Recap: Passing the CSCS Exam

Hi there! I have been quiet for a while and the above pictures should inform you why. I PASSED my CSCS exam! This has definitely been a LONG time coming.

Exhibit A:

If you will notice the top circle in red, I tried this test on the campus of UCLA 18 YEARS ago.  NOTE: The second circle doesn't have anything to do with CSCS. That is simply proof I got certified as a trainer when I said I did (over 20 years ago now). 

Though I don't have the '99 exam result details listed here, the point is I did not pass all of it. I passed half of it. The test is split into 2 parts, Scientific Foundations and Practical Applied.  The practical portion I did NOT pass. I haven't tried this test again until this year.  Apparently, this is not uncommon (see excerpt from CSCS Test Prep below)


NSCA CSCS Exam Pass Rates

The NSCA has presented the following data with regards to CSCS Examination Pass Rates for the year 2016. It should provide some general information to exam candidates about the level of difficulty encountered.

  • 5,790 Candidates sat for the NSCA CSCS Exam.
  • 66% Passed the Scientific Foundations Section
  • 67% Passed the Practical Applied Section
  • 55% Passed both sections.

Translation of data:

  • Since you need to pass both sections to earn the CSCS……
  • 45% of candidates FAILED the CSCS Exam in 2016
  • Almost 5 out of 10 people who sit for both sections of the Exam will not pass
  • Are you prepared? [1]


FAQ:  (Since last Friday)
What Did You Use to Pass the Exam?

First thing I would like to bring up, is make sure you are eligible for the test. According to the NSCA's prerequisites page, you must either be a current college senior or have a Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Additionally, one must possess a current  CPR/AED certification.  You will also want to be prepared to have your transcript and proof of certification ready to send to NSCA Headquarters for verification purposes.

My Study Tools & Resources

1. "Essentials" Book

Unlike last time (1999), I actually bought the book that the exam is based off of. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (4th Edition) is a 600+ page, 24 Chapter book on...well, strength and conditioning essentials, 🙂  Currently, it looks like it runs roughly around $56 on Amazon.  I paid $95 in January 2016.

Below is the exact breakdown of Chapters.

1 Structure and Function of Body Systems
2 Biomechanics of Resistance Exercise
3 Bioenergetics of Resistance Training
4 Endocrine Responses to Exercise
5 Adaptations to Anaerobic Training Programs
6 Adaptations to Aerobic Training Programs
7 Age & Sex Related Differences and Their Implications for Resistance Training
8 Psychology of Athletic Preparation
9 Basic Nutrition Factors in Health
10 Nutrition Strategies for Maximizing Performances
11 Performance Enhancing Substances and Methods
12 Principles of Test Selection and Administration
13 Administration, Scoring, and Interpretation of Selected Tests
14 Warm-Up and Flexibility, Training
15 Exercise Technique for Free Weight and Machine Training
16 Exercise Technique for Alternative Modes and Non-Traditional Implement Training
17 Program Design for Resistance Training
18 Program Design and Technique for Plyometric Training
19 Program Design and Technique for Speed and Agility Training
20 Program Design and Technique for Aerobic Endurance Training
21 Periodization
22 Rehabilitation and Reconditioning
23 Facility Design, Layout, and Organization
24 Facility Policies, Procedures, and Legal Issues

I wholeheartedly believe the advice that was given to me when I asked what I should focus on when I got the book. "All of it." was the response from a colleague of mine who had passed it. He was correct too. I cannot emphasize that part enough, READ and COMPREHEND ALL OF IT. This may take a while for some but it is worth it. Here are some steps that helped me,

a. Read a Chapter a Day or Week.
DO NOT advance to the next until you KNOW and UNDERSTAND the concepts of the chapter.  Some chapters will be easier than others to you.

b. Answer the Questions at the end of the Chapters.
It will help with comprehending the topics of the chapter. It will also slowly get you into the groove of answering questions on content.

c. Watch the Exercise Technique Videos. 
You may have an opinion in one way or another about lifting technique. For the exam, you want to know what the NSCA's position on technique is for all the exercises - Stretches, Mobility/Warm-Up Drills, Olympic & Powerlifting, Free Weight & Machines, Plyometrics, "Alternative" Lifts (bands, chains, kettle bells, Swiss ball, tires, etc.), and the various Battery Tests.  With the purchase of "Essentials", you will have a code that will allow you access to "Ancillaries" at Those would be exercise technique videos and multiple testing battery information.   Not every exercise is presented in the ancillaries section. NSCA produced a separate tool with videos of the entire volume of exercises.

Pending on your rate of comprehension, it may take a few months to let it all sink in. Don't worry if it does. THERE IS A LOT OF INFORMATION in this book.  For the most part, content in chapters 1-11 will be addressed in Scientific Foundations (Exercise Science and Nutrition).  Chapters 12-24 will be addressed in Practical Applied (Exercise Technique, Program Design, Organization and Administration, &  Testing and Evaluation) .  I will say this about practical, definitely KNOW all there is to know about battery tests.

The book can come across a bit overwhelming. Apparently this is well known as there are many options available to help with comprehending the material. The first option you may find is on the NSCA's website located in their "shop" - CSCS Exam Prep Materials.  Now that I have shown that source, I'll share what I used to assist me with comprehending Essentials.


2. CSCS Test Prep dot com

I would consider's Exam Review and e-Book a MUST HAVE investment.  The value for this is unreal, especially at it's price ($27.99 USD).  Using the words from the author, Ryan Grella, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS ,

"It is intended to be used as a supplement to the CSCS examination preparatory text Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 4th Ed, and contains a review of all 24 chapters and 550 multiple choice practice questions."

"Included Content to Help You Prepare

  • Sidebar Navigation Menu with Expandable Links
  • 373 Pages
  • CSCS Examination Content Outline
  • Two 75 Question Practice Tests that Mimic the Scope and Question Distribution of an Actual Exam.
  • Score Profile Sheets to Identify Areas of Strength and Weakness
  • Bulleted Summaries of all 24 Chapters of Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 4th Ed.
  • Review of Select Resistance Training Exercises
  • Review of Non-Traditional Implement Exercise
  • Review of Select Mathematical Calculations and Formulas
  • Tips for Answering Multiple Choice Questions
  • 550 Total Practice Questions and Answers
  • Plus Bonus Document: Human Skeletal Muscles"

I honestly found this to be THE MOST HELPFUL tool. Within the e-Book are indeed FANTASTIC bullet point breakdowns for every chapter. The sidebar navigation made it very easy to travel throughout.  However, those features were not what I found to be the MOST beneficial...


The questions in this supplement were the closest to the real examination that I utilized.  During the exam, I thought back to this tool several times (and was thankful I purchased it).  There are 3 sections of questions,

a. 75 Question Pre-Test 
You can test your initial knowledge of content right away with this pre-test.  You are given a specified amount of time (set your timer) to complete one section of questions. You will take a short break and complete the second portion of questions. This helps getting used to the rhythm of the actual exam.  You can check your work with the answers and review how you did. The answers are provided in the topic sections that will be on the test. The purpose of the test is to view your strength and weaknesses on topics. It will be an indicator as to what you will want to focus on to improve.

b. 75 Question Post-Test 
The post test is to be taken AFTER you have read the book. This will display where you have improved and possibly convey what you will want to concentrate on a little more.

c. Practice Questions 
I LOVED these!  There are 400 practice questions. They go in sequential order of the chapters. One exercise I did was read the chapter, do the 5 questions at the end the chapter in the book and then go to the questions in CTP.

Again, I cannot say enough good things about this supplemental learning tool. This needs to be in your budget to purchase.


3. NSCA® CSCS Exam Prep 2017 by Pocket Prep, Inc.

There were no tablets or smart phones in 1999. This app is "free" providing a few review questions. However, to unlock the library of 600 questions, the "in-app" premium purchase runs around $18 USD on iTunes or GooglePlay. I absolutely love this app!  You receive a question of the day each day. You also have a variety of options in testing yourself.  You can take a "quick 10" test to gauge your progress or opt for more (up to 100 questions).  The program allows for up to 600 questions. You then have the option to refresh and continue practicing.

Compared to CSCS Test Prep, I found the questioning a little easier. I would liken Pocket Prep to the equivalent of flash cards. It was a convenient tool that I could reference at anytime on phone.  For me, it was an effective review tool. I used this until it was time to turn off my phone at the testing center.

A bonus to this tool was the quick referencing. Should you receive a correct or incorrect answer, there is an option to review the answer in-depth. Within the review, a synopsis of the answer with reference to the chapter and page in "Essentials" is provided. This was an efficient time saving study feature (as well). This app saved me significant time hunting down pages in areas that needed work. To me, it was well worth the investment.


Test drilling was monumental for me in this exam. It is not enough to know names and vaguely know concepts. You need to KNOW and INTERPERT the knowledge to do well on the exam.  Additionally, you want to get used to the format of the test.  One section allows 2.5 hours and the second 1.5 hours to complete the exam.  CSCS Test Prep provides the practice timed tests and there is a timer on pocket prep to allow you practicing the time factor. The better you know the material, the easier the exam will be for you. Also, any mathematics that are done during the exam will be done by hand. You will not be able to use a calculator.

Putting It All Together

My best advice for getting ready for this exam is to consistently review the book, the practice questions, attention to where you need more work (pocket prep was great for that), and go back and review.  Between Essentials, CSCS Test Prep and Pocket Prep, I had 1,271 review questions to review with.  Every single one of them counted for me. Once you feel good about your chances, THEN register for the test. Using myself as a reference, I bought Essentials in January 2016 with Pocket Prep and CSCS Test Prep last Summer. When you register, do so for 3 months in advance and give yourself the leeway to get intensive for those 3 months doing what was mentioned above.  I'd advise this due to the investment you will be making,

a. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning - $60
-   Join the NSCA as a member* - $65 (student) - $120
b. CSCS Prep Test e-Book/Exam Review - $28
c. NSCA CSCS Pocket Prep App - $18
d. Exam Registration - $340 (NSCA member) , $475 (non-member)

e. Estimated Total - $545-$581

*Joining the NSCA is not mandatory. However, by doing so, you will be provided annual subscriptions to 2 research journals, discount pricings on all NSCA materials, including the exam (save $15) and much more. If you are not a member at the time of registration, NSCA will offer you a $460 exam price option to join while registering for the exam.

You can add on more to the total if you decide buy more study materials not listed here.  There will also be a fee for having your transcript sent to NSCA (electronically or hardcopy). This can vary based on your method of delivery. This estimate does not include the time you will be dedicating to the study.  Should you not pass all or part of the exam, the retake is the original registration price range ($340-$475). To retake one section it is ($250-$385). That alone should be motivation enough to pass it the first time.  Time is you will want to make all of it count!

Was It Worth the Time and Effort?

Ever since October of 2016, I have been plotting an "update" of my credentials that will allow me to follow my passions in the functional continuum for the next 20-30 years. So to answer that question, ABSOLUTELY, it was worth the time and effort. I'll end this with a quick reference from the beginning of this blog entry.

Below are the logos of 2 of NSCA's main certifications, Personal Trainer (left) and Strength & Conditioning Specialist (right). I earned my NSCA-CPT while I was still a college senior in 1997. I took CSCS in 1999 and failed half the test. Afterward, let's simply say, "life happened".  I did not try it again until last Friday, which makes it 18 years later. A lot has happened in that time frame. It has taken a while to get back where I wanted to be. Doing the work and earning it in the way I have has made me appreciate it so much more. When something enables you to live out your passions, it is absolutely, 100% worth it.


1. Grella, Ryan  "NSCA Exam Pass Rates.", 2016, 


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