Is the CSCS Exam Hard? What to Expect

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The NSCA CSCS exam is considered one of the hardest tests in the personal training industry. The CSCS certification, or Certified Strength and Conditions Specialist, is considered one of the highest certifications in the industry and comes at a pretty hefty price. This level of test-taking requires determination, hard work, and intelligent study methods in order to pass. 

While this test is nowhere near easy, it doesn’t have to be an impossible giant for you to struggle to overcome. With the proper tools, a great attitude, and good motivation, you can master the knowledge necessary to make the score you deserve. 

Part of the process for getting that score is hard work and dedication. It’s definitely something you have to earn and there is no easy answer for how to earn it. The first step in getting the score you want out of the NSCA CSCS is knowing exactly what you are going up against. 

By having an accurate view of what you’ll be dealing with, you can plan correctly and use your resources to leverage your time, energy, and mental capacity to get the score that you want. So let’s take a closer look at how hard the CSCS exam really is, and what are some great ways you can improve your chances of getting that passing score. 

What All Is Involved in The CSCS Exam?

The CSCS exam is considered to be one of the hardest certification exams in the industry. That being said, knowing how it works, and what to expect on test day can help you better prepare and get the score you want. Here are some aspects of the CSCS exam you need to be aware of. 

Build Your Stamina

The CSCS exam itself is cut into two large sections and is estimated to take a total of four hours to complete. There’s no way around the sheer volume of this exam, and the endurance that you’ll need to develop in order to do well on the exam.

In fact, building your endurance for long exams is a crucial part of performing well. If you master the material for an exam of this magnitude but don’t work on cultivating the endurance and skill it takes to complete a long exam, your knowledge can prove to not be enough. One of the best ways to prepare yourself for the long hours of arduous work your mind will be doing is taking practice exams often where you get to experience and get familiar with the length and difficulty of the exam well before taking it. 

How Many Parts Are Involved? 

As you may expect a four-hour exam to be, the CSCS has multiple parts to it. Composed of seven parts that are divided into two major sections. 

The first section is the shorter of the two sections, averaged at 1.5 hours to complete, and is made up of three parts. The parts, or categories, covered in the first section are Exercise Science, Sports Psychology, and Nutrition. This is considered the scientific foundational section of the exam. It is composed of 80 scored questions and 15 non-scored questions for a total of 95 questions in the first section alone. 

The second section is composed of four categories, Exercise Technique, Program Design, Organization and Administration, Testing and Evaluation. This larger section of the test covers the practical application of the CSCS certification and is composed of 125 questions in total. This second half of the test is averaged to take around 2.5 hours to complete. 

What Study Method Should You Use?

It’s sad to say that over 40% of applicants who attempt the NSCA CSCS actually fail this exam. This is in large part due to the method of study they chose, and not the actual difficulty of the exam. It should be clear by now that the CSCS exam is a difficult beast to conquer, however, the NSCA CSCS book is over 650 pages, and herein lies the biggest pitfall for prospective test-takers. 

The sheer volume of knowledge that is contained in the CSCS book makes it hard if not impossible to study without an adequate CSCS study guide. A study guide helps you to focus on the most important information that has the highest chances of being on your exam. This is crucial when you are dealing with the study material that is this extensive. 


You can’t adequately know the material with a passing knowledge when you have to tackle over 650 pages. This sheer volume of knowledge is not going to adequately reflect the exam you take, and the exam is too taxing in both length and weight to not study the right things. A study guide helps you hone in and focus your resources where you need them so you can learn the knowledge necessary to pass. With a good study guide, even a beast like the CSCS is something you can conquer.




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