CSCS Certification

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The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) examination was created in 1985 by the CSCS Agency, an organization which later changed its name to National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certification. The NSCA claims it is the only nationally-accredited certification for professionals who strength train and condition athletes.[1] The examination is revised every five years by an Exam Development Committee based on job task analysis studies.[1] The most recent revision went into effect on July 1, 2014.[2]

Function of the Test

CSCS Study Guide

The CSCS examination designed to be taken by strength training and conditioning professionals. The NSCA reports that more than 40,000 professionals are actively certified through at least one of its four certification programs.[1]

In order to be eligible to take the exam, candidates must at least hold a bachelor's degree or be currently enrolled as a college senior from an accredited institution. Candidates must also hold current CPR and AED certification from an approved organization such as the American Heart Association or the Red Cross.[3]

Between July 2012 and June 2013, 3,589 candidates took the CSCS examination. Of those candidates, 69% passed the Scientific Foundations section of the examination; 70% passed the Practical/Applied section; and 61% passed both sections.[1]CSCS Handbook August 3 2014</ref>

Test Administration

CSCS Flashcards

A paper-and-pencil version of the CSCS exam is offered at several sites around the world on specific dates. Registration and required documentation must be submitted months in advance of the exam date, and scores are mailed 6-8 weeks following the exam. In addition, a computer-based version of the exam is available at over 160 AMP testing centers across the United States. After registering for the exam, candidates have 120 days in which to schedule a test date and take the exam. Scores are issued immediately following a computer-based examination.[4]

The base fee for taking the pencil-and-paper version of the CSCS exam is $430, but several discounts are available. There is a $35 discount for registering before the early registration deadline, and there is an additional $135 discount for being a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Finally, there is a $50 discount for candidates retaking the entire examination, or a $95 discount to retake just one section of the examination.[5]

The base fee for taking the computer-based version of the CSCS exam is $445. There is no early registration discount available, but the NSCA membership discount and exam retake discounts are available.[5]

Candidates who require special accommodations for a disability may make this request using the "Request for Special Examination Accommodations" and "Documentation of Disability-Related Needs" forms present in the examination candidate handbook.[1][6]

Test Format

Distribution of Content on the CSCS exam
Subject Description # of
Scientific Foundations Exercise Science 59 74%
Nutrition 21 26%
Non-scored Questions 15 -
Total 80 100%
Time Limit 1.5 Hours
Practical/Applied Exercise Technique 38 35%
Program Design 39 35%
Organization and Administration 13 12%
Testing and Evaulation 20 18%
Non-scored Questions 15 -
Total 125 100%
Time Limit 2.5 Hours

Test Environment

The CSCS is offered on both paper and pencil, and on the computer. For admission, candidates must confirm their identification, and sign in. For both the computer and the paper versions, there will be about a five and a half hour testing period. This includes check in, breaks, and both the practical/applied test and the scientific foundations section.[7]

Test Content

The CSCS Exam is made up of two different sections: Scientific Foundations and Practical/Applied. The Scientific Foundations lasts 90 minutes, and is made up of 90 multiple choice questions, 10 of which are unscored, pretest questions. The two domains dealt with are Exercise Science, and Nutrition. The Practical/Applied section is designed to last two and a half hours. It has for different domains: Exercise Technique; Program Design; Organization and Administration; and Testing and Evaluation. This section has 125 questions, including 10 unscored, pretest questions.[8]

Sample Questions

More free CSCS practice test questions.


Each of the two sections of the CSCS exam is scored on a scale from 1 to 99 points, with a passing score of 70. Candidates' raw scores are converted to this scaled score such that candidates who took an easier version of the exam are scored more strictly and candidates who took a more difficult version of the exam are scored more leniently. Guessing is not penalized; incorrect answers count the same as omitted answers.[1]

A panel of experts assesses every individual question on each version of the examination to estimate what percent of minimally-qualified candidates would answer each question correctly. All of these predictions are added up and averaged across the full exam to determine how difficult that version of the exam is, and thus how strictly to judge raw scores on that version of the examination when converting them into scaled scores.[1]

Unsuccessful candidates who wish to retake the examination must wait at least 90 days.[1] There is no limit to the number of times a candidate may retake the exam. If a candidate failed only one section of the examination, they may choose to retake only the failed section, but must do so within one year of the original test date. After one year, the passing test score is no longer valid.[6]

Recent/Future Developments

The CSCS examination was updated on July 1, 2014. The revision involved three changes:[2]

  1. Updated content outlines for the CSCS - Scientific Foundations exam and CSCS - Practical/Applied exam.
  2. Each multiple choice question is now presented with three options to choose from instead of four.
  3. Each exam contains five more unscored pre-test items than it used to.

The changes to the content outlines were based on a job analysis study in which the NSCA surveyed the roles and tasks performed by exercise professionals holding current NSCA certification.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h CSCS Computer-based Exam Candidate Handbook August 3 2014
  2. ^ a b c Important Updates to the CSCS and NSCA-CPT Exams August 3 2014
  3. ^ CSCS Certification: Prerequisites August 3 2014
  4. ^ CSCS Certification: Format August 3 2014
  5. ^ a b CSCS Certification: Cost August 3 2014
  6. ^ a b CSCS Paper/Pencil Exam Candidate Handbook August 3 2014
  7. ^ Test Formats 21 August 2014
  8. ^ Exam Content 21 August 2014