This was my experience with the National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer Examination…
I bought the NASM-CPT self study package at the end of January 2018. It came with the online quizzes and book (available as a text as well as online).
I passed my exam (on the first try) at the end of May 2018 after having consistently studied for about 4 months.
After extensive research I chose to get my certification in personal training from the National Academy of Sports Medicine because it was one of the most reputable programs with a ton of readily available information from those who had also attempted to complete, or successfully completed, the certification. Another important factor in my decision to go with NASM was that I noticed at my local gym that the majority of trainers were certified under NASM.
To maintain total transparency with my readers, I OF COURSE had my doubts. After all, there is a ton of negative feedback out there regarding the NASM-CPT course. Some of the objections against the organization were that they make the test unreasonably hard and that you would see questions on the exam about material that was hardly ever mentioned in the textbook or quizzes. I’ll get to these objections later in my post.
I began skimming the chapters and making flashcards for each and every vocabulary word (no matter how seemingly incidental) very early on. I took the quizzes for each chapter until I passed them at 90-100%.
Having my B.A. in English I am very accustomed to memorizing vocabulary and am also well versed in critical analysis of abstract ideas or topics. So even though the material in the NASM 6th Edition text was foreign to me, I had an idea of how I was going to digest all of the new information.
I printed out a few study guides that I found online and others that were available to NASM course participants via the online portal. I skimmed through a couple chapters of these guides but did not read them in their entirety. I personally don’t learn by reading alone, I have to handwrite the information and listen to it spoken aloud.
In the beginning, I was very lax about my study schedule and was lucky to have a job that allowed me to study throughout my shifts. For a while I was only studying twice a week. But, as the date of my test got closer I really began to buckle down.
I retook ALL of the chapter quizzes 3-5 times (sometimes even more) and made a Google document with all the questions that I got wrong, or thought were difficult and included all of the possible answers, making bold the correct one. This ended up being around 30 pages.
I also downloaded the NASM pocket prep app and bought the upgrade. I answered the 500 questions and took the exams until my overall score was at 85%. I took the practice exam provided on the NASM-CPT self study portal two weeks before my exam. I began to get nervous as the timetable was compressing and I wanted to see how prepared I really was at that point. To my surprise, I passed. But it was still a close enough call to where I felt like I had a substantial amount more studying to do. I had read somewhere that the questions stayed the same on the practice exam and did not change with the amount of times that you took it. THIS WAS WRONG! Which I only discovered the NIGHT BEFORE I TOOK MY EXAM when I went back to re-take the practice test. I took the practice test 3 different times and each time the questions were markedly different. Each time, I passed and my score varied by only 1 point (it went up by one each time I took it). I took it twice late at night before my exam the next morning.
What I believe was the MOST HELPFUL study tactic BY FAR was filling a composition notebook with the vocab and objectives from each chapter. Yes, I re-wrote the vocab that I had already transcribed onto flashcards in the composition book and made sure to answer each chapter objective. I did this about 2.5 weeks before my test and worked on it daily. I filled the entire composition book. I also recorded myself (using a tape-recording app) repeating the vocabulary and objective questions that I completed. I only did this for 10 chapters because I ran out of time. It was very tedious and I don’t think I necessarily needed to do it because of how thorough I was already in my studying. But, I’m glad I did, I ended up listening to chapters 5-7 in my car before taking the test and I do believe it was beneficial. I also used peppermint essential oil at my desk and chewed peppermint gum. Scent is linked to memory via the olfactory bulb in the nasal passage that connects to the lower part of our brains. Not only has peppermint been shown to help with memory recall, but it also calms me and leaves me feeling refreshed and alert.
I watched YouTube videos and drew diagrams. I didn’t do anything crazy, or read every single line of the textbook. I simply gathered the breadth of information I knew I would need to be familiar with, and then zeroed in on all the important stuff I had heard would be the major focus of the exam (i.e. nutrition, overhead squat assessment, muscle structures, etc.).
When it came time to take the exam I was pretty stressed. A few days before, I drove to the testing facility, went inside and located the room where I would be taking the exam just so I knew where I’d be going that day. I had heard a couple horror stories of people being late or not being able to find the room where they were supposed to take the exam and I DID NOT want that happening to me. I HIGHLY recommend doing this on a day you have off if the testing facility is close enough to where you live/work. It was a HUGE relief to have a visual of where I would park and how I would enter the building on exam day.
On the day of the actual exam I got there around 1.5 hours early because I wanted time to study beforehand without being stressed about impending traffic. I sat in my car and reviewed my notes. I was a bit anxious so I walked a couple of laps around the lower parking lot where there were no cars. My exam was at 11am and we were told to arrive a ½ hour early. I made my way to the room where the test would be held at about 10:25 but was told to come back at 10:30. I went to the bathroom, put my backpack in my car and then made my way back to the room where the test would be. There was a group of people gathered outside that were there for a realtor exam. The test proctors had told them they would be permitted inside once it was 10:30. A gentleman wearing a watch noted that it was to be 10:30 in about 30 seconds. This information may seem unimportant but I really want to paint a picture for my readers of what to expect on exam day. There is no warm welcome and good luck send-off into the exam room. The people at the testing facilities aren’t necessarily rooting for you because they have had no stake in this process, so don’t expect a warm welcome or supportive environment.
The waiting room was small and we were told to line up orderly but there just wasn’t enough room. Some of the other people got frustrated; I did my best to keep calm and focused. I showed my passport, license, and CPR certification. One of the proctors locked my belongings in a bag and showed me to where I would be taking the exam. We were given earplugs, which I used.
You’re allowed to flag certain questions for whatever reason, in case you wanted to come back to them. I flagged about 20 questions for various reasons. There were some questions that I had not seen in my studying, but these were sparse. The main issue I had was that the topic was familiar to me but the language in which it was presented was more technical. BE WARY OF THIS!
I finished the exam with about an hour to spare and went back to certain questions. I changed a couple of my answers (which I later learned were better off left alone, REMEMBER, your first instinct is usually the best way to go) DON’T SECOND GUESS YOURSELF! I reviewed every question but still felt uncertain about the outcome once I submitted my test. When I walked back into the small waiting room I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised either way (if I passed or failed). It really is a hard exam. The proctor who had taken my identification handed me a print out of my results, I PASSED! Woohoo. I was so pumped but kept quiet because the environment was very solemn. I ran outside to my car so that I could call my Mom and boyfriend (I left my phone behind because you’re not allowed to bring it into the test facility).
And there you have it! That was my experience with the NASM-CPT.
I was able to access my certification almost immediately via the online portal which was good because I was hired as a CPT at my local gym and already in training (but the position was contingent upon me passing the exam). A few weeks later an official certification was mailed to my home address.