How to Pass the CSCS Exam

coaching certification exam prep strength and conditioning strength coach Jul 13, 2022

Edited by: Danielle Abel

Not Sure What it Takes to Pass the CSCS Exam?

You're ready to specialize, but you're unsure exactly what it takes to pass the exam, right? 

Let's break it down, so you feel more confident in what to expect to help you prepare and be able to pass the exam successfully the first time. 

Read The Book (Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 4th Edition)

This may seem pretty obvious, but most of the exam is literally written right from the book. It's close to 600 pages, but it has many diagrams and figures scattered throughout the book, which makes the quantity of reading less. Reading the text chapter by chapter (around 2-3 chapters per week) can help you to break down the quantity of reading into more manageable chunks. 

*Pro tip: Start at the back of the book in the programming section as primarily everything you learn relates back to programming. 

When it comes to the concepts when taking notes, try to relate the concept back to yourself or back to an athlete that you either have worked with or would like to work with. This will help you apply the concepts, which allows for a greater capacity to learn the material and not just memorize the concepts for the test. 

Real-life experience in these subjects can definitely help you as well:

  • Exercise science
  • Strength and conditioning
  • Personal training
  • Group fitness

Exam Parts

  • Exercise Science/ Scientific Foundations (need 56/80 to pass)
    • Exercise Sciences (the majority of questions fall here)
      • Muscle Physiology
      • Cardiopulmonary Physiology
      • Bioenergetics
        • Krebs Cycle
        • Glycolysis
        • Oxidative Phosphorylation
        • Lactic Acid Cycle
    • Nutrition
      • Macronutrients
      • Meal Timing
      • Caloric Calculations
      • Eating Disorders


  • Practical Applied (need 84/110 to pass)
    • Exercise Technique
      • Pictures/Videos
      • Exercise Form
      • Cues to Give
    • Program Design
    • Organization and Administration
    • Testing and Evaluation 

Take Notes

It might be helpful to select a set number of pages to review each week. While you're reading, take notes on important concepts that you feel you need to understand deeper. The process of writing it down can be a helpful tool to help you understand the material vs. just reading it and forgetting about it. 

Schedule Your Exam

It might be helpful to estimate how long you think it will take you to prepare and then register for the exam. Having an exam date gives you accountability with a timeline and deadline to work with and helps you prioritize CSCS studying and preparation. If you have a pretty good background already, you may be ready to sit for the exam in 2-3 months. If you are new to the material, it may take you 6, 9, or 12 months to prepare & feel confident enough to sit for the exam. 

Top 5 Tips for Successful Completion

  1. Get a strength and conditioning internship to gain experience
    1. If you can't do an internship, do some shadowing or network within the field to understand more about what strength and conditioning coaches actually do to help you understand and apply the concepts 
  2. Join a study group
    1. The material is very intense, so a study group can be helpful for accountability and support as you are preparing for the exam
    2. The Movement System has a no-cost Strength and Conditioning Study Group on Facebook for this very reason, you can join it here.
  3. Use online resources (Google & YouTube) to learn 1 new concept at a time
    1. It would be extremely difficult to search "Nutrition" because the amount of information you're going to get is going to be vast. Try to be more specific with your search, for example, "the Karvonen Formula" as it relates to  heart rate max
  4. Track your macros
    1. Even if you aren't necessarily worried about your own nutrition, it can be helpful to use yourself as a subject to learn macronutrients. If you don't already have it, download the free myfitnesspal app and just track your intake (food and drinks) as accurately as you can for a bare minimum of 2 weeks
      1. What is your average protein intake? How does this number compare with the recommended protein parameters that the NSCA recommends for your sport (endurance or strength)?
      2. What are your protein, carb, and fat distributions compared to what the NSCA recommends?
  5. Follow a strength and conditioning program yourself
    1. Find a strength coach to work with and use yourself as a subject to learn concepts like % of 1RM, periodized progression schemes, a preseason program, an in-season program, a general population program (GPP), etc. 
    2. Following an S&C program will help you apply the concepts you are learning and understand where they would fit into a longer programming plan
    3. Write your own progressive program after you've had an opportunity to apply the concepts yourself, for example, an off-season, a pre-season and in-season program for a soccer athlete; write it down on a piece of paper with rows and columns; it doesn't need to be complicated or fancy

In Summary

You can definitely pass the CSCS exam by understanding the material that will be tested, scheduling adequate study & preparation time, and using yourself to apply the concepts you are learning. Don't forget to join our Strength and Conditioning Study Group on Facebook here if you haven't already. 

Support & Courses Available

Ready for even more? Our 24-module CSCS Prep Course has all the CSCS required concepts & applications expected for the exam completely laid out for you with even more content than what we’ve provided here, plus chapter quizzes to help you pass the NSCA exam; click the link here to check it out.




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