Thinking about getting CSCS certified? Thoughts from a non exercise-science major.

Update: See my updated post with a Q&A with current DPT Students Here.

Greetings all,

I know some of my friends out there might be curious about the CSCS credential.  I only bring this up because one of the certified athletic trainers I used to work with as a student assistant in college texted me and asked how I approached studying for it.  So I decided to help out and give you an edge to pass the exam.


So what is exactly is the CSCS credential?  Well, according to the NSCA,

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists(CSCSs) are professionals who apply scientific knowledge to train athletes for the primary goal of improving athletic performance. They conduct sport-specific testing sessions, design and implement safe and effective strength training and conditioning programs and provide guidance regarding nutrition and injury prevention. Recognizing that their area of expertise is separate and distinct, CSCSs consult with and refer athletes to other professionals when appropriate.

The CSCS is highly considered the gold standard in training athletes.  In most cases, if you want to be a strength coach in collegiate and/or professional sports, you have to have this certification or the Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), which is the NASM equivalent.  If training athletes isn’t your thing, you can also look into being a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) which are the ones you find at your local gyms.  You can look to get certified by many governing bodies, but the two that are proabably most popular are the NSCA and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) But, I won’t go much more into that topic.

The exam, which can be either computer-based or pen and paper, consists of two parts; a scientific foundations section and practical/applied section, 40 questions of which are video based. Topics can range and vary from but are not limited to anatomy and physiology, technique, program design, testing, administration, etc.  You have to answer at least 70% of the questions correctly to pass – some questions are experimental and don’t count towards the actual score, just like on the SAT, MCAT, GRE.  You can find out more on the test and pre-requisites here.

Just to highlight some of the pre-requisites

  • candidates must hold at least a bachelor’s degree or currently be enrolled as a college senior
  • candidates must hold current CPR and AED certification. Registrants must submit a copy of current CPR/AED certification card.

From what I understand and heard about, the first time passing rate is around 65%.  Don’t let that discourage you from preparing and taking the test! I thought it would be like taking the MCAT, but it’s not that bad.

Now, if you’re coming from an exercise science background, you should have no problem with the basics of the test.  Just read the suggested  textbook (link posted later) about the little tidbits the NSCA wants you to know.  If you’re a non exercise science major like myself, majoring in Biology or the other physical sciences, it shouldn’t be too bad depending on how much anatomy and physiology you’ve taken and also how much athletic background you’ve had.  If you have no experience at all with the above, then this test will no doubt be a challenge, but not impossible.  The test goes over general ideas, not in depth material.

So hopefully your thinking this is pretty cool and now asking how should I study.  Don’t worry, I’ll give you some pointers that helped me pass.  It may not work for everyone, but I feel it should give you a good idea where to start and work from.

First, I would join the NSCA here, especially if your still a full-time student since they give you a membership discount. discount in online store and access to many free articles and information, which will be helpful later on.  All you need is to send in a copy of your schedule for the semester.  If you’re a graduating senior, be sure to grab the student membership while you can – that’s what I did.


Next thing to do, is order some study materials. I highly suggest getting this study pack as it includes three (3) short practice tests (which are formatted like the real thing) and a DVD to practice the video questions you will encounter.  I would also suggest getting this book as it is the official one to study from.  Don’t get it from the NSCA store as it will be very expensive.  I suggest amazon or to get them.  Heck, even the old edition would be just as fine and you can also get it here.

Okay, you’ve got your study guide materials.  What next?  Now this depends on each person’s study habits, but here’s what I did.  Again, this may not work for you, but it’s just a stepping stone.  The thickness of the textbook maybe be daunting, but if you taking an hour or two everyday and thoroughly read a chapter a night, you can bang out the whole text in a month (provided you read everyday).  I also highly suggest taking notes as it will ingrain the knowledge into your head.  Remember, practice makes permanent.

Read the text from cover to cover at least once.  Take one of the practice tests simulating the testing environment instructed and see where your weak-points are.  Go back and study what you missed and test again until you feel confident about the material.

If you have the time, I would highly recommend getting an internship and an athletic performance place like a Parisi Speed School.  I can tell you without a doubt, that applying and seeing the knowledge you read about will definitely help you remember the stuff. Also, internships are FREE and will help you fill out your resume as well.  So it’s a win-win situation.

So there it is, my take on how I prepared for the CSCS exam.  If you have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.  Good Luck, and stay motivated and dedicated!



NSCA Certification: CSCS

6 thoughts on “Thinking about getting CSCS certified? Thoughts from a non exercise-science major.

  1. Hey thanks for your article, really does help as a guideline!

    I tried clicking on the link in your article to order the study pack which includes three (3) short practice tests (which are formatted like the real thing) and a DVD to practice the video questions but it takes me to the NCSA site and says the product is not found.

    Any way i can get an idea of the study pack you mentioned above?

    1. Hi Ilana,

      Unfortunately, I think they have done away with that study package and have totally gone electronic with regards to the study questions and such. All of their stuff can be found on the website store. Hope that helps!

questions, comments, concerns?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s