How to Prepare for the NSCA-CSCS Exam

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By Published On: October 20, 2022

For those entering the strength and conditioning field, proper certification can allow you to meet industry standards and stay competitive within the field. The National Strength and Conditioning Association offers a number of industry recognized certifications, including Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification.

What is a CSCS Certification?

The CSCS certification is ideal for those who aim to work with elite athletes to improve performance in a variety of settings.

In order to pass the exam, individuals will need to meet certain prerequisites, have strong background knowledge in a variety of exercise science topics, and need to adequately study for the exam.

The CSCS Exam

The CSCS exam covers content across multiple exercise science disciplines. There are 190 scored questions total, as well as 30 non-scored multiple choice questions, divided up into two sections: Scientific Foundations, and Practical/Applied knowledge. The total exam is designed to take around four hours; one and a half hours for Scientific Foundations and two and a half for Practical/Applied knowledge. The exam must be taken in person, at an official Pearson VUE testing center, and must be taken within 120 days of registering for the exam. The registration fee for the exam is $340 for NSCA members, and $475 for non-members.

Scientific Foundations

The Scientific Foundations portion of the exam covers three main areas of knowledge: exercise science, sport psychology, and nutrition. There are 44 exercise science questions, 19 sport psychology questions, and 17 nutrition questions. The exercise science questions primarily focus on anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, bioenergetics, metabolism, neuroendocrine physiology, physiological adaptations, and knowledge of scientific research and statistics.

The sport psychology section focuses on mental health for athletes, motor learning, and other psychological foundations for performance. The nutrition section focuses on nutrition to maximize performance, supplements and performance-enhancing substances, and other nutrition factors that impact health.

Practical/Applied Knowledge

The Practical/Applied knowledge portion of the exam is divided into four aspects of applied knowledge: exercise technique, program design, organization and administration, and testing and evaluation. There are 40 exercise technique questions, 38 program design questions, 12 organization and administration questions, and 20 testing and evaluation questions. Some questions include video or images to help evaluate knowledge.

The exercise technique section includes questions about resistance training technique, movement preparation, olympic weightlifting, plyometric exercise, sprint technique, agility technique, energy systems development, and recovery techniques.

The program design section includes questions focused on exercise order, selection, intensity, and progressions, in addition to questions about training methods and modes, needs analysis, training volumes, work and rest periods, recovery and unloading, periodization models and concepts, and programming during athlete injury or reconditioning.

The organization and administration section includes questions about design, layout, and organization of strength and conditioning facilities, as well as questions on professional practice, common litigation issues, and organizational environments.

The testing and evaluation section includes questions surrounding selecting appropriate tests, administering tests, implementing monitoring procedures and protocols, and evaluating and interpreting test results.

Additional information about the exam including how to apply for accommodations, exam day check-in information, and specifics about the registration process can be found here.

Prerequisites for the CSCS Exam

In order to earn certification, there are certain CSCS certification requirements individuals must meet. As a prerequisite for the exam, individuals must have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, or be enrolled as a college senior at an accredited institution. Terminal physical therapy or chiropractic medicine degrees are also accepted. Those seeking certification must also have active CPR/AED certification, and have to submit proof of certification within one year of the exam date.

Proof of eligibility has to be submitted within a year of the exam date, otherwise the exam results become invalid.

Starting in 2030, individuals will need to have a bachelor’s degree specifically from a program accredited by an NSCA-approved accrediting agency. The degree will meet specific criteria focusing around strength and conditioning.

Benefits of CSCS Certification

Many jobs within strength and conditioning are likely to require CSCS certification, especially those working as high school or collegiate strength and conditioning coaches. Certification through the NSCA helps inform employers that you have the necessary knowledge and skills to work with a wide variety of athletes.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual pay for coaches and scouts is $38,970, with those working at colleges and universities earning a median pay of $48,710. PayScale lists the average salary for certified strength and conditioning specialists at $64,000.

How to Prepare for the CSCS Exam

The NSCA gives a number of resources to help individuals prepare for the CSCS exam. CSCS exam prep should start with reviewing the detailed content outline for the exam, which can be found here. The NSCA produces a number of materials to help individuals prepare for the exam, including a CSCS Study Guide, CSCS Practice Questions, Exercise Technique Manual 4ed, and Essentials of Strength Training 4ed. There are study packages offered by the NSCA with these resources bundled together at a lower price point. By purchasing the CSCS Practice Questions, it can serve as a CSCS practice exam; by the third time you go through the questions, NSCA suggests getting 85% of them or more correct indicates proper preparation.

Additionally, the NSCA holds Exam Prep Live Clinics that provide a review of the most relevant content test takers will need to review. The clinics are two to three days and feature both lecture format and hands-on instruction when available, and are offered in both in-person and zoom settings. Dates and locations of their clinics can be found here.

There is also a CSCS Exam Prep Facebook group where individuals can connect with each other to build study groups.

A large part of preparation will be completing a bachelor’s program. While it’s not yet required that individuals take a bachelor’s program specific to exercise science or strength and conditioning, completing an undergraduate in exercise science will provide you with the foundational knowledge that will help prepare you to pass the exam.

Concordia University Chicago’s BS in Kinesiology program is a 100% online program that is designed for working adults. With anytime, anywhere learning and up to 50% transfer credit opportunities, the program is built to make it easier for you to earn your degree. Classes start every eight weeks; learn more and when you’re ready, fill out a free application.

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