This post is by Heather Dziczek an NASM personal trainer. Heather can be reached at her website HeatherDzicek.com. My hope is that Heathers words can be of some comfort and inspiration to you ask you study for the NASM personal trainer test and hopefully give you some insights and study tips as you prepare to take the test. After this, also read my post How to Be a Personal Trainer where I tell you step by step how to do it.
Studying for the NASM personal trainer exam was a daunting task for me. My degrees are in music and counseling, so there were countless new words and concepts. Because my background was not in any of the health sciences, I was not only interested in passing the test, but I was interested in learning as much as possible. It worked and I passed! Let me now offer you some tips and, ideas and advice to help you do the best you can on the NASM Personal Trainer Test.
The NASM Books
I ordered the whole package from NASM, with all of the study aids and the in-person workshop. I did not need or use everything that they sent to me, but buying components separately still would have cost more, so this was a cost-effective plan.
I got the textbook and got through the first three chapters pretty easily. High school biology came back to me (though it's been quite a while!). I took the little practice quizzes at the end of the chapters, knew the answers, and was feeling pretty confident.
NASM Book Chapter 4
Everything was going great studying, and then I got to chapter four…In the midst of chapter four, there are 18 pages of musculature, including muscle origin, insertion, isolated function, and integrated function.
While I saw the value in all of this information, I didn't understand everything I was reading — The NASM book it assumes a lot of prior skeletal knowledge — much less remember it all. I got frustrated and put the book away.
I decided later to bookmark those pages and refer to them as needed while going through the rest of the text. This turned out to be an excellent plan and one that I would recommend to anyone who is not already familiar with the body's musculature system.
The rest of the text was full of information, but it was all digestible. I needed time to go through it, sometimes twice, to make sure I got it, but no other portion of the text presented the same challenges as chapter four.
The NASM study package included a study guide and a certification handbook, both of which I used extensively. The handbook answers all of your questions about how to schedule the test, what to bring, etc.
The NASM study guide has a chart in the preface, laying out a recommended schedule for studying, including places where you can fill in dates. If you're not sure what to do, they have it all set up for you.
They recommend doing the readings, then watching the DVD presentation that corresponds to the chapter, then doing the exercises in the study guide. You just have to do it.
My NASM Study Tips
I didn't follow the schedule as closely as the NASM recommended. What worked best for me was this:
1. listen to mp3 of the next chapter while commuting to/from work
2. read chapter
3. continue to listen to same mp3 while commuting
4. watch the DVD
5. do the questions in the study guide (on separate paper so I could use the study guide again)
6. move on to the next mp3
I found that listening to the mp3 first gave the chapter context and made the reading a bit easier.
In chapters detailing movement, the DVD was more useful to watch than in other chapters. (For example, the DVD was useful for the chapter on balance training concepts, but not so much for the chapter on supplements.)
On NASM's website, there are practice tests. I didn't take them until just a couple of days before taking the NASM test— assuming they were the same as the study guide — and I regret that because they're not. The online practice tests were very similar to the actual exam. The study guide is a review of the chapter's content.
Take the NASM practice examsHere are a few practice tests I located online
I was wondering, before I took them, how the exam would be. There is a ton of content in the book — would the exam take a broad scope, or would it hit on specifics and just not get everything?
The practice tests answered that question: specifics. Most of the questions were very detailed. They included some numbers that I had filed in the “I will look that up if I need to know it” category. Oops.
Tip. Just knowing broad concepts will not help you pass the exam.
The NASM Test
NASM is all about the OPT model. Know it. OPT stands for Optimum Performance Training.
Tip. I would recommend having a week or so between when you finish the book and when you take the exam. This will give you time to take the practice exams and study more on the questions that you struggle with.
As a note: I did not pass any of the practice exams that I took (though I was close), but I did pass the actual exam.
The practice exam gives you a score, but the actual exam is simply pass/fail —
You do not (and can not) find out how well you did on the NASM test. I might have gotten a 70; I might have gotten a 95. I have no idea.
The other reason that you don't really know how you did is because the exam is 120 questions, but only 100 of them are exam questions. You don't know which 20 are research questions.
You have 180 days from the time you register with NASM to take the exam. If you're not ready within the 180 days, you can buy a 90-day extension. I decided to buy one extension, mainly as a result of my inactivity when I hit chapter four.
Tip. One extension costs less than one re-test.
As far as taking the exam — it will vary slightly based on where you take it, but this is how it went down for me:
I showed up 15 minutes early with photo ID and CPR/AED card. (You have to get CPR and AED certified ahead of time through a venue that meets certain criteria listed in the NASM handbook.)
Tip. You are not allowed to bring anything into the testing room. Besides my IDs, I had my cell phone and car keys, and the testing center held onto them for me.
My testing room was cubicle-sized — though it was an enclosed room — and had a desk, a chair, and a computer. The test administrator set up the computer for me, gave me directions, and left me with scrap paper and a pencil.
As you'll see when you take the NASM practice exams, the questions are all multiple choice on the computer. You have the ability to return to questions as needed.
The testing block was two hours, which was more than enough time. I went through and answered all of the ones I was certain of, then went back through to the ones I was less sure about.
Because the NASM exam is multiple choice, if you have decent test-taking skills, it's a little easier (on most questions).
Because the exam is multiple choice, they did make some of the questions tricky, with two answers that are similar.
When I finished the exam, I returned to the front desk and told them I was done. The woman who had set up my computer left me in the lobby and went to my testing station.
She returned to me in the lobby just a few minutes later with my good news — I passed! She also mentioned that less than half of the people she's tested have passed on the first try.
You need to study if you want to be an NASM personal trainer. But if you use the study materials provided by NASM (and can answer the questions!), you'll be able to pass.
Also, I went to a 2-day in-person workshop, and this was well worth the time and money! There is no substitute for hands-on. Take notes while you're there — you'll forget things.
Boiling it all down, my two pieces of advice:
- Study consistently over a decent stretch of time. There is a lot of content, and cramming isn't going to make it happen.
- Use the study materials made available by NASM. It's a lot of work, but it gets the job done.
Heather Dziczek is NASM CPT- certified and lives in Mesa, AZ. She has overcome both obesity and cancer to become a triathlete and personal trainer. All of her clients are deconditioned in one way or another and are working to reclaim their bodies.
Please Post Questions For Heather below in the comments so the community can help you, rather than sending her private emails about NASM.