Hey there, welcome to my NSCA CSCS exam prep guide. This is your ultimate destination if you’re prepping or thinking of taking the NSCA CSCS final. I’ll provide tips and pointers on how to keep yourself in the game and ace what will probably be one of the hardest exams you’ve tried.
In this article, I’ll help you through some of the more difficult questions and tricky sections that typically trip people up in the exam. This will be a definitive guide, and if you manage to correctly follow my advice, you should end up on the right side of the 54% pass rate.
If you’re looking for more NSCA CSCS practice tests in addition to what I’ll give you in this article, Have a look at the free tests and quizzes I’ve compiled here.
If all this is a bit confusing and you’re still stuck in your head trying to figure out which certification is right for you, take this quiz. It will help give you a clear idea of what you should be aiming for.
Don’t hesitate to drop me a comment if you have any questions not answered by this article.
With that out the way, let’s get into the NSCA CSCS ultimate exam prep guide.
NSCA CSCS Exam Break Down
You’ve heard it a million times by now, but the NSCA CSCS exam is super tough. The best way to begin the battle is to know how the exam is laid out.
- Section 1: Scientific Foundations. These are the basic principles behind strength and conditioning
The meat and veggies of the exam, section 1 is a take on the fundamentals of strength and conditioning theory.
Look forward to basic physiology, biokinetics and anatomy in domain 1 of this section, while domain two looks at the principles of nutrition and biochemical activity.
- Domain 1:(74% of section score/59 questions). Organ systems, musculoskeletal systems, neuromuscular activity.
- Domain 2:(26% of section score/21 questions)
Diet and nutrition, energy systems and the influence of nutrition on biochemical reactions
- Domain 1:(74% of section score/59 questions). Organ systems, musculoskeletal systems, neuromuscular activity.
- Section 2 Practical/Applied. This section tests your knowledge on the practical and organizational component of being a strength and conditioning coach. The CSCS exam won’t actually test you in any practical way, even though the concepts in this section are based on practical application.
There are 4 domains in this section. 1 focuses on exercise technique, 2 is on program design, 3 looks into organizational and administrative skills and 4 tests your ability to test and assess your clients.
- Domain 1: (35% of section score/ 38 questions)
Focus on resistance and plyometric training, maximizing speed and agility, flexibility and spotting as well as ATP and energy pathways.
- Domain 2: (35% of section score/ 39 questions)
Focus on programming, program design, personalized plans based on client assessment data. Client follow up, exercise progression, warm up and warm down strategies.
- Domain 3: (12% of section score/13 questions)
Focus on industry policy, laws, bylaws and insurance implementation for the setup, maintenance and growth of a coaching business.
- Domain 4: Percentage of section (12% of section score/13 questions)
Focus on testing tools, standards and protocols required to effectively determine areas in need of a corrective approach where optimizing performance is concerned.
- Domain 1: (35% of section score/ 38 questions)
Like most cert exams, NSCA CSCS contains a bunch on non scored questions. These questions don’t count anything towards your final score, instead they are a way to test the test, test inception!
On a more serious note, the non-scored test questions are there as a means of quality and research control. They are used to determine the future structuring of the CSCS exam. You won’t see them coming because they are spread out across the entire exam within relevant sections and domains.
Because of this, I advise you treat every single question with the same high degree of attention and urgency.
And Now for Some NSCA Practice CSCS Test Questions
To be fair, most of the NSCA CSCS exam questions are difficult. With a 54% pass rate, what else would you expect? Here we will go through what I found to be the most difficult of the difficult and hopefully that will give you the right sort of edge.
By familiarizing yourself with the toughest questions, you should gain an advantage come exam time.
Within striated muscle tissue, the sarcolemma has an important role in muscular contraction. What is the sarcolemma main function ?
- The sarcolemma’s main function is the conduction of electrical signals, utilizing transduction, thereby signaling Ca2+ ion release.
- The sarcolemma’s main function is the pumping of Ca2+ ions in and out of muscle fibers.
- The sarcolemma’s main function is the conduction of electrical signals, utilizing the neuromuscular junction.
- The sarcolemma’s main function is the coordination of communication between the CNS and individual muscle cells.
When muscular contraction occurs, a movement generating cross bridge is formed by two proteins. Name these proteins and describe the function which they are responsible for in the cross bridge
- The two proteins are Actin and Myosin where Actin (thin filament) creates binding sites and Myosin (thick filament) creates the crosslink for the bridge
- The two proteins are Troponin and Tropomyosin where Troponin (thin filament) creates binding sites while Tropomyosin(thick filament) creates a crosslink with the actin filament.
- The two proteins are Actin and Myosin where Myosin (thick filament) creates binding sites and Actin (thin filament) creates the crosslink for the bridge.
- The two proteins are Troponin and Tropomyosin where Tropomyosin is a long-chain filament serving a function in crossbridging while Troponin (thick filament) serves as a myosin binding site.
When it comes to muscular contraction, define the all-or-none principle?
- That an action potential must be present for muscular contraction to occur, and that the contraction intensity varies according to the rate of signal transduction along the muscle’s sarcolemma.
- The all-or-nothing principle refers to the nervous system’s confounding elements as well as the way the rate and type of muscular contractions’ neural signaling varies.
- That after an action potential has been released onto the sarcolemma, a complete muscular contraction that takes place, without which, no contraction occurs.
- That there needs to be a variation in signal strength in order for a muscle contraction to occur and that the number of motor units activated is based on the strength of the signal.
What cardiac phase is represented by diastole?
- Diastole is characterized by ventricular contraction during the cardiac cycle, transporting blood from the atria to working tissue.
- Diastole is characterized by left ventricular contraction during the cardiac cycle, transporting oxygenated blood to working tissue.
- Diastole is characterized by ventricular and atrial relaxation during the cardiac cycle, allowing the heart to fill with blood.
- Diastole is characterized by ventricular relaxation and atrial contraction during the cardiac cycle, leading blood into the ventricles for systole to occur.
Try your best to answer these questions before moving onto the NSCA test answers.
Top four most difficult NSCA CSCS exam answers
CSCS question number 1 breakdown: This will take you straight to chapter 1, Structures and Functions of Body Systems.
Because you know the sarcolemma is responsible for causing contractions in muscle fibers once excited by the release of acetylcholine, you would expect the answer selection to be that straightforward.
However, when it comes to the CSCS, you’re challenged to understand the complex background of a question in order to get the answer as opposed to the typical 1 to 1 correlation you get in normal exams.
This means, instead of just finding an answer that states what happens, you have to find one that states how and why it happened.
So for question 1, the answer is B: The primary function of the sarcolemma is to conduct electrical signals, via transduction, signaling the release of Ca2+ ions.
CSCS question number 2 breakdown: This answer requires you to have studied and understood figure 1.6 in the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning textbook.
As with most other questions, the answer is rarely something you can directly pull from the text. It requires you to make a logical deduction based having understood what’s going on.
In this case, the textbook doesn’t explicitly state which protein plays which role in the formation of the crossbridge, so you have to figure that out and apply it yourself. No spoon-feeding here.
When you look at figure 1.6 in the book, you can see clearly that myosin is the link between two actin double helices.
So for question 2, the answer is A: The two proteins are Actin and Myosin where Actin (thin filament) creates binding sites and Myosin (thick filament) creates the crosslink for the bridge.
CSCS question number 3 breakdown: This question is slightly more straight forward than the others, but still manages to be tricky with the wording of the answer choices.
This is another muscle action question from chapter 1. The answer can be found on page 9 of the textbook. The section relevant to this question states that once acetylcholine generates an action potential, all muscle fibers contract indiscriminately.
This is known as a “complete contraction” and as far as any science currently out there is concerned, there is no such thing as an incomplete contraction with health muscle action.
So when parsing the choices, look out for an answer that signifies this.
In the case of question 3, the answer is C: That after an action potential has been released onto the sarcolemma, a complete muscular contraction that takes place, without which, no contraction occurs.
CSCS question number 4 breakdown: This question is tricky due to the fact that it’s actually very vague.
The diastole phase of the cardiac cycle has two parts. Early diastole and late diastole. In early diastole both the ventricular and atrial chambers relax and allow blood in, but during late diastole, only the ventricles are relaxed as the atria contract under systolic pressure, forcing blood into the ventricles.
Having said that, because the question speaks of diastole in general, you will be correct in assuming that it’s to do with the early diastolic phase. This is because, unless the sub-phase is specified, you must assume it is the active or late ventricular diastole.
So that means the answer to question 4 is D: Diastole is characterized by ventricular relaxation and atrial contraction during the cardiac cycle, leading blood into the ventricles for systole to occur.
Now that you’ve had a taste of the NSCA CSCS test questions, you have a basic idea of what you’re going to be dealing with. Let’s get into some pro study tips that will help you get through even the most challenging questions.
NSCA CSCS Study Tips
Because of the level of challenge the NCSA CSCS presents, you will need to prep accordingly. This isn’t one of those exams where you can simply memorize words and phrases from the textbook.
You will need a firm understanding of the concepts and have an ability to break them down as they pop up in the exam.
In this article I’ll guide you through some essential tips, hacks and material you can and should use to give you that much-needed edge.
The first thing you’ll want to get your hands on is of course, the textbook, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: 4th Edition.
NSCA CSCS: Study Material Essentials
The NSCA textbook is a robust and comprehensive knowledge resource. It provides college level, medical grade insight into exercise, strength and conditioning concepts.
With that being said, the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning is not adequate for test prep. In fact, it’s not really necessary outside of chapter reference and the memorization of NSCA proprietary methodologies and models.
The best and true way to really get a jump on CSCS exam prep is to practice the exam and have something that guides you through its content.
Practicing the exam questions with a comprehensive study guide will not only familiarize you with the tone and structure of the final paper, it will also help you recognize the level of attention and insight you need to put into and gain from your prep.
This is because, as we’ve gone through in the four practice questions, the question and answer choices require a broad understanding of concepts in order to answer. Where most exams in the strength, conditioning and fitness cert arena require a general memorisation of the principle text or study resources, CSCS requires that you internally get what’s going on in a practical way.
The problem with getting in on practice tests or testing tips is that NSCA doesn’t officially offer any. All you get from NSCA study guide is what to study, but not how (I’ve touched on my dissatisfaction with CSCS prep material in another article). In order to get some good prep time in with authentic practice tests, you’ll need to go third party.
A few reputable sources provide unofficial practice tests and study guides. Here are a few of those.
- PT Pioneer CSCS Study Guide
Let’s start things off with my very own and very free NSCA CSCS Study Guide. After going through the material offered by NSCA, I took it upon myself to create a guide on how to pass the CSCS exam.
So check out my free study guide here.
- CSCS Practice Test Prep Book by Ascentia Test Prep
Ascentia is one of the most reputable third party test prep material publisher out there. They make tons of prep material for certs and qualification exams in the health and wellness fields.
The prep questions are sourced from official material relevant to the exam or test in question. The prep books are compiled by credentialed professionals.
The CSCS Practice Test Prep Book contains over 400 questions, answers and answer breakdowns from the CSCS exam.
- Secrets of the CSCS Exam Study Guide
From the Test Prep Guys, this definitive guide was created to help you dismantle the confusion the CSCS brings to the table. The Secrets of the CSCS equips you with insight into how the test is constructed, it’s many pitfalls and specific areas of focus.
The Secrets of the CSCS helps more with avoiding common stumbling blocks than fortifying your knowledge. An interesting and honestly, necessary take on exam prep.
- CSCS Study Guide by Certification Prep Team
Published by the CSCS Certification Prep Team, this guide gives a rounded approach to exam prep.
It contains a number of practice tests separated into relevant sections for ease of reference. Each question has an answer break down and each section summarizes key concepts and effective testing strategies.
What you’ll find in this guide:
- CSCS exam Intro
- Exam strategies
- Exercise science
- In-depth answer Break-downs
- Organization and admin.
- Practice Test Questions
- Program design
- Summarized overview
- CSCS Study Guide by Trivium Test Prep
A fun and hassle free approach to test prep, the Trivium Test Prep CSCS guide guides you through the concepts and strategies implemented by NSCA in the exam.
This guide claims to provide a straight-to-the-point approach to CSCS strategies for a successful exam campaign.
All these guides and prep materials are third party and unofficial. That means they are not supported by NSCA. That being said, the one’s I’ve just listed are the most authentic best bet I can recommend. Pricing varies based on where you buy them from and what option you choose (ebook vs hard copy).
Another great format for your NSCA CSCS exam preparation material is flash cards. Flashcards help fill the gaps when it comes to the things you really need to memorize.
Let’s face it, exams are very much reliant on memorization of facts and figures, and even though the CSCS exam requires a bit more of a nuanced approach than your typical CPT exam, you still need to remember important terminology and methodologies.
Luckily, I’ve put together some awesome flashcards that will help you cram important facts, figures and concepts for quick and easy reference during your CSCS test prep. Check out my CSCS flashcards here.
NSCA CPT exam tips.
NSCA test prep conclusion
So that’s pretty much a wrap. I hope you’ve found value and managed to get a handle on my CSCS study tips. I strongly recommend at least having a look at the CSCS study materials I’ve recommended.
If you’re still toying with the decision of whether to go for the CSCS, go ahead and take this quick quiz to help you figure out which certification is right for you.
Don’t forget the free study materials I’ve created for effective CSCS exam prep. You can grab the PTPioneer Study Guide and Flash Cards right here.
One big tip is to find a good bunch of practice tests and do them, re do them and re do them again. Trust me, you’ll need it.