NSCA Exam Prep 2020 – How to pass the NSCA Exam First Try!

NSCA Exam Prep

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is well respected in the world of fitness. And many people looking to become personal trainers opt for their CPT certification for their accreditation.

Also, make sure to check out my free NSCA study guide/practice test here or check out the premium NSCA study materials from Trainer Academy to cut your study time in half and receive an exam pass guarantee. Check out my review on Trainer Academy here.

That said, like many of its competitors, the NSCA CPT certification exam is tough and to pass it, you have to be prepared to work hard, study hard, take the practice tests and prepare thoroughly.

A half-hearted effort is only going to end in heartbreak… yours!

So in this blog post, the ultimate NSCA CPT exam prep guide, we are going to give you a push in the right direction. To help you achieve a pass the first time you right the exam, we are going to highlight a few key areas that you need to focus on.

And these will be broken down into a few difficult questions that the exam might cover (or at least something similar) and answers to these questions. But we will also cover some other critical information that you can use to your advantage.

Things like study tips, which study materials you should make use of to make ensure thorough preparation, critical ideas that the test will definitely cover (and that you ought to know) and finally, a few great tips for when you write the exam.

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If you reading this, and you are still not sure if the personal trainer certification from the NSCA is right for you, then 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.

But now back to business!

Let’s jump straight into our NSCA CPT exam prep guide starting with some difficult test questions or ones similar to those that you might come across.

How to pass the NSCA CPT exam

How to pass the NSCA CPT exam

So for obvious reasons, we can’t give you the exact questions that you might come across in an exam as the NSCA keep these closely guarded plus not every exam is the same as they have a range of questions to choose from. If you want 700 extra practice questions, and in the exam pass guarantee you to go with it, check out Trainer Academy as they have the best study materials hands-down.

These questions are just some examples of what you might come across.

Top three most difficult NSCA test questions

So let’s have a look at three different questions then.

Question 1

When talking about Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis or BIA, the concept is based on the premise that fluid in the body is capable of which of the following?

  • Having muscle mass
  • Moving fat throughout the body
  • Electrical conduction
  • Causing overeating

Question 2

From the options below, choose the blood pressure reading that should marker for potential cardiovascular disease in a client

  • 140/90 mmHg
  • 120/80 mmHg
  • 110/80 mmHg
  • 115/80 mmHg

Question 3

From these options, choose the right order, starting with largest to smallest of connective tissue found in muscles.

  • Perimysium, endomysium, epimysium
  • Epimysium, endomysium, perimysium
  • Epimysium, perimysium, endomysium
  • Perimysium, endomysium, epimysium

Top three most difficult NSCA CPT exam answers

Question 1

Answer: Electrical conduction

When performing a Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis on a client, you are determining their body composition. This is achieved by passing a low-level current through the body which travels through the fluids completely safely.

By taking voltage readings, you can then calculate the impedance that the body gives to the electric charge and from these resistance readings, a clients body fat and muscle mass, among other important information, can be determined.

Question 2

Answer: 140/90 mmHg

If a new client has a blood pressure reading that is equal to or more than 140 mmHg systolic and 90 mmHg diastolic, the chances are that they are suffering from hypertension or high blood pressure. This is a risk marker for possible cardiovascular disease.

If the patient is not under a doctor’s care or taking any form of blood pressure medication, they should see one immediately.

Question 3

Answer: Epimysium, perimysium, endomysium

What we have here is, from largest to smallest, the order of muscle connectivity tissue. Each muscle is first covered with epimysium. Muscle fibers are connected through perimysium while endomysium covers each seperate muscle fiber.

NSCA study tips

NSCA study tips

In this important section, I am going to cover some of the study tips that I think are essential to helping you pass the NSCA CPT exam. In particular, I will highlight the resources that are necessary to make passing the exam that much easier.

The more help you can get the better, so if it’s a study guide, practice tests, learning critical models or just making your own notes from the textbook that give you that one point that makes you pass, all the better. It’s a no-brainer, right?

Let’s start off with those important NSCA study materials that you should own.

Essential NSCA study materials

Extra study materials make sense.

Not only will they provide you with all the information you need, often it’s presented in a different way and perhaps that just makes concepts that you struggle with a little clearer in your head.

The most current NSCA textbook (currently the second edition)

Essentially, this isn’t extra study material. This is the main study material!

When you sign up for the NSCA CPT course, the main textbook you will use is Essentials of Personal Training, 2nd Edition. Please note, however, that the NSCA has three-course options for their CPT course. They are:

  • Digital package
  • Essential package
  • Essential Plus package

Only the essential package and the essential plus package will provide you with a copy of Essentials of Personal Training. If cost is an issue and you are going to opt for the digital package, you are going to need to get yourself a copy of the textbook.

On Amazon, it retails for around $80 new but used copies are available for cheaper, or you could even rent it but I wouldn’t advise that because it’s a brilliant book for you to have by your side right throughout your personal training career.

This is an extensive resource not only filled with all the information you need to pass your certification exam but it also includes over 200 color photos to just make things that much clearer.

NSCA study tips

Big tip 1: Use the appendix of the book to search for specific key areas that you identify as important while preparing for the exams. Its the quickest way to pinpoint exactly what you are looking for.

But it’s not the only textbook resource you should consider. Another great addition to your study material is the Exercise Technique Manual, 3rd edition. If you sign up for the essential plus package, this will form part of the reference material you receive but opting for the other two packages means you need to buy a copy.

While not as important as Essentials of Personal Training, it is packed with useful information that will broaden your overall knowledge, especially if you do not have a history of working in fitness before you decided to become a personal trainer.

Big tip 2: Even if you cannot afford to buy Essentials of Personal Training, borrow it, take it out form a library or rent it on Amazon and make notes from it. Any extra information you can get will help you come exam time.

Finally, all three packages include the NSCA CPTA Exam Content Description E-Book. This is a great addition to your resources as it gives you some insight into the NCSA exams especially as far as how the questions are asked.

It also includes two excellent features. The first is an exam preparedness questionnaire which will help you determine just how ready you are to take the final certification test. Secondly, it contains a useful list of other study references that you can consider adding to your resource material as you prepare for the exam.

Big tip 3: This is an important little book. Make sure you go through it thoroughly to help prepare you and determine if you are ready for that exam.

And that’s all you need to know about the reference materials and textbooks you need should you undertake the NSCA CPT certification.

A good NSCA study guide

A good NSCA study guide

Many people ask me about the need for a study guide when taking on the NSCA CPT certification. And my answer is always the same.

Yes! You should get one if you are able to.


Well, the more resources you can go through the more chance you have of passing the exam. And it’s not about clouding your thoughts. Study guides are extremely well written and can even help you if you are struggling with a certain concept in the textbook.

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50% off study materials for NASM, ISSA, ACE, CSCS or NSCA and ACSM For Early 2020

They do that by explaining tough to understand concepts by breaking them down into something simpler. And in many cases, that’s often the lightbulb moment you need to help you to make sense of those areas that you might be having difficulty with.

But what study guide should you get?

Well, there are plenty of them out there, each claiming to be the best available. After checking out over 10 different NSCA study guides, I can safely say that the best one is that from Trainer Academy. In addition to this, they have lots of great reviews.

Big tip 4: There are plenty of study guides available for the NSCA CPT certification. Don’t just jump in and buy the first one you see. Take your time and find the one that’s right for you. It will be an invaluable help in your exam preparation.

NSCA Practice tests

NSCA Practice tests

To start, I just want to say that practice tests are invaluable. And that’s for two main reasons. As mentioned before, Trainer Academy has 4 full Practice exams for the NSCA exam. These are the best and most accurate practice exams I have run across.

Big tip 5: Practice tests help you to see what kind of questions you will be asked in the NSCA CPT certification exam.

It’s all good and well-learning tons of theory, pouring over a textbook, using study guides and going through an additional material. But if that’s all you do before you take your exam, more than likely you going to fail.

And that’s why we have practice tests.

They are a great way to see what kinds of questions you can expect in the exam. Of course, they are never the exact questions you will come across but at least you will be going in with some kind of idea what to expect.

Big tip 6: Practice tests help to determine if you are exam ready.

When you have gone through all the study material and feel you are ready to write the exam, don’t book it yet. Do a practice test first. While they are not exactly like the exam, you can know for sure that if you fail a practice test, you don’t really have any hope of passing the certification exam at that point.

You going to have to study more!

NSCA flashcards

NSCA flashcards

Without a doubt, flashcards are a great way to study. Especially when there is plenty of information to take in.


Well, with flashcards, you can break each section you are studying down into smaller, bite-sized pieces of information. Learn each of these separately and you can memorize whole sections with ease as you fit each memorized chunk in its specific place.

And if you are looking for NSCA CPT specific flashcards, well, much like the study guides, there are plenty of options for you to consider.

I am not going to give you a recommendation as to which you should choose only to say that my advice on flashcards is the same as when it comes to study guides. And that’s to do your homework and thoroughly research possible flashcard options fully before you buy them.

Again, this revolves around reading reviews, ask in online forums or join an NSCA Facebook exam prep group and ask people’s opinions there.

Before we end this section, let me give you a little bit of information regarding flashcards. There are two types. These are regular and spaced repetition.

With regular flashcards, as you go through them even though you know some answers extremely well, the flashcard will still come up as you revise.

In spaced repetition, areas that you are well versed in will come up less frequently. Why?

Well, in spaced repetition flashcards, an algorithm determines areas in which you are strong (you keep getting the answers right) and areas in which you are weak (you keep getting the answers wrong).

That algorithm then rather gives you questions that you get wrong as your flashcard revision material and in that way, you can increase knowledge by turning wrong answers into right answers.

Did I mention, Trainer Academy also has a fantastic deck of 700 space repetition flashcards with their study materials.

Big tip 7: If you have never used flashcards before as a way to study, consider giving them a go. Even if you make your own. Summarise difficult parts of the textbook where you are struggling, make flashcards out of that summary and see how they help get all that important information into your brain.

Big tip 8: Spaced repetition flashcards, although costlier, help you study by focussing on your weak areas.

NSCA CPT exam tips

NSCA CPT exam tips

Ok, so let’s get onto some simple exam tips that you can use to your advantage. Exams can be a stressful time, no matter how well prepared you are. It’s important that despite what you might be feeling – probably nervousness for most of us – you keep your eye on the prize.

And that prize is passing the exam and becoming a certified personal trainer!

Before we get onto some tips that can help you during your exam, let’s just start with a breakdown of what exactly you can expect from the exam.

Currently, the NSCA CPT exam will consist of 140 multiple choice questions on which you will be scored. There are also another 15 questions that are not part of your overall mark. You need to answer these but they are basically the NSCA are testing for future use.

Note that the NSCA exam consists of four seperate domains, each with their own weighted percentage towards the final mark. These are:

  • Client consultation and fitness assessment (25% of the exam/32 questions)
  • Program planning (31% of the exam/45 questions)
  • Exercise techniques (31% of the exam/43 questions)
  • Issues around legal, safety and emergency procedures (13% of the exam/20 questions)

I think you will agree, knowing this exact breakdown is pretty crucial information. Let’s get onto some individual tips that you should always take into consideration.

Read every single question and answer

Read every single question and answer

Ok, so you are wondering how this is a tip, right? You going to read the questions to have to finish the exam, right?

And yes, that’s true. But what is crucial here is that you read the questions PROPERLY especially as they are often worded slightly differently than you might expect.

It’s a trick that examiners often use. Take a concept that seems pretty straightforward but make the question cause some doubt in the mind of the test taker. And no matter how prepared you are, if you start to doubt yourself on an answer, it can really mess with your confidence.

By reading the question slowly, a few times if you have to, you give yourself the chance to work out exactly what it is the examiner wants from you and then, thanks to the fact that the exam is multiple-choice, you can narrow down the answer a little more easily.

If you going to skim read and just assume you know what the question wants, you going to get a few wrong, that’s for sure. Take your time, decide on an answer and back yourself!

Pay attention to specific words for questions related to exercises

When taking your exam, always keep a lookout for questions relating to exercises. These will be easy to pick up as they will have a number of keywords that should immediately jump out to you.

NSCA test prep conclusion

NSCA test prep conclusion

If you have not done so yet, check out my free study guide and practice test for the NSCA exam. If you want premium study materials, don’t hesitate to check out Trainer Academy as they provide in exam pass guarantee.

As we come to the end our NSCA test preparation blog, it’s important for me to say again, make sure you have taken the time to prepare for this exam.

There is plenty for you to work through from an information point of view. It’s up to you to find a way to take all that in, digest it and to make sure you can call on it when the time comes during your exam.

Without preparing properly, you will in all probability fail at your first attempt and you don’t want that do you. Not only will it set you back a few months in your timeline but simply put, you are just wasting money.

Work through everything you can, from the reference material to flashcards and practice tests. Build your knowledge until you know that you are totally ready to pass the first time!

If after reading through this post you are still not sure if the NSCA CPT certification is the right one for you, take our quiz to find which certification best fits your training style.

If you have any questions or comments please leave them below and I really hope that this blog post has helped you out.

Good luck!

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