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    I’m sure if you’re reading this you’re getting prepped or trying to figure out how to prep 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 2021. You will also learn about the differences between the CSCS practice questions 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 tests here on my website.

    Get the CSCS exam cheat sheet for free here. Courtesy of Trainer Academy.

    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.

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      CSCS Exam FAQ in Video Form

      CSCS exam breakdown

      NSCA CSCS exam breakdown

      The current 2021 CSCS test comprises 2 sections.

      The first section is made up of 80 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions. This section is split into 2 domains. The testing structure was updated on Jan 31st, 2020.

      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 2021 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 (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). Psychology.
        • 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
      • 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 4: Exercise Technique. Percentage of section (36%). Total questions (40 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 5: Program Design. Percentage of section (35%). Total questions (38 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 6: Organization and Administration. Percentage of section (11%). Total questions (12 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 7: 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 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:

      • 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 less stressful as you prepare for final exams with the CSCS test questions 2019 that are available online.

      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!

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      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 practices 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 CSCS 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.

      The CSCS exam cost is more than enough to make you dedicate time to using the CSCS study guide pdf to prepare ahead.

      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.

      CSCS Test FAQ

      NSCA CSCS Test FAQ

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

      Are there CSCS practice exams?

      Not exactly, it does not include a fully designed free CSCS practice exam as is common with a lot of similar certs. Instead, the various study materials such as the textbook 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 exam prep created by reputable third-party sources. You can find the best practice exams here.

      What is the exam enrollment period?

      Depending on when you feel confident with answering the CSCS card mock test free online and NSCA CSCS practice exam, you can go ahead.

      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 exams come 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 nation-wide 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 a 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 for 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 recertification and earned in line with the recertification policy at that time.
      • A verified, current CPR/AED cert
      • Payment of reinstatement and re-cert fees of previous recertification 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 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 a high-pressure career in the realm of professional athletics.

      The CSCS certification salary is one to look forward to after passing the exams

      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 your thoughts in the comment box below the FAQ.

      Until the next one…

      CSCS Exam FAQ

      The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) exam comprise of two sections used in testing the candidate’s knowledge in the Scientific Foundations and Practical/Applied areas.

      The CSCS exam question has a high level of difficulty due to the fact that it is more of an applied exam and considered one of the highest strength certifications for personal trainers who want to work with top-performing athletes.

      The requirements for taking the CSCS certification exams are:

      • A bachelor’s degree or enrollment in a college degree program in exercise science or a similar field of study
      • An AED/CPR certificate

      Yes, you can! But they are from useful third-party such as Trainer Academy who have them available so you can have a 99% pass rate at your fist attempt.

      The pass rate was 56% for both sections of the CSCS exam in 2018.

      • 66% pass rate for the Scientific Foundations (Section 1)
      • 67% pass rate for the Practical/Applied (Section 2)

      Getting familiar with the structure and tone of CSCS exams can only be achieved by consistently practicing the tests.

      Trainer Academy has great CSCS practice tests that resemble the real exams as closely as you will find. They have three full practice tests, one randomized test and unlimited domain-specific quizzes that you can use.

      Doing all of these will give you a 99% pass rate in the exams.

      NSCA CSCS does not have flashcards as part of its study materials, however, Trainer Academy has put together some flashcards that will help you with memorizing important facts, figures, and concepts for quick and easy reference during your CSCS test prep and final exam.

      The practice tests enable you to be familiar with the structure and the tone of CSCS final exams with constant practice.

      Since CSCS does not have a fully designed practice exam like other certifications, you can find some practice questions and exam scenarios in The Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning textbook.

      You can also find loads of mock tests and example questions from previous CSCS exam prep created by reputable third-party sources such as the Trainer Academy.

      The NSCA CSCS exams will cost members $340 and $475 for non-members.

      The CSCS exam has 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions in the scientific foundation section and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions in the practical/applied areas also.

      The credibility level of CSCS certification is very high given it is structured for personal trainers who want to level up their pro athlete training game.

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      3 thoughts on “CSCS Exam FAQ – CSCS exam pass rate, CSCS test difficulty, and Info”

      1. 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. 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. 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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