NSCA Exam Faq – NSCA Exam Pass Rate, Test Difficulty and More!

NSCA Exam Faq

If you looking for a complete breakdown of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Personal Trainer certification, you’ve come to the right place!

In this blog post, we are going to take an in-depth look into all the information you could ever need when it comes to this certification which is one of the most popular all over the world. It’s even available in Italian, Chinese, Spanish, Korean and Japanese!

Subjects that will be covered include a breakdown of the certification exam, a look into how difficult the exam actually is, a comparison between practice tests and the real thing as well as the current pass rate for the exam.

That’s not all though.

We will also take a look at a range of other important questions pertaining to the exam. Things like exam venues, prerequisites for the exam, how long certification is valid for and costs are just a few of the things covered in this comprehensive post.

I highly recommend that you take the quiz to find out which personal training certification is the right one for 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.

Get a 3 certs for 1 with the ISSA Elite Trainer Program ($1,400 of savings).

Save 25% on NASM with code PTP25 or Save $200 on the ACE CPT.

Get 50% off MVP study materials for NASM, ACE or CSCS at Trainer Academy
50% off NASM study materials or 50% off ACE study materials or 50% off CSCS study materials

But now, let’s turn our focus to the CPT certification from NSCA.

NSCA CPT exam breakdown

NSCA CPT exam breakdown

The first thing we need to look at when it comes to the CPT exam from NSCA is to see exactly how it is broken down.

And the facts are as follows:

  • The exam consists of 155 questions. Of these, 140 are scored and 15 are non-scoring
  • The exam is split into four domains
  • You have three hours to complete the exams

Now you probably asking what are non-scored questions?

Basically, they are questions that the NSCA are considering for future exams and they are effectively in a testing phase, that’s why you are not scored on them.

Exam domains

Ok, so let’s take a little more of an in-depth look at the exam domains. They appear as follows in the certification test.

  • Client consultation and fitness assessment
  • Program planning
  • Exercise techniques
  • Issues around legal, safety and emergency procedures

Client consultation and fitness assessment (25% of the certification exam)

As you can see, a quarter of your exam will focus on the client consultation and fitness assessment module. So you need to know your stuff in this area, that’s for sure!

And what exactly will it focus on?

Well, concepts like the first interview with the client, doing a health appraisal, getting a comprehensive medical history, a basic overview of their fitness as well as an idea of their nutritional intake all fall into this category.

The exam has 32 questions from this section.

Program planning (31% of the certification exam)

Almost a third of your certification exam take in the program planning module. So yeah, it’s a pretty important module, that’s for sure.

And what does it involve?

Well, the concepts you need to understand from the program planning module are designing a program for a client, setting a client’s goals, how to adapt training in certain situations and dealing with special population groups (those who might have diabetes, or perhaps are obese, for example).

The exam has 45 questions from this section.

Exercise techniques (31% of the certification exam)

Exercise techniques  (31% of the certification exam)

Another massive module in terms of what it contributes to the exam, exercise techniques takes in almost a third of the questions that you will have to answer.

And what will they cover?

Well, these subjects from the module are important: exercises including the following categories, free-weights, machine resistance, flexibility, calisthenics, bodyweight, performance-related and cardiovascular. It also includes alternative training techniques and activities.

The exam has 43 questions from this section.

Issues around legal, safety and emergency procedures (13% of the certification exam)

The last module, which deals with legal and safety issues as well as emergency procedures accounts for the smallest part of the certification exam.

But that doesn’t mean its less important of course!

It covers subjects such as safety and legal issues, how to respond in an emergency as well as ethical considerations.

The exam has 20 questions from this section.

And there you have it, that’s pretty comprehensive and all you need to know when needing to breakdown the NSCA CPT exam in its module form.

NSCA test difficulty: How hard is the NSCA CPT exam?

NSCA test difficulty: How hard is the NSCA CPT exam?

It’s a question I get asked all the time and for just about every type of certification offered by a range of different organizations.

And my first bit of advice is, even if you have a background in the fitness world, you not just going to be able to wing it, fly by the seat of your pants and pass the NSCA CPT certification exam.

Ok, some people might be able to but it’s not worth it trying to find out if you are one of them.

As with every personal trainer certification offered by the full range of organizations, the NSCA CPT exam is pretty tough. And that means you need to know your stuff, inside and out!

We have already given you a substantial breakdown in terms of the modules you will be tested on, what they involve and their weight towards your final marks. When taking the certification exam, you need to make sure that you are as prepared as you can be.

And that means taking the time out to study everything, using study aids including guides and flashcards and taking as many practice tests as possible. Rest assured, if you are struggling to pass the practice test, the exam certainly won’t be any different.

These tests are also a great way to find out where you are strong (less studying there) and where you are weak. That, in turn, allows you to focus on improving the areas that are bringing your marks down.

If you got an answer wrong, it’s also wise to go back to your study materials to find out why you are wrong and what the right answer is and why.

So in a nutshell, it’s a tough exam, that’s for sure. And that means your preparation is key.

NSCA exam pass rate

Ok, so now that you know that the NSCA CPT certification exam is certainly no bed of roses and that you are going to need to put the hard work in to pass it, let me just reinforce that fact for you.

And I will do that by looking at the pass rate for the exam.

In 2018, NSCA says 77% of the candidates taking the exam, passed. Now you probably saying that’s good right? Well, 77% is a pretty high percentage but let’s break it down a little more.

If you took four people who wrote the exam, one of them FAILED! In other words, there is a 23% chance of failure. That’s pretty significant and again, show the exam is not easy.

Those number’s don’t tell the real story for first-time test takers, however. Just 54% of them will pass the exam the first time!

NSCA practice test vs real test

NSCA practice test vs real test

Ok, let’s get onto the next important question. And that’s how does the practice test relate in difficulty and concepts covered to the real test.

Let’s start by saying that the practice tests provided by the NSCA are a great place for you to judge your overall knowledge and exam readiness. As I stated earlier, if you cannot pass these, then you certainly are not ready for the exam.

There are lots of other practice tests available online for free and yes, they are good to go through but aren’t devised by the NSCA. If you are going to do other tests, make sure that they have fully explained answers that you can cross-reference with your course material.

You don’t want to be misled and then when it comes to the real exam, have incorrect information that you actually think is right.

Another thing to note, and its a reason why you should do as many practice tests from the NSCA itself, is that the exam is constantly changing. Remember those 15 non-scoring questions we talked about earlier? Well, those will in all probability be used as scoring questions in later exams and for the moment, are just being evaluated.

Get a 3 certs for 1 with the ISSA Elite Trainer Program ($1,400 of savings).

Save 25% on NASM with code PTP25 or Save $200 on the ACE CPT.

Get 50% off MVP study materials for NASM, ACE or CSCS at Trainer Academy
50% off NASM study materials or 50% off ACE study materials or 50% off CSCS study materials

The NSCA also provide 200 online practice questions as well as an exam prep clinic. Use these wisely and make sure you really are up to speed for the exam and well prepared.



Now let’s take a look at some of the other questions I frequently get asked about the NSCA exam.

If you have any more that are not covered here, why not drop us a comment below and we can try to help you out as best we can.

Are there NSCA practice exams?

Yes, there are plenty of NSCA practice exams.

When you sign up for the certification through the NSCA, part of the packages (and there are three to choose from, all costing a different amount) includes 200 online practice questions.

Without a doubt, you should go through all of these and for the ones you get wrong, find out why you had it wrong and more importantly, work out what the correct answer actually is.

The NSCA also offer other practice exams which you can purchase. It’s a good idea to set aside some money to try a few of these as well. Although they won’t feature any exact questions that you are likely to come across in the exam, they will give you a good feel of exam conditions, especially if you do them as part of your time management before the actual test.

A little internet search will also bring up plenty of other practice quizzes but as we mentioned, they are not from the NSCA so could even be horribly out of date. You could use them to test your overall knowledge but I would not rely just upon these tests alone.

What is the exam enrollment period?

Ok, let’s break this down because there are a few things that you should know.

Once you feel that you are ready to take the exam, you must register online to book it. Within a period of three days, you will receive an authorization email from Pearson VUE, the IT service management company that handles the exam testing for NSCA.

Follow the relevant links and register to take the exam at a date, time and location that suits you. And now for the important bit.

Once you have registered, you have 120 days to take and pass the exam.

Do note, however, that exam retakes start and end date eligibility might differ. This will be marked on your authorization email, so just check that for all the information.

If you do fail on the first attempt, you have to wait a period of three months before you can retake the test but there are no limits to the number of times you can attempt to pass.

How many questions are on the NSCA exam and whats a passing grade?

The NSCA exam consists of 140 questions on which you will be scored. Note, however, that there are an additional 15 non-scoring questions that the NSCA use for evaluation purposes for future certification exams.

The exam is three hours and to pass it, you will need a score of 70 or more.

Where can you take the NSCA exam?

Where can you take the NSCA exam?

Run through IT service management company, Pearson VUE, test centers are located all over the United States and in other countries around the globe as well.

Perhaps the best way to find a test center near you is to make use of Pearson’s search function, found here. Remember all the details for final exam certification are done through the authorization email that you would have received from Pearson when booking your exam through their website.

What are the prerequisites for the NSCA exam?

The NSCA is no different from any of the other certification organizations in the fact that in order to write the CPT exam, there are certain prerequisites that you need to abide by.

But what are these?

Well, to start with, you need to be 18 years old. You also need to have a high school diploma or the equivalent thereof. Last, but not least, you would need to have completed or plan to complete a CPR/AED course.

Note, you do not need the certification for the CPR/AED course when signing up for the NSCA CPT course. In fact, NSCA will let you write the exam but you need to provide proof of CPR/AED certification within a year of passing the CPT certification exam.

And where can you find a CPR/AED certification course?

Well, a number of organizations offer them including the American Safety Training Institute, the American Safety and Health Institute, American Red Cross, St. John’s Ambulance or the American Heart Association, amongst others.

Can you see your exam score afterward?

Yes, you will see your exam score after the test. You won’t be allowed to see the question as to which you had correct and which you had wrong, however, which stands to reason.

A score report can be downloaded 24 hours after you have completed the exam.

What happens if you fail the NSCA CPT exam?

If you fail the NSCA CPT exam, you are able to take a retest. Note, however, that you have to wait a period of three months before you can retake the test but there are no limits to the number of times you can attempt to pass.

And of course, a retest is going to cost you.

In fact, depending on the format you use to take the exam in, either written or online, a retest comes in between $185 to $235. The prices are also based on whether you are an NSCA member or not.

There is no limit on the number of retests you can attempt.

When do you receive your certificate after taking the exam?

When do you receive your certificate after taking the exam?

On passing the exam, you will not receive your certification immediately. Instead, this will be mailed to you by the NSCA and you should have it within a period of four to six weeks.

This will only happen once the NSCA has received any documentation that you might have outstanding, for instance, proof that you are CPR/AED certified.

How long is the NSCA certification valid for?

Like all other fitness organizations, the NSCA requires that those candidates who have passed the CPT exam and are therefore qualified NSCA CPT practitioners are recertified from time to time.

And in the case of the NSCA, this means paying recertification fees every three years.

You will also need to provide proof that you are still CPR/AED certified as well and complete a number of Continuing Education Units (CEUs).


Well these help you to stay up to date with changes with personal training methods.

How much does the NSCA test cost?

Depending on whether you are an NSCA member or not, the exam has two price points.

For members, it will cost $300 and for non-members, you will have to pay $435 (as of July 2019).

NSCA CPT exam conclusion

NSCA CPT exam conclusion

There is no doubt about it if you looking for a CPT certification that you can use all over the world, the one offered by the NSCA is right up there with the best of them. Over and above that, they are one of the most reputable certification organizations in the fitness industry.

And because they are at the top of the fitness certification game, as we have already pointed out, the exam is pretty darn tough! So that means you need to know what’s going on if you want to be one of that 54% of people who pass it at the first time of trying.

One of the advantages of NSCA is the fact that you only need to be recertified once every three years. All of NSCA’s competitors are once every two years. A disadvantage comes in the study aids provided by NSCA. With the course, you only get 200 practice questions. If you want practice exams, you going to have to pay extra.

And if you are still not that sure as to which personal trainer certification is best for you, why not try out our quick quiz. That will help to point you in the right direction and is a good way for you to identify which course you should be aiming for.

All-in-all, I think you will agree that we have comprehensively covered just about any question that you might have about the CPT certification offered by the NSCA, from exams formats and modules, how to register, retesting and everything in between.

If you have any more questions that are not covered here, why not drop me a comment below and I can get back to you as soon as possible.

For more information on NSCA, why not hop over to their website.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your certification!


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