Hey there, welcome to my NSCA CSCS exam prep guide. This is your ultimate destination if you’re prepping or thinking of taking the CSCS final exam. 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 practice 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 CSCS practice tests in addition to what I’ll give you in this article, Have a look at the free CSCS practice exam, 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.
On the CSCS exam dates, you will be fully prepared to make the pass 54% pass rate.
Don’t hesitate to drop me a comment if you have any questions not answered by this article. If you want more exam prep materials for the CSCS, I recommend checking out Trainer Academy. They boast a 99% pass rate for the CSCS certification. I also have a free CSCS study guide in practice test here on my website.
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.
With that out the way, let’s get into the CSCS ultimate exam prep guide.
CSCS Exam Break Down
You’ve heard it a million times by now, but the CSCS exam is super tough. The best way to begin the battle is to know how the exam is laid out. The testing structure was updated on Jan 31st, 2020.
- Section 1: Scientific Foundations. These are the basic principles behind strength and conditioning. There are three domains in this section.
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 exercise sciences:(55% of section score/44 questions). Organ systems, musculoskeletal systems, neuromuscular activity.
- Domain 2: Sports psychology: (24% of section score/19 questions). Psychological techniques and knowledge to enhance training.
- Domain 2:(21% of section score/17 questions)
Diet and nutrition, energy systems and the influence of nutrition on biochemical reactions
- Section 2 Practical/Applied. This section tests your knowledge on the practical and organizational component of being a certified strength and conditioning specialist. 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 exercise technique: (36% of section score/ 40 questions)
Focus on resistance and plyometric training, maximizing speed and agility, flexibility and spots as well as ATP and energy pathways.
- Domain 2 Program design: (35% of section score/ 38 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 Organization and administration: (11% of section score/12 questions)
Focus on industry policy, laws, bylaws, and insurance implementation for the setup, maintenance and growth of a coaching business.
- Domain 4 Testing and evaluation: Percentage of section (18% of section score/20 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 exercise technique: (36% of section score/ 40 questions)
Like most cert exams, CSCS contains a bunch of 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 to treat every single question with the same high degree of attention and urgency.
And Now for Some 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. For more CSCS practice questions, check out Trainer Academy here. Check out my free CSCS practice test here.
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’s 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 cross bridging 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 CSCS test answers.
Top four most difficult 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 cross-bridge, 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.
With the CSCS exam cost, see the CSCS test dates as a real deal.
Now that you’ve had a taste of the 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.
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 in the CSCS exam content description booklet and have the 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 CSCS study guide 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.
CSCS Study Material Essentials
The CSCS 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 CSCS 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 general memorization 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 CSCS practice tests or testing tips is that NSCA doesn’t officially offer any. All you get from the CSCS study guide is what to study, but not how (I’ve touched on my dissatisfaction with the CSCS study material in another article). In order to get some good prep time in with authentic practice tests, you’ll need to go to the third party.
A few reputable sources provide unofficial CSCS test and study guides. Here are a few of those.
CSCS Study Guide
Let’s start things off with my very own and very free 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. For a premium study guide that includes an exam pass guarantee, check out Trainer Academy. Check out my free CSCS study get here.
CSCS Practice Test Preps
Attempting at least a few CSCS practice exams is absolutely essential to know whether or not you are ready to take the real exam. I can’t tell you how many of my students have failed the test because they did not know whether or not they were fully ready for the real thing.
The team over at Trainer Academy has fantastic CSCS practice tests to use. They 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. Check out the CSCS practice exams from Trainer Academy here. Check out my free CSCS practice test here.
All these guides and prep materials are third party and unofficial. That means they are not supported by NSCA. That being said, the ones I’ve just listed are the Overall best study materials for the CSCS. I have had hundreds of students use these study materials with success. Pricing varies based on where you buy them from and what option you choose.
Another great format for your CSCS exam preparation material is flashcards. 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.
If you are going to use flashcards to study, I highly recommend using a flashcard application that utilizes space repetition studying. Spaced repetition flashcards will save you a ton of time overall and will help you reinforce the difficult topics in your head instead of repeating the easy ones.
How it works is after you are shown the answer to a flashcard, you rate yourself on how easy that definition was for you. Over time, the easy definitions will be shown less and less while the harder definitions will be shown more and more until you understand them. This way you focus on what you really need to study instead of the stuff you already know.
Luckily, the team over at Trainer Academy has 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. And what’s best of all is that their flashcards utilize spaced repetition learning. Check out an awesome deck of 1,000 CSCS flashcards here. Well, that’s about it for my CSCS exam tips.
CSCS 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. Make sure to check out Trainer Academy to see if their study materials are right for you. Check out my free CSCS study materials here.
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, redo them and redo them again. Trust me, you’ll need it.
This article is an eye-opener on how to ace CSCS exams with ease! If you have more questions, you can drop it in the comment box below the FAQ.
CSCS Exam Prep FAQ
What is NSCA CSCS?
NSCA CSCS means National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
It was established in 1985 to support and advance the works of strength and conditioning experts inclusive of certification.
How difficult is it to pass the NSCA CSCS exams?
The NSCA CSCS exam is slightly difficult so you have to be well prepared to pass it at the first attempt given the retest fee which is on the high side. With the Trainer Academy study guide, practice tests and my free CSCS study materials, it will be a walkover for you.
How do you become a certified strength and conditioning specialist?
- You must have a Bachelor’s degree or higher degree OR currently be enrolled as a college senior at an accredited institution.
- You must have a current CPR/AED certification
- You must register for the exams, pass and become a certified CSCS
What study tips can you apply to pass CSCS certification?
To meet up with the pass rate of the CSCS exams, you should do the following when studying:
- Have a firm understanding of the concepts in the textbook “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: 4th Edition”.
- Get familiar with the practice exam question using a study guide
- Make use of third party study materials especially those from Trainer Academy
- Internalize every concept you have study and not just memorize it
What are the essentials contained in the CSCS study material?
- CSCS Study Guide
- CSCS Practice Test Preps
- CSCS Flash-cards
How important is the CSCS practice tests to your success?
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.
How useful are NSCA CSCS flashcards in preparing for CSCS exams?
Despite the nuanced approach of CSCS exams, the use of a flashcard application on space repetition studying will help you save time while reinforcing the difficult topics in your head instead of repeating the easy ones.
What is the NSCA CSCS exam cost?
The NSCA CSCS exams will cost members $340 and $475 for non-members.
What does the CSCS exam content description booklet entail?
The CSCS exam content description booklet explains the different sections and topics of the exams, which is meant to test the candidate’s knowledge of Scientific Foundations and the Practical/Applied areas.
Are CSCS practice exams available?
CSCS practice exams are available if you purchase the CSCS study packs which are in different variants of $162, $258, and $472 for members and $215, $313, and $532 for non-members respectively.
What is the NSCA CSCS exam pass rate?
With proper preparation using the right materials, you will hit and exceed the 54% pass rate.
Using study resources from the Trainer Academy gives you a 99% pass rate automatically.
When and where can you take the CSCS exams?
The CSCS exams can be taken within 120 days of registration, at the nearest Pearson VUE testing center.
Will studying NSCA CSCS online help me pass?
Yes, If you have a scheduled study period which you are dedicated to, alongside the constant practice of online tests, you have a higher chance of passing your exams at first attempt.