Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Exam Description

The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) exam is comprised of two sections that test the candidate's knowledge, skill, and ability in the Scientific Foundations and Practical/Applied areas.

1. Scientific Foundations - 80 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions

2. Practical/Applied - 110 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions

To pass any NSCA certification exam, you must earn a scaled score of 70 or higher. More information on scaled scores can be found on the exam scoring page.

During 2022, over 5,000 candidates sat for both sections of the CSCS exam. Of those candidates, 64% passed the Scientific Foundations section, 42% passed the Practical/Applied section, and 38% passed both sections. 

Candidates must pass both sections and meet all other eligibility requirements within one year from initial exam date.


Scientific Foundations Summary

The Scientific Foundations section, which is 1.5 hours in length, is designed to assess a candidate's knowledge in the areas of exercise sciences (anatomy, exercise physiology, biomechanics, etc.), sport psychology, and nutrition.

Domain   Percent of Exam   Number of Questions  
Exercise Science 55% 44
Sport Psychology 24% 19
Nutrition 21% 17
Non-scored Questions * - 15
Length of section  
1.5 hours

Exercise Science
Anatomy and physiology (muscular, neuromuscular, bone and connective tissue, cardiopulmonary); Biomechanics; Bioenergetics and metabolism, Neuroendocrine physiology; Physiological adaptations; Differences among athletes (e.g., age, sex, training status); Knowledge of scientific research and statistics.

Sport Psychology
Psychological foundations of performance; Motor learning and skill acquisition techniques; Mental health issues in athletes.

Nutritional factors affecting health; Nutrition to maximize performance; Common supplements and performance-enhancing substances.

The information above is only a summary of the Scientific Foundations section. The detailed content outline is available in the NSCA Certification Handbook (PDF).

Practical/Applied Summary

The Practical/Applied section, which is 2.5 hours in length, is designed to assess a candidate's knowledge of exercise techniques, program design, testing and evaluation, and organization/administration. There are 30-40 video and/or image items that assess competencies across multiple domains.

Domain   Percent of exam Number of Questions
Exercise Technique 36% 40
Program Design 35% 38
Organization and Administration 11% 12
Testing and Evaluation 18% 20
Non-scored Questions * - 15
Length of section  
2.5 hours

Exercise Technique
Movement preparation, Resistance training technique (free weight training, resistance machines, alternative modes, non-traditional implements); Olympic weight lifting and plyometric exercise; Speed/sprint technique; Agility technique; Energy systems development (aerobic and anaerobic conditioning activities); Recovery techniques.

Program Design
Needs analysis; Training methods and modes; Exercise selection; Exercise order; Exercise intensities; Training volumes; Work/rest periods, recovery and unloading; Exercise progression; Periodization models and concepts; Programming during athlete injury/reconditioning.

Organization and Administration
Organizational environment; Design, layout, and organization of strength and conditioning facility; Professional practice; Common litigation issues.

Testing, Ongoing Monitoring, and Data Evaluation
Select appropriate evidence-based tests; Administer testing and implement monitoring protocols and procedures; Evaluate and interpret test results.

The information above is only a summary of the Practical/Applied section. The detailed content outline is available in the NSCA Certification Handbook (PDF).

*Explanation of Non-Scored Exam Questions

The CSCS exam contains non-scored questions that are being "pretested" or evaluated for future use. Including this type of question allows the CSCS Exam Development Committee to collect meaningful information about new questions that may appear as real scored questions on future exams.

Pretesting is accomplished by interspersing new ("untried") questions throughout the exam (15 non-scored questions appear in each section of the CSCS exam). Only this small number is included so that additional testing time will not be needed by exam candidates. These questions are not scored as part of a candidate's certification exam, and they do not affect an individual's pass/fail status. The non-scored questions are scattered throughout the exam so candidates will answer them with the same effort that they give to the actual scored questions.

To keep the CSCS exam reflective of current job-related duties, new questions must continuously be introduced and evaluated. Pretesting is an accepted testing practice that creates a statistically sound standardized exam and allows candidates to receive scores that are based only on previously used ("tried") questions.

Please note: A strength training and conditioning professional must write effective and well-defined training programs for a wide variety of sports, including those that he/she did not actually participate in or play. The examination questions evaluate the person's knowledge in the areas of anaerobic and aerobic training programs based upon an athlete's sport, strength and conditioning levels and training goals as well as proper performance test selection, administration and evaluation of results based on the athlete's sport.

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