Are you thinking about becoming a personal trainer or studying for your exam now? Here are 9 tips to help you pass the NASM personal training exam on the first try.
For those of you who haven’t been following along, I became a NASM certified personal trainer in November 2017.
But it wasn’t as easy as I expected.
I went to college for five years, so I thought I knew a thing or two about big exams. But I would argue that the NASM was the hardest test I’ve ever taken.
I took the test twice before passing – I failed by ONE stinkin’ point the first time. The second time, I was so happy to pass the NASM that I still don’t even know how I scored. I just know that I passed! 🙂
The NASM Is Different Than College Tests
In my experience, most college courses have a bunch of requirements for passing. Your grade is never based on one test. That means that if you totally bomb one test, you might still be able to pass your class. You don’t just read one big textbook and then take a giant, comprehensive test on it all.
That would be how the NASM exam is.
Instead of getting credit for showing up, participating, taking little chapter quizzes, and doing reports, you take a test on the WHOLE book.
We’re talking about a 100-question exam based on a textbook of over 600 pages.
You have to have ALL of the knowledge and understanding because you don’t know exactly what parts of the book you’ll be tested on.
It might sound like a bad thing – but in my opinion, it’s really good. That’s because aspiring personal trainers are being held to a higher standard this way. It’s the only way to ensure that people actually read the whole book and applied concepts from one chapter to the next.
General Exam Info
You don’t have to have any qualifications or meet any prerequisites to take the exam. (That is, other than obtaining your CPR/AED card.) In fact, I am one of “those” people who did NOT grow up playing sports or lifting weights, and I have ZERO background in biomechanics and such. I literally went into this knowing nothing except that I really enjoy working out, helping others, planning workouts, and having my own personal trainer.
If you want to know more about how I got certified as a personal trainer, I wrote an extensive post about it here.
The exam is 100 questions taken from 6 different domains. You can actually get a general idea for how the exam is weighted by reading the candidate handbook. That’s helpful in knowing what information is most pertinent, but you still need to understand everything in the textbook. The six domains are:
- Basic & Applied Sciences & Nutritional Concepts
- Program Design
- Exercise Technique & Training Instruction
- Client Relations & Behavioral Coaching
- Professional Development & Responsibility
As you can see, even if you’re not someone who really understands fitness science or the business of personal training, this certification covers it all!
What to Expect When You Go In For Your Exam
Your exam may be administered by a third party. That means that NASM has contracted with a business or testing service to make your test available to you. The first time I took my test, I took it at a small rural airport. The second time I took it, it was at a big business park at a place that just administered tests similar to that one. (So know that you’re not likely dealing with NASM themselves.) Also know that:
- You will be asked to provide ID and a copy of your CPR/AED card and to do a little paperwork.
- You will have all of your belongings placed in a locker and the key will be kept with the administrators of the test.
- The test will be online unless you request otherwise.
- You might be taking your test alone or with other random testers (not necessarily taking the same test.)
- You’re given 120 minutes to complete the 100 question exam.
- You will find out whether or not you have passed immediately after completing the test.
Now that you know what to expect in general, here are some important tips that will help you pass the NASM exam.
9 Tips to Help You Pass the NASM Personal Training Exam
1. Invest in the highest level program you can afford.
You CAN purchase just the textbook (affiliate link) and the exam and study for the test on your own. However, I highly suggest getting the highest level of support you can. I chose the Premium Self-Study option and all of the online course modules really helped me. If you are someone who needs games, visuals, quizzes, discussion, etc. in order to understand things, this is super important. This exam requires that you be highly self-disciplined and if you aren’t good at studying, you will need the extra support.
2. Do not procrastinate.
You have six months to take the exam from the day you purchase a program. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MONTH TO READ THIS BOOK. The latest edition of the book is over 600 pages and the APPENDICES ARE NOT TO BE IGNORED! I chose to work at a pace of one or two chapters per week. That gave me enough time for each one plus several weeks of exam prep afterwards.
3. Get your CPR/AED well before your exam is scheduled.
Scheduling issues happen. Processing times happen. The first time I scheduled my CPR/AED course, I had about two months between the workshop and my scheduled exam. But I had to skip my course because my childcare fell through. I was happy that I had time to schedule and take the course another day. (Getting your CPR/AED card will require a full or half-day hands-on workshop.)
4. Do not ignore the indices and appendices!
In college, it seemed like we never paid any attention to the back of our textbooks. Why were they there, anyway? The first time I took my exam, I had totally ignored the indices and appendices and totally regretted it. The second time around, I read through it ALL. I’m not able to tell you how much of it was on the exam, but I felt like I had a better overall understanding of various exercises and concepts after reading everything.
5. Keep a notebook, notecards, or both.
There’s no way your brain can retain all of this information and later retrieve it without practice. It was a lot of work, but I kept a notebook and notecards throughout the entire textbook. I ended up with over 300 notecards with definitions and other questions. When I finished the book, I could easily quiz myself. That was really helpful and since I could mix up the cards, it emulated the exam.
6. Read over the entire candidate handbook.
There’s some valuable information in the candidate handbook. Like I mentioned, it not only tells you how to sit for the exam, it tells you what’s on it (in general). Do your part and know what’s expected of you. It will help, I promise!
7. Pay special attention to the charts about over/underactive muscles.
If you really want to pass the NASM exam, these are extremely important. When I took the exam the first time, I thought, “Surely they don’t expect us to memorize these charts.” Guess what? They do. Knowing those muscle imbalances is one of the most important things you can do. I focused on those charts and knowing the muscle names/locations the second time I tried to pass the NASM and the proof is in the puddin.’ 🙂
8. Download all of the resources you can.
If you aren’t taking the courses online, you may not have as many of these resources. But my course featured a lot of helpful downloads that I plan on using for my actual clients. There are also a lot of helpful downloads for test prep. If you really want to pass the NASM, I’d at least take a look at these, if not save them forever and ever.
9. Take ALL of the practice quizzes until you get 100% on each one.
The practice quiz questions that are featured in each chapter and at the end of the course are modeled after the real test questions. In fact, some of the exact questions I answered during these quizzes were on the exam. WHAT? Yep. That means you really need to know those babies. So don’t be satisfied with a 70% passing score. Take them and take them again until you get 100% at least once – if not over and over again. (The questions aren’t the same every time.)
What Helped Me Finally Pass the NASM: My Biggest Tip
Overall, slowing way down was the key to passing the NASM for me. It wasn’t just about memorization and retaining info – it was about fully understanding one concept to the next. Many of the concepts build on one another. So if you continue reading the textbook without fully understanding a concept, it makes it more difficult to understand subsequent ones. Plus, you want to be fully equipped for your future clients, don’t you!?? So my biggest suggestion is to pace yourself and not be afraid to “go back” and read things when you are distraction-free if you need to.
Are you an aspiring personal trainer or someone who recently passed the NASM? Tell me how it’s going (or how it went) for you below!
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