How to Prepare for the CSPS Exam

One of the most common questions received is, "How do I prepare for the CSPS®  exam"? Preparation for the NSCA’s certification exams begins with a plan. The following checklist provides you with a series of recommendations that are fairly comprehensive and therefore may need to be modified dependent on your background: no one series of recommendations or resources can meet the needs of each individual. It is important for you to determine what steps will meet your needs and provide you with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to become a professional.

Step 1: Planning

  • Ensure you chose the correct certification.
  • Review Exam Prerequisites.
  • Read the Detailed Content Outline in the NSCA Certification Handbook.
  • Review Exam Content Description booklet.
  • Talk to people with similar backgrounds who have passed to get insights on what worked for them.
  • Determine how much time you need to study & set a target exam date.
  • Create and commit to a study schedule. 
  • Ensure you have a minimum of 250 hours of related practical experience.

Exercise Science Related Degree

Internships or Practical Experience

Approximate Length of Time



3 to 6 weeks



3 to 6 months



4 to 6 months



6 to 9 months

Step 2: Get Your Study Materials

The CSPS certification exam is not based on recall from textbooks and materials, but an assessment of your knowledge, skills, and ability to be a Certified Special Populations Specialist. However, the NSCAs textbook and official resources are valuable tools to help you prepare for the CSPS exam. Visit the NSCA Store to view the CSPS exam preparation materials that are available. 

Additional Resources for gaining knowledge and experience:

  • Become a Member and gain access to NSCA journals and member-only content.

Step 3: Study

  • Review Detailed Content Outline in the content Description booklet to identify your level of comprehension for each domain, sub-domain or task.
  • Develop a study schedule with an emphasis on the weaker topics, but study all topics.
  • Connect with others by creating a study group.
  • Use the Online Practice Questions to:
    • 1st time - to identify areas of weakness.
    • 2nd time - after review of content to assess knowledge and understanding.
    • 3rd time - toward the end, Score > 85% and identify why you chose the answer and why you did not choose other answers (reminder: a passing score on exams are evaluated on a performance standard scale and not percentage based).
  • Answer open-ended questions found in the Content Description Booklet.
  • Seek topic-specific webinars, articles, or references to address areas of weakness.
  • Decide if further study of the exam preparation materials is needed; if not, register for the exam.

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