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6 Tips to Prepping for the CSCS Exam

Grace Stiles
May 18, 2023

The CSCS is the exam you must pass to become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. The test is very challenging and requires a lot of preparation. You are required to have a bachelor’s degree to even sit for the exam which is what separates it from other certifications. According to the NSCA, 5,000 participants attempted the exam in 2022. Only 38% of these participants passed both sections of the exam. We have decided to put together some tips to help you better prepare for test day!

1. Set a date

Sign up for the test before you start studying. This will hold you accountable and allow you to pace yourself as you study. If you have a background in exercise science, give yourself at least 2-3 months to study especially if you are working a full time job at the same time. If you do not have a degree or experience in exercise science give yourself 4-6 months to learn the material. See more NSCA suggestions here

2. Know the Test

The exam is composed of two sections – the scientific foundations and the practical/applied portions. There will be 80 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions in the scientific foundation section and they are broken down as follows:

  • Exercise science: 44 questions
  • Sport psychology: 19 questions
  • Nutrition: 17 questions
  • Non-scored: 15 questions

There are 110 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions in the practical/applied section:

  • Exercise technique: 40 questions
  • Program design: 38 questions
  • Organization & administration - 12 questions
  • Testing & evaluation - 20 questions
  • Non-scored: 15 questions

Non-scored questions are questions being "pre-tested" or evaluated for future use. To pass the exam, you need to score a 70% or higher on both sections. If you fail one section, you can retake and if you pass within 1 year, you become certified! 

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3. Read the Textbook

READ THE BOOK! The exam material is mostly based on the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 4th edition. There are study guides and courses to help you, however, reading the material is the best way to learn the information. Reading 5-10 pages per day (this may be different depending on your timeline) will allow you to understand the material and let it sink in.

Take your time when going through the following chapters:

  • Chapter 8 - Psychology of Athletic Preparation and Performance

Pay extra attention to the stages of motor learning, the inverted-U theory, and complex skills vs simple skills

  • Chapter 10 - Nutrition Strategies for Maximizing Performance

Be familiar with the nutrition calculations (can’t use a calculator on the exam), hydration and USG recommendations, amount of calories in 1 g of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, protein requirements for strength and endurance athletes, and BMI categories.

  • Chapter 12 - Principles of Test Selection and Administration

Be familiar with all the terminology in this chapter especially the types of validity

  • Chapter 13 - Administration, Scoring, and Interpretation of Selected Tests

Be familiar with testing protocols and good scores and bad scores for each test

  • Chapter 15 - Exercise Technique for Free Weight and Machine Training

    Know the upward & downward phases of movement for each exercise and the spotter positions.
  • Chapter 21 - Periodization

Pay extra attention to rep schemes and percentages for each training block, percentage of 1RM & reps allowed. Practice by writing your own linear periodization plan on a blank sheet of paper.

  • Chapter 23 - Facility Design, Layout, and Organization

Be familiar with distances between equipment, ceiling height, etc.

4. Take Practice Exams

Practice exams will help prepare you for the types of questions that you will encounter. The questions are detail-oriented and really test how well you know the material. We highly recommend going through the 5 question quizzes at the end of each chapter in the textbook. Having an understanding of what questions are like regarding nutrition, exercise administration and testing, sport psychology can be very helpful ahead of time. We also suggest you check out our CSCS Study Course which comes with a practice exam at the end! 

5. Study in Increments

Come up with a study plan that outlines what you will be reading and studying every day. If you plan to study for 12 weeks, that ends up averaging around 8-10 pages of reading per day. If you plan to take 24 weeks to study, that ends up being about 4-6 pages of material per day. 

6. Use our Self-paced Study Course

Our study course allows you to move at your own pace. We provide study guides and videos that take you through the exam material chapter by chapter. We also provide a practice exam that tests your knowledge of the textbook content. Check out this link if you want to learn more!

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