Certified Special Population Specialist Exam Description

The Certified Special Population Specialist® (CSPS®) exam is comprised of 100 scored and 10 non-scored* multiple-choice questions that tests candidate's knowledge, skill, and ability in the following four domains:

1. Basic Pathophysiology and Science of Health Status, Condition, Disorder, or Disease
2. Client Consultation
3. Program Planning
4. Safety, Emergency Procedures, and Legal Issues

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.

In 2022, 59% of candidates passed the CSPS exam. 


Domain   Percent of Exam Number of Questions  
Basic Pathophysiology and Science of Health Status or Condition, Disorder, or Disease 40% 40
Client Consultation 19% 19
Program Planning 31% 31
Safety, Emergency Procedures, and Legal Issues 10% 10
Non-Scored Questions* - 10
Total   100%
Length of exam  
2.5 hours 
Basic Pathophysiology and Science of Health Status, Condition, Disorder, or Disease

Cardiovascular; Pulmonary; Metabolic; Immunological and hematological; Musculoskeletal/orthopedic; Neuromuscular; Post-rehabilitation; Cancer; Female-specific conditions; Behavioral/psychological disorders; Older adults; Children and adolescents.

Client Consultation

Fitness professional's role; Health appraisal; Fitness evaluation.

Program Planning

SMART goals; Program design; Motivational/coaching techniques; Client outcomes; Referrals.

Safety, Emergency Procedures, and Legal Issues

Scope of practice requirements; Safety procedures; Emergency procedures; Professional, legal, and ethical responsibilities; HIPAA regulations. 

The information above is only a summary of the information covered on the exam. The detailed content outline is available in the NSCA Certification Handbook (PDF).


Explanation of Non-Scored Exam Questions

The CSPS exam contains non-scored questions that are being evaluated for future use. Including this type of question allows the CSPS 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 (10 nonscored questions appear in the CSPS 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 CSPS 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.

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