Studying for the ASCM Certified Personal Trainer Exam

Over the past few months, I’ve been researching a fair amount about becoming a registered dietitian and have come across quite a few resumes in that time (and by resumes, I am not saying that I have found actual PDF documents floating around out there; I’m talking about LinkedIn accounts or ‘About Me’ sections of personal websites). I’ve noticed a trend of RDs that are also certified personal trainers (CPTs). I guess it makes sense. Most RDs are fairly passionate about health and wellness and exercise is certainly a major component to that. It is also one more service that you can provide your clients and even if you don’t provide the services, the extra credential makes you sound more legit overall.

It wasn’t until last week that I started to think about it more seriously though. I’ve been working at my local gym now for a month and realize that I could probably make a decent amount of money as a trainer. People ask me fairly regularly if I would do it, so that makes me think that I would have a decent time getting clients. It would also look good on my application to the dietetics program next spring. Given that my school only reserves about 10 slots in the program for people with no background in nutrition (re: an undergraduate degree), I’m more than a little nervous that I will have taken this huge risk of going back to school, only to find out that I don’t qualify for the program I am trying to get into (note to self: apply to a backup program). I’m trying to do everything I can to make myself a shoe in for the program. When I met with the program coordinator, she mentioned that a demonstrated interest in health and wellness is a factor in admissions. I feel like getting a job at a gym, and especially as a personal trainer, would definitely make me look more serious than the average applicant about my career goals.

So based on all that, I started looking at certifications. There are four made accredited certifications to become a CPT: ACSM, NASM, ACE, and NSCA. The first website I happened to go to was the ACE website and they have a handy comparison tool between the different certifications. I was anticipating this comparison tool to be obviously biased towards the ACE certification, but it surprisingly wasn’t. I ended up deciding to pursue the ACSM certification and this was my thought process:

1. It was the cheapest.

Yup, that was pretty much the deciding factor. Or at least it definitely caught my attention. After noticing that it was the cheapest, I tried to figure out why. I believe they are cheaper than the others due the study support offered (or, rather, not offered). According to the matrix, ACSM doesn’t have the same level of online support or customer support that the others offer. Obviously, this cuts down on their operating costs. Being someone that is a fast learner and an excellent self-studier, I don’t feel like having extra help is really all that necessary.

I then saw that this certification had the fewest number of professionals (by a long shot compared to ACE). I found this odd since they’ve been around the longest, but they have more stringent eligibility requirements (must have high school diploma whereas two of the others don’t require this). Obviously, if your pool of applicants is smaller, the number of certified trainers will be smaller as well.

I then did a bit of a search to see which credential was more highly respected and ACSM and NASM kept coming up as the best. Going back to my original point, ACSM was much cheaper than NASM, so that it how I ultimately settled on it.

After picking my certification, I went ahead and ordered study materials. I went with the study pack option for the ACSM and ordered the set last Saturday. They arrived on my doorstep by Thursday.

When I first ordered the materials, my goal was to study and pass the exam during my winter break from classes. This changed when I realized that after taking the exam, it still takes several weeks to get your certificate. If I study all through December, pass in January, but don’t receive my certificate until February, I worry that I’ll miss a lot of new years resolution clients. Unfortunately, studying in the fall looks to be nearly impossible with my work and courseload as it is right now.

This leaves me with the next three weeks to learn this material and pass the exam. Yikes! I think it can be done though. I will have to be very disciplined on my weekends, but I think it can work. It also helps that one of the books above is available online (there is a code in the book cover you have to have), but that means I can kind of sneak in some reading at work. Also, the pass rate for the exam is 70% for the first try. Not to sound arrogant, but I am REALLY good at taking tests, so I feel like I have a decent shot at passing even on such a short study time table.

Time will tell. And on that note, it is time to crack open some books!

UPDATE: I PASSED!!!!!!!!!!!!!

7 thoughts on “Studying for the ASCM Certified Personal Trainer Exam

  1. Pingback: How To Pass The ACSM CPT Exam |

  2. Hi Lauren,
    Congratulations!! I’m going to pass the exam and i found few questions on exam practice test interesting and i could not find the answer, maybe you could help me.
    Is there a specific place to find about the muscles involved in downhill and uphill running? I found many things and i don’t know which one is correct.
    Did you have the question:” what to look for if a client complains of ankle edema?”
    What about the I.D.E.A? do you know where to find the signification? If your client has an excess of protein, what does that do?
    Thanks a lot.

    • Hi there! Sorry for the delayed response.

      For the running question (and I had this on my test), I found this link helpful:

      Just make sure you conceptually understand the idea of muscles shortening and lengthening and when that happens when you’re running because they may word the question differently on the exam.

      Ankle edema is a symptom of CVD, so you would want to see if they had other symptoms as well.

      For the most aprt, you can google all these answers. I did a lot of googling while I was studying because it won’t all be in the book. The ACSM spreads their resources around in an attempt (I think) to get you to buy more of their stuff. If you don’t know something, just google around! Lots of great stuff out there.

      Good luck!!!

  3. Hi Lauren – Congrats on passing the test!

    I’m in a similar situation: looking to study and take the exam in short time. I purchased the review book, thinking it would provide the basics I would need to learn and pass the test. This has led to me digging deeper on google when I have questions about different terms and systems in the book.

    I have a few questions:

    – Did you feel it was a good idea/necessary to study all three books? What would you recommend?
    – Do you know where I could find some practice tests to take to prepare for the exam?


    • Hi Ethan….yes, I think you need all three books. The Certification Review book will have outlines and practices questions in it for you and in order to really understand the outlines, you’ll need both of the other books. Annoying, I know. And I believe the ACSM website should have some practice tests on it and if you are a member, I think one of them might be free (I think….can’t swear to it). I know if you’re a student, the membership fee is quite low and you get a discount on taking the exam (which saves you enough money to cover the cost of paying for the membership). Hope this helps. Good luck!

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