Working as a strength coach involves much more than physical strength and athletic prowess. That is to say, it isn’t your job to just be physically powerful. Rather, it’s your job to share your knowledge with others in order to help them become their best selves. This is where standardized tests like the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) exam come into play.

This exam is one of several created specially by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) to ensure that today’s incoming professionals meet the requirements set forth by the Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs, Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures, and Standards for Educational and Psychological Tests, among numerous others. If you plan to specialize in conditioning and strength, taking this exam is an important qualification for earning your professional certification.

On this page, you’ll find all of the basic relevant information you need to understand how the CSCS exam works, as well as resources to help you prepare as thoroughly as possible. Keep reading to find and learn everything you need to know.

How is the CSCS Exam Formatted?

The CSCS exam is made up entirely of multiple choice questions—around 220 in all. 30 of those questions will not count toward your score; however, the remaining 190 questions will. These unscored questions can be considered as potential questions for subsequent test editions; the NSCA includes them on the exam to evaluate how well students perform on them and whether they should be included as official test questions on later editions of the exam.

You will not be given any indication as to whether a test question is scored or unscored. As such, we recommend you put equal effort into each and every question you face during the test.

We would also like to point out that the exam is timed. You can expect to devote four full hours to completing the test.

Registering for the CSCS

Registering for the CSCS exam first involves visiting the official NSCA website. There you can either sign up for an account, or sign in if you already have one. From there, you can confirm your information, then head to the “Certification” page. There you will find an official link to the registration page. Comply with all of the instructions and agree to terms as necessary. You will also have to read two documents—the Certification Handbook and Registration Expiration Policy—before finishing the registration process in full.

Testing Dates and Locations

Upon finishing your registration, test takers will receive an official email from the Pearson VUE team explaining how to proceed with the scheduling process. This email will typically arrive two or three business days after your date of registration. You can schedule your testing date and location either over the telephone or online. As far as scheduling, you may take the exam at any time of the year; however, you are required to choose a testing date no later than 120 days following your date of registration. If you cannot do so, your options are to either push back their registration or to withdraw and sign up again at a later date.

Exam Cost

Keep in mind that CSCS registration comes with a fee. If you are a member of the NSCA and are looking to take the full exam, the cost will be $340. If you are retesting and taking just one portion of the test, you only pay $250. Non-members, on the other hand, must pay $475 and $385, respectively.

What Subjects Does the Exam Cover?

The CSCS exam features just two subjects in all: Practical/Applied and Scientific Foundations. We will address what each of these subjects entails below.

The Practical/Applied section of the CSCS exam lasts 2.5 hours and spans 125 questions. 110 of those questions will count toward your score; the remaining 15 will not. This section is also unique in that you may find accompanying images and videos for certain questions—between 30 and 40, to be more precise.

The Practical/Applied section divides further into four subtopics, or “domains,” which are:

  • Testing and Evaluation (20 questions, or 18 percent of the test section)
  • Exercise Technique (38 questions, or 35 percent of the test section)
  • Organization and Administration (13 questions, or 12 percent of the test section)
  • Program Design (39 questions, or 35 percent of the test section)

The Scientific Foundations section is the smaller of the two, featuring 95 questions (15 of which are unscored and 80 that are scored).

It contains two domains:

  • Nutrition (21 questions, or 26 percent of the test section)
  • Exercise Science (59 questions, or 74 percent of the test section)

If you are a new test taker, you must take the full edition of the test.

About the Scoring Process

The CSCS exam is notably difficult. Out of 5,893 test takers in 2017, 53 percent of them managed to achieve a passing score on both sections. In terms of individual questions, 65 percent of test-takers earned a passing score on the Practical/Applied portion of the exam, while 62 percent managed to pass the Scientific Foundations portion.

Test takers will receive two different scores on their official report, which will be made available to you as soon as you finish the exam. The first score is your unscaled, or “raw,” score; its job is to tally the number of questions you answered correctly to inform you of which areas you are weakest in and where you performed well.

The second score is your scaled score, which is calculated by comparing your performance to official standards. You must earn a minimum of 70 points as your scaled score in order to pass the test. You will receive your certification upon passing the CSCS test, provided that you’ve also met the other qualifications required of you as well; you are allowed one year after earning your passing score to complete these other requirements.

If you are dissatisfied with your score, you have the option to retest. There is a 90-day limit you must wait out before applying for a retest. You can take a retest as many times as you would like. Test takers may choose to sign up for only one half of the exam if they are retesting.

How Can I Prepare for the CSCS Exam?

We believe that different learning styles require different tools for success. We have compiled a list of the best study guides, flashcards, and practice tests that we’ve found on the market. Some of these guides have review videos, for you visual learners out there. Others have practice tests, which have been proven to increase student scores by a whole letter grade (in some cases more than that)!

Top Study Guides: 

Best Flashcards: 


Last Updated: November 9, 2023