How to Study for and Pass the NASM CPT Exam on your first attempt

Actual useful Study Guide for the NASM Certified Personal Trainer Certificate (kinda)

So yesterday I completed the NASM CPT Exam (went 86 out of 100, it was my first attempt). I was talking to some people in a facebook group about what I did to prepare myself for the exam, and to be able to pass it in around three weeks of focused study tops. I received good feedback on it, so I thought I would write a better version of it and post it here incase anyone was in need of some help. Keep in mind I have never read past page 100 in the NASM book. It was simply too fucking boring and full of useless terminology. (As a side note you can torrent the latest version for free, not that I would condone that, but I just felt that should be mentioned in case you don’t feel like wasting your money, but again I don’t condone illegal activity, but… yeah). I’m not that much of a writer so bare with me here.

The thing you need to be aware of first of all is you are preparing yourself for a test, a multiple choice type test aka the shittiest type of test you can do, which you can still fail if you know pretty much everything you are supposed to know. It’s not an essay or practical exam, you don’t need to actually be that smart in order to do it. All you need to be able to do is get a decent general understanding of the major concepts in the course, know a lot of the terminology (meaning just know the definition and how it differs from similar terminology) and how to approach a MCQ type test.

So I myself just finished high school, meaning I just did shit loads of exams, some of those being multiple choice questionnaires as well. One of the things that teachers really hammered on is being able to get the correct answer, without actually knowing what the fuck is going on. What this comes down to is simply looking at what the question is asking for, obviously and then looking at the possible answers. What you will notice on A LOT of the multiple choice answers is there is two of them that don’t even relate to the actual question.

So for example the question might ask you about what the innermost layer wrapping a single muscle fiber is, and it will give you the following answers: A: Endomysium, B: Neuron, C: Epiphysis, D: Diaphysis. If you know your basic shit you will instantly be able to tell that B: Neuron isn’t a possible answer, so you can eliminate that. Now you are left with 3 options. If you just know that either Epiphysis or Diaphysis is related to bone structure, you will be able to eliminate those two and you will be left with A: Endomysium. Now you might not know what the fuck endomysium is, but you know what the other possible answers are or relate to, so just by eliminating those options you have found the answer, even without knowing the answer. Hope that makes sense.

Now what I did to study for the exam was pretty simple. I would read the shit out of a free study guide multiple times, I would listen to NASM course presentations that I found on youtube (convert to mp3 and put them on your phone) and I would do tons and tons of practice exams. Most people who sign up for the nasm course spend months upon months studying for it just using the book, and then do the practice exam you can do on NASM’s website just once or twice. And surprisingly enough the course has a 70% failing rate for first attempts.

I attribute a lot of that to the fact that most people who decide to get into this either have forgotten or don’t know how to:

  1. Use the internet effectively (Google and youtube is your friend)
  2. How to study effectively

In regards to studying. You want to make it as exciting and as effortless as you can, that doesn’t mean it will be fun, but you won’t be dreading it as much. An example of this is downloading youtube videos onto your phone (convert them to mp3 first), and then I would listen to it every time I was going somewhere, sometimes even what I was training I would listen to audio tracks regarding the course, just to make sure I always had the NASM stuff on my mind. What I did instead of reading the book was simply to use the following free online study guide (scroll down):

http://sh.st/bJ0PR (http://www.thehealthygamer.com/2013/05/18/nasm-study-guide-chapter-2-basic-exercise-science/) I would read through all 20 chapters up to five times in the weeks preparing for the exam. I found this site so much more useful than the book. All the necessary terminology, or almost all of it, is on the site and highlighted. That way you can also simply scroll through the pages on the day of the exam, and you will be able to get the most important terms refreshed.

Besides the link above I also used the following set of notes found here:

http://sh.st/bJ0DX (http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=122314221) They are slightly out dated and I only read through it once, however I found it very useful.

Lastly this blog post here was also useful, not that it really contains a lot of useful information, but it gives you a good checklist of what you need to know for the exam: http://sh.st/bJ0JI (http://fitmommydiaries.blogspot.hk/2015/06/its-official-how-i-passed-nasm-personal.html)

Every time you see a term in the study guide that you don’t fully understand, go to youtube and/or google and type it in and you will within minutes find a very good explanation of it. This video for example regarding the heart was a shit ton better than the book and actual study guide, in regards to explaining the structure and function of the heart:

http://sh.st/bJ0KN (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEWjOCVEN7M)

Other than reading you just need to do lots of practice exams. Some people might prefer flashcards as opposed to just taking tests, again this can all be found using a simple google search. However doing practice exams is a must. Below I have linked the six practice exams I used the most.

  1. The actual NASM practice exam from the NASM website. I’m not kidding when I say saw AT LEAST 10 questions from that practice exam on the actual final exam, so know all the questions on that exam and understand the answers, that will give you quite a few free points.
  2. http://sh.st/bJ0ZO (http://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=final-exam-ii)
  3. http://sh.st/bJ0CW (http://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=nasm-tutor-final-exam)
  4. http://sh.st/bJ0VX (http://careerpracticetests.com/nursing-exams/nasm-cpt-practice-exam-questions-answers.html)
  5. An app called “NASM CPT” which had over 120 questions for free. Every time I went to take a shit, or if I was taking long rest periods between sets during my workouts I would pull it out and go through just a few questions.
  6. Now I don’t know if everyone else has access to this so I left this one to the end. But as part of my course I received access to the nasm course on an online study website called JBlearning.com. On that site there were 200+ something questions as well. Anywhere from 5–20 on each of the 20 chapters of the book. Similar questions to those also came up on the actual exam.

If you are interested in more practice exams, again just google “NASM Practice Exam” and go through the first 2–3 pages of google results. Also on some of the websites there are more NASM related practice exams as well, just with fewer and shittier questions.

What I would do is first thing I woke up EVERYDAY, I would do one of the practice exams. Now typically I would do more than one, up to four in a day if I had a lot of free time, but as a general guideline do at least one everyday.

After finishing the test I would go through ALL of the questions and I would google terminology I didn’t understand. That means even if you answered a question correct but one of the possible answers to the questions confused you, google/youtube it and make sure you understand it. Now for questions I got wrong I would google both the wrong answer and right answer. That way I would know what my pick actually meant, but I would also be able to understand why it was wrong or in some instances less right than the other answer (the questions are annoying like that at times).

Now I wouldn’t just do the practice exams once and be done with them. I would repeat them over and over with a few days in between. That way I was forced to memorize and retain information better. So I might do the actual nasm practice exam on a monday, then come back to it again four days later, then again repeat it four days later.

I would also track my score on each of the exam and note it down or screenshot it. Just do something to keep track of how you are doing. By the time I decided to finally do the exam I was getting 90%+ on ALL the practice exams I did.

The last thing regarding the official NASM practice test I want you to know, is questions from it WILL be on the actual exam. The very first question I saw on the actual exam I had done a few hours prior on the practice exam (that was quite nice) and throughout the exam I would recognize questions from the practice exam. So just from having done the practice exam I earned myself 10+ free points. Because of that I would suggest anyone to do the NASM practice exam everyday the three days leading up to when you take the exam, that includes the morning of the day you plan to take the exam.

So just to summarize this part quickly. Find at least 6 practice exams. Do at least one a day. Redo the exams with a few days in between each so you are forced to retain information better. Review the tests after each time you have and google/youtube terminology and such you don’t fully understand. On the morning of the day you do the final exam go through the official NASM practice exam, because some of the questions WILL be on the actual exam.

As I mentioned earlier I was also listen to youtube videos while traveling and training. The four videos I used are the following:

Part 1: http://sh.st/bJqnK (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8rfHH9E4Z0)

Part 2: http://sh.st/bJqmx (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PSwF_wsxIU)

Part 3: http://sh.st/bJqQd (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92N0Yzvog5I)

Part 4: http://sh.st/bJqWW (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MYyUTrRoWw)

I would use the following website to convert them to MP3 files so I could listen to them on the run: http://sh.st/bJqW5 (http://www.vidtomp3.com/) Listen to each of the videos on 1.25–1.50 the normal speed if you can. That will save you time but also make it more interesting, as half the videos are consisting oh so dramatic pauses and the words “the health and fitness professional” being repeated a billion times.

Lastly I do recommend looking through the book. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to read every single bit of it. Main reason I didn’t is I took the course in Hong Kong and I’m moving to Denmark in less than two weeks where I can’t take the exam. So if I ever wanted to get the certification I had to study for the thing fast as fuck. However if you have the time, obviously read the book. There were some questions on the exam that I had never seen before or heard anything about. If I had read the book I would likely have scored higher. Not that it was necessary, but for some people it will make the difference between a pass and a fail. At least scroll through it and look at the graphs and boxes with information.

Included in the purchase (here in HK), was a 6 week practical course where we would show up for around three hours once a week. This helped hammering down some of the basic terminology, getting and understanding of the OPT model, which is a big part of the exam and gave me some level of practical knowledge. I would honestly suggest taking these courses if they are included in the price, as they will help getting you started quite well.

I would recommend studying for at least four weeks and really just study the shit out of the course in that time period. But don’t wait more than 8 weeks to do it either. You can only stay so focused on the NASM course for that long without going nuts and dropping a few IQ points.

When it comes to the actual exam, it is exactly like the online practice exam on NASM’s website. Just relax and do the best you can. Make sure to flag ANY question you aren’t sure is correct or haven’t seen before, but also make sure you do tick them even if you don’t know the answer. You cannot get a point for not answering a question, but you can potentially get a point if you just tick a random answer (1 in 4 chance, maybe less if you can exclude one or two answers). After you have finished all the questions go back and re-read all the questions you we’re unsure about. By this time you might see the question differently and be able to understand it better, or you might have just remembered something that you couldn’t recall the first time you saw the question. As a general guideline don’t spend more than 30 seconds on each question, so if you get stuck and can’t figure one of the questions out, just tick something and move on (again 1 in 4 chance you get it right, better than nothing). I had answered all questions by the 40 minute mark, then spent around 15 minutes correcting and reading through questions I was unsure about. So scoring a very high grade took me less than one hour.

What I would recommend people to do with the remaining time, if there is any, is just to go back and read through all the questions and memorize the ones you struggled with, or haven’t seen before again. This time however just memorize the exact questions. Then as soon as you leave the exam room write ALL of them down on some paper.

Why? Well because if you do fail, you are very likely to see the same questions again next time. One of the friends at the gym I interned at failed the exam once, and he told me the second time he took the test he had pretty much 100% identical questions. So incase you don’t succeed the first time, go back home and study, now you possibly know half the questions that are going to show up on the test next time you do it, so you will be able to better prepare. If this happens I would recommend 1–2 weeks before taking the exam again, but not any longer as you want to keep your memory fresh.

The exam itself is structured as the following:

15 Questions on Basic and Applied Sciences

15 Questions on Assessment

20 Questions on Exercise Technique and Training Instruction

20 Questions on Programme Design

12 Questions on Nutrition

10 Questions on Client Relations Behavioral Coaching

8 Questions on Professional Development

As you can see exercise technique, programme design (essentially understanding the OPT model to the dot) and the different types of assessment make of majority of the exam, and they are also the easiest areas of the course. So focus a lot on these, it will make the exam really fucking easy. The Overhead Squat, Single Leg Squat, Push and Pull assessments should be perfectly understood and memorized. In the comments below I will post a sheet I was given which show the muscle imbalances associated with deviations in proper exercise technique. Memorize the shit out of it, you will get 5+ questions regarding this on the actual exam.

And yeah that should be all. Enjoy studying. Hopefully this should help you out a bit. It sure made studying a lot more enjoyable, at times even a lot of fun when you start to see improvements on the practice exams.

Last thing I want to mention is taking a certification like this doesn’t make you some magic perfect human being, who know more than everyone else. A lot of the stuff in the current 2015 edition of nasm is outdated. You just have to take it for what it is. If you intend to become a decent personal trainer you should keep educating yourself. That means read shit tons of books from professionals. Do more advanced courses. Get an internship or something, or get in contact with personal trainers who have been in the industry for a long time. I have been lucky enough to spend almost three months in a personal training facility in Hong Kong with a lot of knowledgeable strength & conditioning coaches, personal trainers and nutritionists. Simply observing how professionals deals with clients in the real world is completely different, and not something you will learn from nasm.

Don’t know where to start? Just get in contact with a personal trainer/strength coach or someone working in a gym environment. Ask if you can come in and observe a few classes or if they are interesting in taking on an intern for a couple of weeks. Say you are good at brewing coffee and cleaning and you are golden. If that doesn’t appeal to you simply ask them if they want to go grab coffee sometime. Tell them you are interested in working in this industry, and really hope they would answer a few questions for you (prepare some questions obviously). Or if whoever you ask are into bodybuilding ask them if they are interested in doing g4p with you, that should do the trick. From there just try to build a network of connections. Make sure they know you actually care about working in this industry and that you are or have completed a recognized personal trainer cert. At the end of the day people want to hire their friends and friends of their friends.

….Fuck I just wrote a lot. Any questions ask on my facebook page “The MJ Strength Blog” (links to follow), since I don’t check up on my blogs as often. Also sorry for the profanity huehuehue.

Consider this version 1.0. I will write a much better version containing more detailed answers to your questions in the future, once I have some questions to answer. So please share this around. I know a lot of people whom I shared this with in facebook groups, have found it incredibly useful.

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-MJ