Running Start Chapter 2 Preparing for the exam

In this chapter, I’ll do a quick run-through of all you need to do to prepare adequately for your certification exams.

Preparing for the exam

Essentially, I’ll help you discover your learning styles and also give you tips to study effectively.

Let’s get right into it!

So now you’ve reached the point where you have chosen the certification that best suits your needs.

You’ve registered and have started working your way through all the course work.

At the end of the line, all that stands before you and getting certified as a personal trainer is one single exam.

But don’t be fooled and certainly, don’t take it lightly.

No matter what personal trainer course you have taken, the certification exam is going to be tough.

If you are not fully prepared, you are setting yourself up for failure, that’s for sure. 

And that’s why I think it’s important that we cover how to successfully prepare for the exam.

Let’s start with a general overview of how you should approach your certification studies.

A study overview

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of how to study for your certification exam, it’s important to first look at it with a more general overview in mind.

What I am going to point out here should be factors that are always in the back of your mind as you prepare yourself to get certified on your first attempt. 

You can’t and won’t be able to remember everything

No matter what certification you have chosen, you will be working through tons of information.

What’s more, this information is pretty technical and includes a lot of difficult to pronounce names.

You will be covering a diverse amount of modules including physiology and anatomy, various strategies for training clients, nutrition concepts, dealing with your clients and more.

And because of that, memorizing everything is pretty much impossible.

But that doesn’t mean that you can skip anything.

Take your time and make sure you cover every page in your coursework.

There are many key concepts that you will cover during your course that are critical and you should know these inside and out.

Don’t worry, it will be easy to identify these as you continue through your certification.

They will also be highlighted in study aids as well as practice tests. 

Devise a study plan unique to you and that fits in with your life

When we covered the five different certification options that I would recommend, one of the things that would have stood out to you is that for some of them, passing rates for first-time exam takers are pretty low.

And if you are a regular student, you can’t expect to put in a minimal effort and to pass.

Sure, you might get lucky but this is your future we are talking about here.

You want to give it all you have and get your new career as a personal trainer off on the right foot, that’s for sure. 

Even if you did pass by striking it lucky and without putting the proper effort in, how can you hope to be a successful personal trainer without the theoretical knowledge that the certification provides? 

In fact, I would go as far as to say that by forming the right study habits from the start and using proper study materials, like those found at Trainer Academy, you can train your brain in long-term memory methods.

That’s beneficial when you work as a personal trainer. 

As you go through your certification, you can already start to prepare for the exams by devising a study plan that fits in with your unique needs.

If you already have another job, you are going to have to set aside time to study.

Perhaps two hours a day after work, or maybe you prefer to spend the whole weekend working through the course material.

The choice is yours, just make it and stick to it.

The time you take to complete the certification and how much time you need to study is also going to depend if you have any prior experience or not. 

For example, if you are a school leaver, you probably are not going to have any experience.

But someone who has a kinesiology or exercise science degree would already know much of what will be covered in the certification. 

And so, experience or lack of it means study times will vary significantly for each student.

Note, however, some courses need to be completed in a certain period, so that’s going to affect your study plan, no doubt.

For a couple of months, you may even need to cut down on socializing and going out with your friends.

But these are the sacrifices you need to set up your future career. 

Here is a quick breakdown of a study plan to give you an idea as to what you can draw up for yourself.

Of course, modify it as you need to.

  • Take around two hours out of every day to read the coursework
  • Always make your own summary of each chapter. We learn easiest from our notes
  • Always make use of all the study guides provided and consider using more if possible. Study guides will also point out topics of critical importance. That’s because they help to point out the parts of the coursework that you need to know and understand to pass your certification exam. That allows you to focus on the critical areas while you study.
  • If the course has audio lectures, use them. Play them on your trip to work, on a lunch break, any time you have a couple of free moments. They are an excellent resource
  • Take as many practice tests as possible. If you fail a practice test, you aren’t going to pass the exam. Aim to score 85% or better on practice exams.
  • Don’t underestimate the critical importance that flashcards can play in your studies and revision. That’s especially true for flashcards that use spaced repetition. 
  • Consider using mnemonics to help enhance your memory as a way to remember themes that you know you will come across in the exams. Both spaced repetition flashcards and mnemonics systems are available over at Trainer Academy
  • Revise. Always take a day to go back over work you covered a week before to see if you remember the key concepts
  • For questions that you struggle with, take the time to review those sections of the coursework in more detail.

Be confident

For some of us, self-confidence comes naturally.

For others, a hint of self-doubt can sabotage the best of plans. 

And if that’s something you suffer with, it’s time to take control.

Once you qualify as a personal trainer, you will need to show confidence at every opportunity.

No one is going to want to train with someone who shows moments of self-doubt, right?

After all, you are the expert.

And while you are studying towards your certification, keep in mind why you are doing it.

The number one reason is that you want to help people to transform their lives.

Because that’s exactly what personal trainers do. 

Your confidence and motivational abilities will ultimately help instill confidence in your clients, especially as results kick in and they start to see the difference you are helping to make in their lives.

So start building that confidence now by beginning with preparing for the exams.

Visualize your end goal and that’s to pass your certification first time.

As the exam day gets closer, continue to use visualization to positively reinforce in your mind that you will pass.

And if you have put in the hard work, there certainly is no reason why you shouldn’t. 

Sometimes we don’t realize the power of our minds. Always positive thoughts!

Making sure you lock in a proper study process

Your success or failure when it comes to passing your personal trainer certification lies squarely on you.

Simply put, you are in control of your destiny.

Put in the effort and you are going to reap the rewards.

And while everyone has unique ways in which they study that works for them, I want to cover some aspects, ideas and techniques that you should be considering when you prepare yourself for your final certification exam.

These are tried and trusted methods that certainly have worked for many others, so there is no reason why they won’t work for you. 

While we already briefly touched on an overview a little earlier, I want to go far more in-depth now and flesh out a study process that you can utilize and adapt to your overall needs as well as to the certification that you have chosen to study for.

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It starts with your textbook

Ok, so it’s kind of obvious but the most important book that you will need as you prepare for your certification exam is your textbook.

And no matter which certification course, be it from ACE, NASM or whoever, the exam questions will be based on the information contained therein.

Whether you use a physical textbook or an eBook, these learning companions are the starting point of all your studies.

A physical textbook allows you to underline key points, make notes and use a color pencil to identify key areas while you revise.

One thing an eBook excels at is the ability to search for keywords specifically.

That’s useful when trying to find specific information. 

All textbooks will also contain important case studies, have review questions and show how the information within can be applied in a real-world situation.

If you are sure of the most important study points in each chapter, look at the chapter summaries to give you a better idea as to what concepts you should have a grasp of in each section.

I cannot stress enough that of all the materials at your disposal as you prepare, your course textbook/eBook is the most important and will contain all the answers to the questions you will be asked on the exam.

Even if you are someone who skims through information while reading, rather take the time to read every in it thoroughly. 

Don’t forget to know your anatomy

Lots of students who take on a personal training certification don’t come into their studies with any kind of fitness background. 

For those of you who are true rookies, it’s important to understand that knowing anatomy is one of the core principles to help you achieve your certification.

And while the textbooks do cover all the important information, it doesn’t hurt to include some anatomy studies into your preparation. 

That could mean getting a few extra books on the subject, or perhaps downloading an app for your smartphone that you can use to learn the various muscle groups that are crucial for a personal trainer to know.

Don’t forget to download the chapter reference sheet with excellent online sources where you can learn all about anatomy.

A study guide is a must

The next critical part of your study resources is a study guide.

These are extremely valuable.

While some certification organizations provide study guides, there are also plenty available on the web. 

A study guide helps to condense the information you need to know and understand.

In essence, it pulls out all the critical information that appears in the coursework and gives you an overview of the key concepts found therein.

But be warned, it should never replace the textbook.

That’s because questions in the exam can come from anywhere in it. 

I would suggest that you work your way through the whole textbook.

A decent study guide, however, will contain the majority of the information that you will need to know to pass your certification exam and in a lot fewer pages too.  

On my PT Pioneer website, I have a range of free study guides for all five of the certifications we have already looked at.

I also highly recommend the study guides from the Trainer Academy.

Use flashcards

Flashcards form part of my study guide strategy and it’s something that I recommend to anyone working towards their certification.

That’s because flashcards are one of the best ways to memorize and you can use them in any number of ways as you prepare.

Not all flashcard systems are created equal, however. 

And the ones that I would suggest that you use are what is known as the spaced repetition flashcard system.

But what makes this special?

Well, with regular flashcards, you work through them as per normal.

Sure you can mix them up but it’s always testing you in much the same way over and over again. 

But with a spaced repetition flashcard system, it quickly works out which areas you are strongest in (you keep getting the answers right) and slowly makes those questions less frequent.

Areas in which you give the wrong answers are identified as your weakest and therefore questions covering them become more prevalent.

In this way, weak areas within your overall knowledge are quickly improved as the system continually updates itself and continues to test you on concepts where you need the most work to improve. 

Overall, spaced repetition flashcards will save you hours on your overall study time. 

If you are specifically looking for a spaced repetition flashcard system then once again, Trainer Academy has you covered.


Mnemonics are a great way to learn difficult sections of the course work.

They can be used in several ways, for example making acronyms, using words, images and even models.

Again, Trainer Academy has devised a wide range of mnemonics specifically for personal trainer certification exams that you should check out.

Take practice exams

So let’s talk about just how important practice tests are.

I really cannot stress enough that these are the perfect guide to see just how much you understand from the coursework.

Most organizations will give you access to at least one practice test, even on their least expensive certification options.

So use it.

It’s the perfect way to introduce yourself to how the exam will be laid out as well as how questions might be structured. 

But the thing is, don’t waste the opportunity.

Only take a practice test once you have worked your way through all the coursework, made your own summaries and think you are ready for the final exam.

Then take the practice test to see just where you really stand.

For many, it comes as a bit of a shock when they see their results and realize that there is still plenty more work that they need to put in before they truly are ready. 

And if possible, my suggestion is that you do more than one practice test.

That’s because many of the exam questions can be worded in different ways.

So exposing yourself to more questions and how they might be changed ever so slightly is helping to ensure that you are preparing yourself thoroughly. 

The other great thing about a practice test is that, like spaced repetition flashcards, they quickly point out your weak and strong areas.

That allows you to use your time wisely in improving those areas where your knowledge is just a little thin.

And don’t think that redoing the practice test, selecting different answers and getting a better result means that your knowledge has improved.

All you have done is to guess the answer in the end.

While you might remember some of the answers in the real exam, you have to know how you got to those answers to have any in-depth knowledge remain in your memory, right?

That’s why it’s best to do the practice test only once and work on those concepts in which your knowledge is lacking. 

Then, after reinforcing areas where you were lacking, come back and take a few other practice exams to see how you have improved.

So those are some good starting points to help build your study program. You can add even more if you want to, whatever is going to work for you. 

Discovering your learning style

All of us have different ways of learning but are you using the right style for you? If you aren’t, you are making things so much harder for yourself. 

So how many learning styles are there?

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Well, you can break learning styles into four different types: auditory,  visual, reading/writing, and kinesthetic/tactile. 


Auditory learners take in information through listening and hearing.

It is far easier for an auditory learner to digest information that they hear than when they see it visually.

But that doesn’t mean they cannot process critical information through reading course work, for example. 

No, an auditory learner will read out loud or in their heads while working through a textbook as a way to use their auditory preferences to learn.

Learning in groups is one way that an auditory learner prefers to take in information. 

An auditory learner also loves attending lectures, watching video lectures or taking in audio lessons.

So bear that in mind when looking for the perfect personal training certification if this is indeed your learning style.


A visual learner takes everything in through their eyes.

It’s a critical part of their learning process.

So if they are reading from a text heavy coursebook, they will try to visualize what they are reading and turn it into pictures in their minds. 

That’s not the only aspect a visual learner uses to process information.

Charts, graphs, flashcards and other visual learning techniques can all be implemented by visual learners to help them process information and make it stick.

They also use color-coding techniques to further enhance the visual aspects of their learning. 

Reading / writing

When it comes to reading and writing learners, it’s all about taking down copious amounts of notes, summarizing, and then reading back through their work to learn key concepts.

For those who learn best in this manner, having coursework and textbooks in a traditional format is key.

That allows them to produce their notes from the material as a way to not only learn but to revise with. 

They prefer working with learning concepts such as handouts, lists, and other material that is mainly processed through reading as opposed to visually. 

Kinesthetic / tactile

The last type of learning style is kinesthetic or tactile learning.

Essentially, this is learning by doing, a “hands-on” approach.

That’s not always easy, however, especially with course work that’s word heavy.

To deal with that, someone who is tactile will often move and fidget while taking while studying or in lectures.

Even that can help them to take in information.

This type of learning style does suit those of us personal trainers because much of what we do is very hands-on, especially dealing with clients and the actual exercises themselves. 

Mini assignment: Determine your learning style

If you don’t have a clue as to what your learning style is, you must find out.

Luckily, there are many ways to do this but perhaps the easiest is by filling in a simple questionnaire.

Luckily, there are several websites where you can complete a questionnaire that can help you determine your learning style.

I’ve included a link to one of these here

It’s quick and simple to do and literally will take about five minutes of your time.

At the end of the questionnaire, results are generated to give you an idea as to your learning style and the way that you take in information.

Essential study tips that can help you prepare properly

Up next, I want to look over some essential study tips that you can make use of as you prepare yourself for the certification exam.

Of course, everyone is different so pick out the ones that you know and will be of use to you.

Create a study space

While we all have different methods of study, no doubt having a calm study space is a necessity.

It’s a place where you can solely focus on your course material and study towards your end goal. 

When you study, you need to be focussed and by utilizing a study space, you can immediately get yourself into the right frame of mind and keep yourself motivated for the task at hand.

A study space should be free of clutter and any other distractions that might prove to be a problem.

Sitting in front of the television and trying to study for your personal trainer certification is going to end in tears.

Even if you are the type of person that can study with a distraction, there is so much information that you will need to work through, it’s better to make things as simple as possible.

And if you can’t find a suitable study area, the local library is a perfect setting.

Not only is it nice and quiet but there may be additional resources, particularly regarding anatomy.

Take your laptop, smartphone or tablet along and use the free wi-fi to expand your studies even further as you can browse online resources as well.

Make use of deadlines and stick to them

For many of the certifications I have already mentioned, you will have a certain period to complete them and pass your exam from the time you register.

That’s why breaking your studies down into sections guided by deadlines is a brilliant idea to help keep you on track

Now I know that life can always mess up even the best of plans but say a course textbook has 24 chapters and you would like to complete it in three months, that means you are going to have to work your way through two chapters every week (12 weeks divided by 24 chapters = 2 chapters). 

Deadlines are the perfect way to hold yourself accountable and if you are struggling to stick to them, you are, in all probability, going to have extended the time in which you will complete the course.

Remember, deadlines that are too far apart often mean we leave things for the last minute and believe me, you don’t want to be cramming for your final certification exam.

Clarify areas you don’t understand or struggle with

While you are studying, you are bound to come across concepts, chapters or sections, and scenarios that you might not understand fully.

Do not just sit back and think, “I will sort that out sometime down the line”. 

If you are struggling with a concept, try to solve the problem as soon as you can.

If you cannot find the answer, that then might mean contacting your certification organization and speaking to a mentor.

Many packages offered do include some form of mentorship, or the ability to contact experts if a problem arises.

If you don’t have that option as part of the package that you chose, rather take any questions you have to the online forums run by the certification organization.

That’s a great way of bouncing problems and ideas of other students who are studying for the same certification that you are. 

You could even form a study group and work with others towards your certification.

Find like-minded students in forums or even using Facebook.

Use your senses to your advantage

One thing I have learned over the years is that using more than just your eyes can be a great way to memorize important information. 

Of course, the main way many of us study is to take things in visually and that’s probably never going to change.

But that doesn’t mean that your eyes are the only thing you need to use.

And if you have identified your primary learning style, you can still utilize methods to learn as well.

For example, some certifications will include audio notes and lectures.

These can give you another way of taking in the information and interpreting it.

Speech is also a valuable tool in learning.

Not only can you speak out loud to yourself as a different way to learn, but why don’t you break the information down and teach it to someone.

It doesn’t even have to be a human, maybe it’s time to teach your dog about important concepts that a personal trainer should know.

Touch can also play an important role.

So when you are learning about various muscle types, as an example, touch them.

That visual and physical aspect will also help you to recall the necessary information when the time comes during the exam.

Using proven study techniques

When it comes to studying, most of us have techniques we have used all our lives.

And yes, some of these can work for you now. 

For example, you could use the mnemonic memory technique to remember difficult muscle group names.

Or in other scenarios,  you could make use of flow charts or mind mapping to remember certain important concepts. 

Use what works for you but don’t be scared to try other trusted techniques.

Don’t just look to pass the test

For some students, it’s just about passing.

And that means learning enough to give them that one extra mark that makes the difference between having to re-write the exam and getting their personal trainer certification.

But think about it, is that worth it?

Why not put the extra effort in to ensure that you know all the important building blocks of how to be an EXCELLENT personal trainer.

If you don’t put in the effort now, you are going to have to revisit all that information at some point, because let’s be honest, how are you going to do your job properly?

Passing your certification with the best score you can possibly achieve is all about setting yourself up for the future, right?

In reality, no one is going to employ you as a personal trainer if you aren’t up to the job.

Keep your eye on the prize

At points during your certification journey, you are going to feel like packing it all in.

That’s because it’s tough and there is so much to work through.

And for those of you holding down a job and trying to study in your spare time, the three to six months you set aside to finish your certification will take utmost commitment.

But it’s important that during those tough times when it seems like everything is falling around you and that passing your exam will just take too much, think of the end goal. 

Keep your eye on the prize.

And that’s the fact that your dream of becoming a personal trainer is within your grasp.

It’s what should drive you through the good times and the bad.

And don’t forget to take time out

Keeping your eye on the prize should be your goal whenever times get a little tough during your studies.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t take some time out for yourself. 

No, I am not talking about partying and goofing off for a weekend but rather read a book, watch a TV series, go for a walk or go train at the gym.

Just do something to take your mind off your studies and your exam and help you to relax a bit.

“Me” time is a good thing too.

Conclusion and assignments

As we end this chapter, there is much to reflect on.

Preparation is key.

As the saying goes, “Fail to prepare and prepare to fail”.

I cannot stress enough that these certification exams are tough.

Don’t forget that.

But if you take your time working through the course material, understand all the key concepts and take some practice tests to see where you are, you can easily prepare yourself sufficiently to come away with your certification.

And then what? 

Well, your life as a personal trainer begins with securing your certification but that’s just the start of it.

That’s why I have made this course.

I want to help you set up your career.

There is much to learn before you take on your first client, and that’s what we will be covering in the next few chapters.

Assignment: Exam Readiness Checklist

So you think you are ready for the exam?

Remember, no matter what certification you have chosen, you must prepare thoroughly.

That’s because the exams are a challenge. 

So for that reason, it’s probably going to help you if you work your way through an exam readiness checklist.

If you’ve taken most of these steps in your exam preparation, you certainly give yourself a far better chance of getting through the exam and passing than if you hadn’t.

If you think you are ready to write the exam, work your way through our exam readiness checklist.

You will find it in the resources.

Also, don’t forget to take the chapter takeaway quiz to make sure you have a good grasp of everything covered here.


Course Resources – Chapter 2 Takeaway Quiz Answers

Course Resources – Chapter 2 – Exam Readiness Checklist

Chapter 2 Takeaway Quiz

Running Start Chap 2

1 / 10

Of the options below, choose one that is considered to be one of the four learning styles that we use to take in information.

2 / 10

Which of these learning styles best describes a person who learns through a “hands-on” approach?

3 / 10

Which of these learning tools is the perfect way to learn difficult-to-remember terms or phrases?

4 / 10

Using a study guide is an excellent way to identify key concepts in your coursework that you need to know and that will come up in the exam. True or false?

5 / 10

Which of these below describes an important learning tool that you can use that makes use of spaced repetition?

6 / 10

Which of these below is considered to be one of the learning styles that people use to learn new information and remember it?

7 / 10

Which of these below describes a learning style where charts, graphs and flashcards help the learner take in and process the course work easier?

8 / 10

Ensuring that you spend some of your study time learning about anatomy is recommended before you take the exam. True or false?

9 / 10

Which of these below will help determine if you are ready to take the final exam?

10 / 10

From the options below, which of these is not one of the four learning styles that most people use to take in information?

Your score is


Tyler Read

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT. Tyler holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Sonoma State University and is a certified personal trainer (CPT) with NASM (National Academy of sports medicine), and has over 15 years of experience working as a personal trainer. He is a published author of running start, and a frequent contributing author on Healthline and Eat this, not that.

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2 thoughts on “Running Start Chapter 2 Preparing for the exam”

  1. PTPioneer User

    Hi, I’ve just finished reading chapter 2. I’m glad I did! I really like the tips on how to study effectively. Thank you Tyler!

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