Prepping for the NSCA Exam – Do’s ...

Prepping for the NSCA Exam – Do’s & Don’ts

HOLYYYY this post is long overdue. Seriously overdue. I wrote my NSCA exam way back at the end of July, and have been meaning to write this post since then. I gave myself all of August off from really doing anything (since I had been studying the past 6 months), and then September came around and family was visiting, and then there was Thanksgiving… To be honest I was just putting it off because the though of rehashing all the studying I had to do did not sound appealing to me.

Anyway, I told myself to stop being a baby about it and finally write this up.

Why Did I Choose NSCA?

So I had been wanting to do a personal training certificate for a long time. I didn’t want to do the Canadian Can Fit Pro one because I had heard there wasn’t a lot of studying involved and pretty easy to do. I wanted a challenge.

I started looking into the more popular American ones – NSCA, NASM, ACE and ASCM. I can’t really give a lot of information on all of them, but in the end it came down to NASM and NSCA . After doing a ton of research and reading about other people’s experience with it, I went with the NSCA. I also found it to be the most inline with my training, as it stands for the “National Strength and Conditioning Association.” As a long time rugby player, ‘strength’ and ‘conditioning’ were used daily in my training and practice sessions.

I do think that all the courses teach generally the same topics and ideas for the most part. What sets them apart are how well the textbook is written, how much it all costs, how accessible it is to do CEUs (continuing education credits) to maintain your certificate, how accredited the association is, and what resources they offer to people taking their course.

How Much Did It Cost?

I paid $435 USD for the course, $100 USD for a practice exam (from the NSCA), and $85 USD for the textbook (from Barnes and Noble)

How Did I Study?

When you sign up for the certification, you have exactly 6 months to study for it. The kind of person that I am, is the type who will use every single day of those six months to study profusely. There is no such thing as ‘cramming’ in my vocabulary. My strategy was this:

Read the chapter, and while I read the chapter, I would take notes on my laptop/computer. It took a lot longer than just reading the book, but once I was finished I had a beautiful set of notes from every single chapter that I could study.

Once I finished the chapter, I would do the 5 multiple choice questions as the end and see how many I got right. There were also ‘written’ questions, which I did after I had re-read all of my notes.

After I had re-read all the chapters and done the questions, I bought the practice exam from their list of resources online. It was a decent enough practice exam, and gave me a great idea of how the questions would be asked. Once I finished the practice exam, I re-read the entire textbook front to back (but without typing notes this time).

In the end I think I did the practice exam 5 times, I read my summary notes probably 5 times, and read the textbook twice. Yes, I have a studying problem.

Prepping for the NSCA Exam - Dos and Don'ts!

What Would I Have Done Differently If I Could?


When I got the textbook I just started on chapter 1 and went from there. It was so. hard. I honestly did not think I was going to get through the book. The first 4 chapters were VERY science intensive. They talked a lot about biology, the Krebs cycle, mechanics of levers, torque, the sliding filament theory, etcetc; things I had never learnt before. Luckily for me, I stumbled across another blogger who had done the test and asked her for her advice. She told me she skipped the first four chapters (and read them after) and went right into the practical stuff – the actual training side of the book.

Thank GOD she told me that – I seriously spent an entire month trying to understand the first two chapters alone. After chapter 4 it seemed to go by a lot quicker and with a lot less stress on my shoulders.

The other piece of advice she mentioned was she spent very little time on the “special needs” client chapters, as they would require a more in-depth certification while most trainers would be working with the general population. These chapters included clients with spinal cord injuries, metabolic concerns, or other unique needs. I still read all the chapters (twice!), but it was good to know it wouldn’t make up a large portion of the exam.

What Is One Thing I Learnt That I Was Surprised About?

I have always been against working out with machines (such as the leg press, or pec deck) with the exception of the cable machine every now and then. I always kind of looked down on people that would constantly choose a machine to train legs over the squat rack. This idea was really instilled in me when I first started training really hard for rugby – all the sessions I would go to were very functional – lots of squats, bench press, deadlifts, and bodyweight circuits.

This course sort of opened my eyes to the differences in people, and why some would require a machine to workout as opposed to others. Exercise machines can be great for those just starting out, or for older or obese people who have a hard time holding their own weight while doing a movement. It can help to build muscle, so that these people are able to move on to more advanced exercises such as the squat and deadlift.

How Was The Exam Overall?

So there are only a few exam centres close to Toronto, but luckily I had a friend offer to drive me to one out in Mississauga. I had been meaning to use every single day of my 6 months to study for this (August 9th), but by July 20th I had had ENOUGH of studying. So I signed up for the exam on July 28th I think. One thing to make note of is this: I thought when I went to sign up I would have a myriad of days to choose from. Wrong. There were literally 3 days I could pick, and all of them in different exam centres. That was seriously stressful. You are able to change the date of your exam pretty much up to 24 hours, so I would book it WAY ahead of time to not have to worry about that.

The exam itself was 3 hours long and consisted of 155 multiple choice questions. The questions were both video based and regular. Some of them were difficult, but I had prepared so well that I answered them all pretty easily and quickly. I think I marked off 18 questions that I wasn’t completely sure about. Like I mentioned earlier, there were basically zero scientific/biology questions and a lot to do with program planning and proper technique.

Once I finished I got my exam mark back 2 minutes later and went home (with an 84% test mark! Yay!)

What about you?

  • Have you written any certifications?
  • What would you have done differently if you could?
  • How do you decide which association to do your certification with? (There are so many!!)

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Prepping for the NSCA Exam - Dos and Don'ts!

Prepping for the NSCA Exam – Dos and Don’ts!

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  1. Annmarie

    18 February

    This is such great info! I had to write for both of my DVRT level certs and while they are specific for to the system and hard they didn’t go into too much biology or my head would have probably exploded, haha! Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

  2. Kat

    19 February

    THANK YOU for such a well written review! I’ve been considering all of the PT certs, so this is really helpful. I also LOVE what you said about the machines. I think it’s great that beside learning about the PT side, you also learned the why as to why some people choose one thing over another! I agree that I don’t use machines much, but I can see how some people would need them, specifically those with injuries or are new to lifting in general!

  3. I have no intentions of taking this exam, but I LOVE learning about people’s study habits. It’s like this weird nerd thing that makes me nosy about it all, so I found this utterly fascinating. So interesting that you now have a new perspective on machines too!

  4. shamirafit

    7 March

    This was well written! I recently passed my NASM PT certification and I am really excited to see where it takes me. Congrats on Passing. I felt the same way about machines until I started studying for my PT Cert and learned about all the other population of gym goes who might need to start out on a machine.

    • beverleyc

      7 March

      Thanks Shamira! Congrats on your recent pass, that’s so great =D

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