The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) exam is a rigorous test that assesses one’s knowledge and skills in the field of sports-specific training. Those who pass the exam obtain a certification that is recognized worldwide as a hallmark of expertise in the field of strength and conditioning. But how hard is the CSCS exam, and what does it take to pass?

The Exam Format

The CSCS exam consists of two sections: a scientific foundations section and a practical/applied section. The scientific foundations section covers topics such as anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, and exercise science. The practical/applied section tests one’s ability to apply this knowledge to real-world scenarios in the areas of program design, exercise technique, and testing and evaluation.

The exam is computer-based and consists of 140 multiple-choice questions, with 80 questions in the scientific foundations section and 60 questions in the practical/applied section. Test takers have 3 hours to complete the exam.

Exam Preparation

Preparation for the CSCS exam should begin well in advance, ideally several months before the exam date. Some people opt to take a review course or use study materials provided by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), which is the governing body for the CSCS certification.

The NSCA recommends that candidates have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as exercise science or kinesiology, before taking the exam. However, having a degree is not a requirement, and individuals with relevant work experience may also be eligible to take the exam.

It is important to note that the CSCS exam is not easy, and simply having a degree or work experience in the field does not guarantee success. The exam tests a broad spectrum of knowledge and skills, and candidates must be well-prepared to pass.

Passing Rates and Retake Policy

According to the NSCA, the overall passing rate for the CSCS exam is around 56%. However, the pass rate varies by exam section, with the scientific foundations section having a slightly higher passing rate than the practical/applied section.

Candidates who do not pass the CSCS exam on their first attempt are allowed to retake the exam, but must wait a minimum of 90 days before doing so. There is no limit to the number of times one may retake the exam, but each attempt requires paying the exam fee again.

Tips for Success

To increase the chances of passing the CSCS exam, candidates should focus on the following areas:

1. Study extensively and in-depth: The CSCS exam covers a wide range of topics and requires a deep understanding of each. Candidates should study extensively and make sure they understand all concepts thoroughly.

2. Practice applying knowledge to real-world scenarios: The practical/applied section of the exam requires candidates to apply their knowledge to real-world situations. Candidates should practice designing programs, assessing clients, and demonstrating proper exercise technique.

3. Time management: Candidates have 3 hours to complete the exam, which equates to just over a minute per question. Time management is crucial to ensure that all questions are answered within the allotted time.

4. Take advantage of practice exams: The NSCA provides practice exams that are designed to emulate the actual exam. Candidates should take advantage of these practice exams to familiarize themselves with the format and content of the exam.

5. Focus on weaknesses: After taking practice exams, candidates should analyze their performance and focus on areas where they struggled. This will help them identify weaknesses and focus their studying efforts more effectively.


The CSCS exam is a challenging test that requires a comprehensive understanding of sports-specific training. However, with proper preparation and dedication, passing the exam is achievable. Candidates should focus on studying extensively, practicing applying knowledge to real-world scenarios, managing their time effectively, and taking advantage of practice exams. Passing the CSCS exam is a significant accomplishment and provides a certification that is recognized worldwide as a hallmark of expertise in the field of strength and conditioning.