Passing the NASM Certified Personal Training Exam
*Note (May 2019): Although this post is a few years old, I continue to update it as I get new information. The course and exam discount opportunity at the end of the post is also still valid and current and updated as the contact person may have changed so make sure to take advantage of it!
**Second note (Oct 2019): Based on reader feedback, it seems as though both the “Syllabus” and “Preparing for the NASM Certified Personal Trainer Exam” handouts are no longer included in the course. If you would like me to email them to you, please sign up for my email list in this link.
As you all know, I passed my NASM CPT exam last Friday. I promised you a review of the exam and I also want to explain more about why I chose NASM, my studying process, and what I intend to do with the certification now that it is official.
Get prepared. This post is LONG.
Why I Chose NASM
I did a lot of research on which program I wanted to use to become certified as a personal trainer. Like, a lot. I spent a lot of time googling and reading forums for people’s opinions. I spoke to actual trainers. Time and again I was referred to the National Academy of Sports Medicine. It was between the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and NASM, which from my research are the two most reputable certifications. Since I wasn’t entirely sure what I was planning on doing once I got certified, I was also leaning towards NASM since I read that it was more widely accepted and highly encouraged at more places.
There are 6 different packages to choose from, each increasing in price with the addition of different features. To only take the exam it will cost you $599. I chose the CPT Self-Study for $699 which included the exam, textbook, online course material, and online flashcards. I have spoken to some other trainers who found the $999 bundle very helpful because of the eTeach feature, but I was confident in my ability to prepare myself with the Self-Study.
As you know if you have been reading, I wasn’t working at the time and used GoFundMe to help raise money from my family and friends to afford it all (thank you all again!!).
If cost is an issue, make sure to read ALLLLL the way to the end for a bonus!
Don’t forget that to be a CPT you must also have a current CPR/AED certification. It cost me $90 through the Red Cross so keep that in mind when budgeting. There was an online portion and then a practical where I had to go to the Red Cross for a couple hours on the weekend.
Preparing For The Exam
You have 180 days from the time you purchase your package to take the exam. Since I am a procrastinator, I ordered it in December and took the test less than a week before my 180 days was up. Whoops. As soon as I got my textbook, I leisurely started reading through it. I also utilized the online features and printed out both guides that are available for exam preparation. The first is a syllabus entitled “NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training Syllabus.”
If you need a good amount of structure and can adhere to a syllabus, there is a 75-day study planner that breaks down what you should be learning and when in order to be prepared to take your exam within 75 days. I had fully intended to use this planner, but failed miserably somewhere around day 4.
The second, and most important (for me), guide was “Preparing for the NASM Certified Personal Trainer Exam.”
I referred to this guide constantly as it had a breakdown of each chapter and what was essential to know. I used the outline to structure my notes and make sure that I knew each bullet point well before remembering other details that I thought may be on the test.
I know that flashcards work for a lot of people, but I hate them. If you are a flashcard person, by all means flash away. I actually convinced myself that I was a flashcard person, made this stack, then never used them.
I am a notebook person. I have a very visual memory so I remember pictures, my notes, and where information is located on a page, whether that be in my notebook or the textbook itself.
Around March (T-minus 3 months), I got more serious with my studying. I tried to get through a chapter a day (M-F) and take notes. Once I was done with the textbook, I would login to my online materials and watch the videos for each chapter for a more comprehensive understanding. There are also short “activities” which are basically mini-quizzes on the material you have just covered.
I finished the textbook this way and then let it sit until a week before my scheduled exam. I don’t know that I would suggest only giving yourself a week to actually study, but a lot of the anatomy/physiology (ch 2-4), nutrition (ch 17), and chronic health conditions (ch 16) chapters were easier for me from having 3 years of pharmacy school under my belt (at least it’s good for something!). I did need to review some aspects, but it wasn’t completely foreign to me.
I made the mistake of taking the online practice exam before I had even started studying. For some reason I thought that there would be different or new questions as I took it each time, but it is simply the same exam that you are allowed to take over and over. Since my brain remembers multiple choice answers really well, I took it once and then remembered which ones I got wrong when I went to take it again. I wrote down the sections I needed to study more, but I wish I had waited to take the test until after I had actually studied.
For me, I had to focus a lot on program design and specific muscle function. I knew a lot of muscles from already being involved in fitness, but I needed to know them more comprehensively in this context. My exam was scheduled on a Friday, so I studied a couple hours each day leading up to the exam. I had Neil quiz me from my notes and although I kept telling him that I needed him to be my exercise model, I never forced him to contort into weird positions.
Ok, this is the part I know you guys are actually interested in. The exam is multiple-choice, 120 questions, and you have 2 hours to finish it. Twenty of the questions are research questions, or trial questions that don’t actually count towards your final grade. They are included in the exam to see how they test for possible inclusion on future exams.
You must score a 70% or higher on the exam to pass. The questions are scaled, however, which means it is not as simple as “I can miss 30 questions and still pass!” They are weighted differently based on the difficulty of the question, so don’t go into the exam with the mentality that “I can miss x questions.” Really try and learn the information.
The entire examination is given on a computer and you are not allowed to use paper or pencil. There is no real math on it anyway, but it would have been nice to write out some of the tables I had memorized for quicker reference.
You are able to skip questions that you are not sure about and return to them at the end of the test. I have always done this when taking tests; I answer the ones I am confident of and then go back to the ones where I am unsure. If I didn’t have the answer right away, I skipped it and returned later.
I don’t want to scare anyone, but my exam was harder than I had expected. In truth, however, I’m not sure what I expected. I will say it was challenging, but as long as you are familiar with the information you should be fine. There were no questions where I said “what is this nonsense I have never seen this in my life!” If anything, there were a couple where I knew that I had purposefully not spent a lot of time on that section and that I would have the answer if I did.
It took me a little over an hour to finish the exam. Once I was done (and had confirmed as such 3 different times), I expected either a giant CONGRATULATIONS (with fireworks) or a sad TRY AGAIN, DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200 notification. Instead, I got a 10-question survey from NASM about my testing experience followed by a notification that my exam was ended. I creeped back into the waiting room in apprehension where the proctor gave me my phone and ID back as well as my congratulatory letter. I just want to clarify that you don’t get fireworks on your screen if you pass.
Things To Focus On
The “Preparing for the NASM Certified Personal Training Exam” guide has a lot of this information, but in my opinion I would make sure to focus on the following areas:
- definitions in each chapter
- phases of the OPT Model
- basic anatomy (ch 2)
- basic differences btw joint types
- sarcomere, GTO, muscle spindle
- respiratory pump
- pathways to replenish ATP
- human movement science (ch 5)
- frontal, sagittal, transverse plane
- what CPTs can and can not do legally
- subjective vs. objective assessment information
- heart rate
- training zones (1, 2, 3)
- different body composition measurements
- cardiorespiratory assessments
- common distortion patterns (pronation distortion, lower crossed, upper crossed)!
- overhead squat assessment!
- pushing/pulling assessment!
- performance assessments (p. 150)
- definitions in chapter 7
- flexibility continuum, which stretches to use
- Table 7.6!!
- stage training (HR, RPE)
- muscles of the core
- exercise progressions and regressions
- exercises for each OPT phase for each section (flexibility, balance, plyo, etc)
- SAQ training drills
- general adaption syndrome
- SAID principle
- all resistance training systems (table 13.3)
- acute variables of training (reps, sets, intensity, etc)
- basic understanding of exercise modalities (ch 15)
- basic understanding of what the chronic health conditions are what adaptations need to be made with those populations
- proteins/amino acids
- how many calories in each
- ergogenic & dietary supplements
- stages of change
- initial session
- strategies to enhance exercise adherence
- 4 P’s
- 10 steps to success
- Appendix D isolated function of muscles
Remember there are different versions of the test so what I needed to know may not be the same for all exams. This is generally a pretty comprehensive list though.
What I Plan To Do With My Certification
As I work on growing this blog, I need to focus on income that is available to me RIGHT NOW. I am able to use the space at Sweat to train clients by paying a small rental fee. I have also talked to some people about online training which I may look more into. I bought insurance yesterday which I was advised to do as soon as possible. I am also in talks with another trainer to sub-contract and take over some of his overflow clients. Ultimately I want to be able to train clients on a part time basis while also writing, teaching classes, and blogging. I sound like a crazy person. Need a trainer?
I contacted NASM about a reward for all you fine folks who actually made it to the bottom of this post. I will say that I have only heard great things about their customer service and now that I have experienced it first hand, I wholeheartedly agree. Within 2 hours (on a Friday), I heard back from Jacob Houg who is happy to offer a special discount to anyone who contacts him and mentions either Erin’s Inside Job or Erin Bahadur. His email is Jacob.Houg@nasm.org and his direct line is 602-383-1271. If any of you are on the fence about signing up, this is the nudge you have been waiting for!
Thank you all so much again for supporting me in this and please feel free to email me at email@example.com if you have any more questions!
- How do you study?
- Have you taken the exam? What was your experience?
- If you are a CPT, how have you used your certification?