How to Prepare for the NSCA-CPT Exam

One of the most common questions received is, "How do I prepare for the NSCA-CPT®  exam?" Preparation for the NSCA’s certification exam begins with a plan. The following steps provide you with a set of recommendations that may need modification based on your specific background: no one set of recommendations or resources can meet the needs of each individual.

Step 1: Planning

  • Ensure you choose the right certification based on the population you will work with. The NSCA-CPT is for those working with the general population.
  • Review the requirements for this certification here. Passing the exam is only one of the requirements.
  • Read the NSCA Certification Handbook to understand the examination process and to review the NSCA-CPT Detailed Content Outline (DCO) upon which the exam is based.
  • Talk to people with similar backgrounds who have passed the exam to get insights on what worked for them.
  • Utilizing the table provided, determine how much time is recommended for studying based on your background and set a target date for your exam.  
  • Build a weekly study schedule.

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 NSCA-CPT Study Guide, based on the NSCA-CPT Detailed Content Outline, will provide study guidance, help you understand the exam's design and structure, and allow you to assess your knowledge as you prepare. 
  • The NSCA's Essentials of Personal Training, 3ed is an excellent resource for those preparing for the NSCA-CPT exam. This text has been developed to align with the DCO and aid your preparation.
  • For a full list of NSCA resources and their descriptions: NSCA Official Resources.

 Note: Professional certification exams do not assess your ability to memorize and recall content found within the materials, but your ability to apply the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to practice in the specified profession. 

Become a NSCA Member and receive the following benefits:

  • Gain access to NSCA journals.
  • Gain access to NSCA TV, where you can stream exclusive NSCA videos, educational resources, and live events.
  • Save money on the purchase of materials and the exam. 
  • Earn free CEUs to help maintain certification(s). 

Step 3: Study

Note: The following recommendations include the use of the NSCA Official Materials. The NSCA does not require, provide, nor endorse any specific study guides, preparation materials, or review courses. Candidates who chhose to use and/or purchase NSCA preparatory materials are not guaranteed a passing score on certification exams offered by the NSCA. 

  • Review the recommendations for preparation in the NSCA-CPT Study Guide. 
  • Utilize the self-assessment steps to determine what you need to study and whether there are knowledge, skills, or abilities that need extra focus.
  • Complete a practice test as a preassessment to identify additional areas of concern. The NSCA's CPT Quizzes and Practice Test product contains a full-length test similar in design and content to the certification exam. Note: Practice tests should not be used as learning tools, but as a gauge of depth of preparation for the real exam. Therefore, answers are not provided for practice test questions. 
  • Develop a study schedule; study all content emphasizing areas of challenge presented during the self-assessment and practice test. Study recommendations:
    • Answer the open-ended questions found in the NSCA-CPT Study Guide.
    • Complete domain-specific quizzes if using the NSCA's CPT Quizzes and Practice Test.
    • Enhance your knowledge and skills by reviewing topic-specific webinars, articles, and references.
  • Recommended option: Attend an NSCA-CPT Exam Prep Live Clinic and receive a comprehensive review of the exam's content areas. 
  • Complete a practice test again to gauge your readiness for the exam.
  • Decide if further study of the exam preparation materials is needed; register to take your exam.

Good Luck!

Additional Resources

Join our moderators in open discussions about topics that are most challenging on the exam and ask questions that you need help with.
Are you looking for assistance in studying and preparing for the NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) exam? Check out the NSCA's Exam Prep Live Clinic - Online! This live educational clinic is offered periodically throughout the year.
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