while you are on your road to become a strength and conditioning coach.

Until the next one…

Tyler Read

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT. Tyler holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Sonoma State University and is a certified personal trainer (CPT) with NASM (National Academy of sports medicine), and has over 15 years of experience working as a personal trainer. He is a published author of running start, and a frequent contributing author on Healthline and Eat this, not that.

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3 thoughts on “CSCS Exam FAQ 2023 – Pass Rate, Costs, and More”

  1. PTPioneer User

    Hi Tyler,

    Would I be eligible to take the CSCS exam if I have completed a bachelors degree in a field such as accounting? I’m currently working as an accountant and high school varsity soccer coach and would like to develop my strength and conditioning expertise for my player. Thanks for your help!

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Olek,
      About 10 years ago, it was required to have a four year degree in exercise science in order to take the CSCS exam. Currently all you need is a four year degree in any topic. So if you have a bachelors degree in accounting, you will be eligible to take the exam and become a certified strength and conditioning specialist coach. I hope this helps.

  2. PTPioneer User

    Hi, I bought CSCS mvp package from trainer academy. Do I need to buy regular book (essentials of strength and conditioning 4th edition) to prepare to the CSCS exam? Or knowledge in this package and your free study guide are enough to be ready?
    thanks in advance

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