NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer Exam Description

The NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer® (NSCA-CPT®) exam is comprised of 140 scored and 15 non-scored* multiple-choice questions that tests candidate's knowledge in the following four domains:

  1. Client Consultation/Fitness Assessment
  2. Program Planning
  3. Exercise Technique
  4. Safety/Emergency Issues
  • There are 25-35 video and/or image items that assess competencies across multiple domains.

The pass rate was 76% for candidates attempting the NSCA-CPT exam for the first time in 2017.

Get the Detailed Content Outline

The detailed content outline for the exam is available in the NSCA Certification Handbook(PDF).

Download the Certification Handbook (PDF)

New Exam and Detailed Content Outline | Effective February 1, 2019

On behalf of the NSCA, ACS Ventures, LLC (ACS) conducted a job task analysis study (JTA) for the NSCA Certified Personal Trainer certification on April 5-6, 2018, in Colorado Springs, CO. The meeting contained ten subject-matter experts (SMEs) from various disciplines across the personal training community (i.e. corporate, athletes, individuals or groups). The purpose of this study was to review and update the detailed content outline (DCO) for the NSCA-CPT program.

  • Exams taken before February 1, 2019 will follow the existing DCO (Pages 2-7).
  • Exams taken on or after February 1, 2019 will follow the new DCO (Pages 8-13).
  • It is possible to register for the NSCA-CPT examination and be studying from the old DCO but take the exam when the new DCO becomes active. Please be conscious and aware of this if you register for the exam in the Fall 2018.


Domain Percent of Exam Number of Questions
Client Consultation/Assessment 25% 35
Program Planning 31% 43
Exercise Techniques 31% 43
Safety, Emergency Procedures and Legal Issues 13% 19
Non-Scored Questions* - 15
Total 100% 155
Number of video questions (already included in the total)    25-35 
Length of exam    3 hours

Client Consultation/Assessment
Initial interview; Medical history and health appraisal; Fitness evaluation; Basic nutrition review.

Program Planning
Goal setting; Program design; Training adaptations; Special populations.

Exercise Techniques
Machine resistance exercises; Free weight exercises; Flexibility exercises; Calisthenic and bodyweight exercises; Sport-specific/performance-related activities; Cardiovascular machines; non-machine cardiovascular activities; Alternative training activities.

Safety, Emergency Procedures and Legal Issues
Safety procedures; Emergency response; Professional, legal, and ethical responsibility.

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

Explanation of Non-Scored Exam Questions

The NSCA-CPT exam contains non-scored questions that are being "pretested" or evaluated for future use. Including this type of question allows the NSCA-CPT 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 NSCA-CPT 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 NSCA-CPT 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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