ACSM Certified Personal Trainer Q&A

Hey guys!  In case you missed it, I passed my ACSM Certified Personal Trainer Exam.  Ever since I made the announcement on F&F, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from you guys on the process I went through in getting this certification.

That being said, here’s a little Q&A!

Why did you choose ACSM over any other certifying body for personal training?  

When I first decided I was going to certify, I spoke with some friends that were already certified to get their general opinion of the best programs out there.  I was able to narrow my decision down to NASM and ACSM, as the general consensus was pretty split on these being the most accredited and nationally respected programs in the industry, as well as the preferred certifications by potential employers.

The clinching factor for me in choosing ACSM was the Wellcoaches School of Coaching program I signed up for (this is the class that I started last week).  Their health and wellness coach certification is actually endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine, and one of the qualifying prerequisites for the course was to be a certified personal trainer.  I figured if the wellness coach certification is endorsed by ACSM, it was probably best to align the two and get my PT certification from ACSM as well.

I knew I made the right decision when I told my director at the Y (who holds an NASM certification), and her reaction was, “Wow!  Good for you, ACSM is considered the “Gold Standard!”

Did you need any kind of previous background in a related field to qualify for the program?

Nope, although I’m sure it would certainly help!  The only prerequisites to take the ACSM Certified Personal Trainer Exam are:

  • 18 years of age or older
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Adult CPR with AED certification

How long did it take you to prepare for the exam?  What was your process?

After I finished all my hemming and hawing (anyone else think that’s a funny expression?) and indecisiveness about whether I was going to pursue a higher fitness certification than my current AFAA Primary Group Exercise, this is the breakdown on how long it took me to prepare:

  • October 2011:  Decision made, study materials ordered and arrived
  • November 2011:  Attended the three-day live workshop 
  • November – December 2011:  Studied sporadically on weekends, directly from the study guide I received at the live workshop.  I didn’t do TOO much studying during the holiday season, more just reinforcing the concepts already learned here and there.  It was holiday season, after all!
  • January February 2012:  Time to buckle down!  I read and took notes on each chapter in the main textbook (ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer) and made flashcards for the main “memorization” points.  Then I used the KSA (knowledge, skills, and ability) breakdown from the live workshop study guide to make sure I was well versed in all the topics listed, took the practice quizzes at the end of the chapters in the Certification Review text, and took the practice test online.  My boyfriend also helped me so much by quizzing me!
  • March 2nd:  Took a vacation day at work to use the day before my exam for last-minute stuff, relaxed at night, and went to bed early.  I must say the week before the test, I actually didn’t study as much as I did two weeks before the test.  I was pretty much studied out, and felt pretty confident in the material.  I didn’t want to overdo it.
  • March 3rd:  Test day!

Total time — About 4 months (I don’t think I can count October since all that happened was getting my study materials).  If your schedule isn’t as jam-packed as mine, and you can retain material just from reading rather than needing to write everything down like I do, I think total preparation time could definitely be less.

Did you attend any of the live workshops ACSM offers?  If so, did you find them helpful?

Yes, and yes.

I attended the three-day workshop at Salem State at the beginning of November.  The workshops are not required before taking the exam; however my friend Jen attended the three-day before taking her test and highly recommended it.

Here’s why I also recommend attending:

  • It gives a great overview of all the material
  • Helpful hints!  The instructor makes sure to point out facts she would “highly recommend highlighting for later.”
  • Several of the harder, more scientific areas were “dumbed down” for those with no previous exposure to the subject.
  • Holy helpful study tips!  For example, “You TRY clothes on before you BUY them” to remember that blood flows through the TRIcuspid valve before the BIcuspid valve,” or that “you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at 7, 12, and 5” to remember the number of vertebrae in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spines.  Things like that DEFINITELY helped me study and retain for the test.
  • Hands on galore.  The workshop was not straight lecture.  We learned how to properly do fitness test assessments, how to properly take skinfold measurements using a caliper, how to aid clients with stretching, and so much more.  And we practiced on each other.  I’m sure when it comes time to apply these concepts in a real life personal training session, I’ll feel much more comfortable.
  • Study Guide!  This is probably the biggest reason I recommend going to the 3 day workshop.  The study guide you are provided (but can’t purchase without attending the workshop) pulls out the main concepts from the huge textbooks, gives example test questions, case studies, equations and more that we went through all together in class.  This really helped narrow down what do focus on and helped me not get overwhelmed by the 22 chapter text and knowing what to focus on.

What would you do differently when preparing, if anything?

If I were to do it all over again…

  • …I would read and take notes on each chapter in the main text BEFORE attending the three-day workshop.  This way, ALL information would be in my mind while getting the hands on, in person experience.
  • …I would NOT have spent November – December reinforcing the study guide.  I think this was wasted time, and had I read the main text prior to the workshop, this step probably wouldn’t be necessary.
  • …I would NOT have purchased the practice exam online.  This is $50 I will never get back.  Several of the questions are the EXACT questions from the end of chapter quizzes in the “Certification Review” text, AND they are all much easier than the questions on the real exam.  If you do the end of chapter quizzes, and end of book tests, you will be just fine.

What advice do you have for anyone planning on taking the exam?

Aside from what I’ve already mentioned above:

  • Suck it up, pay for the workshop, and go.
  • Schedule a date for your exam immediately after taking the workshop, even if it’s a few months out.  This way you have a set date in mind and don’t keep pushing off your test.  You can always reschedule if it gets closer and you don’t feel adequately prepared.
  • When taking the practice quizzes/tests, do NOT take them right after studying the specific material from that chapter.  Take them first thing in the morning, as if simulating the real test.  This will be a better indication of whether you actually retained the material rather than just remembering from reading it 45 minutes earlier.
  • Definitely study and focus more on the areas that make up the bulk of the test.  Your texts will give a breakdown, but as you can see you would not want to spend hours and hours studying human behavior and disregard the exercise physiology and programming sections.

  • Finally, don’t expect the exam to be straight memorization, although a few questions are.  It’s a lot of APPLYING the concepts you’ve studied.  I’m not going to lie, the test is HARD.  I studied a lot, and got a lot of “don’t you think you’re studying too much” kind of comments throughout the process, and I do not feel like I over-studied.  I’m glad I studied so much because I would not have felt comfortable come exam time.

How do you go about registering for your exam?

The exam is administered by ACSM’s testing partner, PearsonVUE.  You can register for any ACSM exam through PearsonVUE by clicking here.  They have a very easy step by step process in choosing a testing center close to you, picking a date, and paying for the test fees.

What can I expect on test day?

The exam is 150 multiple choice questions and you have two and a half hours to complete all the questions.  It took me about an hour and fifteen minutes to go through all of them, and then I spent another 45 reviewing the questions I flagged for review, and then going through them all once last time.  The test is all done on the computer.  You have access to a calculator on the computer, so you don’t need to worry about bringing your own.

For the exam center itself, you are not allowed to bring ANYTHING into the testing room.  You must leave all bags, materials, cell phones, etc. outside in a cubby with the administrators.  No food or drink is allowed.  They will give you a dry erase board, marker, and eraser for any writing you may need to do during the test.

After completing the exam, how long do you have to wait to receive your results?

You don’t have to wait at all because you receive your exam results immediately upon completion of the test.  It literally took me 10 minutes to click the “End Exam” button because I was so nervous about what would come next.  What a relief it was to see “pass!”  I’m not sure which is more nerve-wracking, finding out right then and there, or having to wait a few weeks for a letter in the mail.

How are the exams scored? 

I’m pretty sure all ACSM Certification exams are reported on a 200-800 score scale.  For the ACSM CPT exam, you must meet the passing standard of a scaled score of 550 in order to pass.  Did I mention that I passed with a 725, by the way?  I’m not one to brag, but I was pretty proud of that score!

Each content area is weighed proportionally, so some subject matters are more important (and also have more questions) and count more toward the overall score than other content areas.  What I liked is that upon completion of the exam, you immediately can print out your score report, where you not only receive your overall score and pass/fail status, but a breakdown by each specific content area.  This shows you what areas you may not be as strong in, and could help if you need to re-take the exam if you don’t pass the first time around.

If you fail the exam, what is the retest policy?

Re-test candidates will receive a re-test voucher number on the score report from PearsonVUE.  Candidates may retake the exam 15 days after the first exam and every 15 days following.

Financially, how much did the entire certification process cost you?

$833!  It’s a lot of money, but think of how quickly you can make that back once you start with real clients.

Here’s my cost breakdown:

  • Study Materials (ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, Eighth Edition; ACSM’s Certification Review, Third Edition; and ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer, Third Edition):  $159.15
  • 3 Day Live Workshop:  $375
  • Exam Fee:  $249.  Note I received a voucher for $50 off the test cost from attending the 3 day workshop, so without the workshop it would be $299.
  • Practice Exam Fee:  $50.

How long does your personal training certification last before you need to renew it?  How does that process work?

Now that I’m certified, my personal trainer status will last me three years.  It is expected that over the course of three years I will accumulate the required number of Continuing Education Credits (CECs) for this particular certification.  For the ACSM Personal Trainer, it’s 45.  I will also have to pay a $30 re-certification fee and maintain all my CPR certification.

So, why did you do it?!  What does all this mean now?  How are you planning to use your certification?

Definitely the most frequently asked question – “so what now?!”

The main 2 reasons I decided to get this certification:

  1. Because I love this stuff and just wanted to expand my knowledge and fitness credentials.
  2. Because I needed a personal training certification as a prerequisite to the Wellcoaches program.

Aside from that, well… I don’t really know!  Here are some ideas I have floating around in this crazy head of mine for next steps:

  1. Get personal liability insurance.  This way I can start training some private clients (friends, family, local people) on the side.
  2. The Y that I currently teach group exercise classes at needs female personal trainers like, yesterday.  I am going to meet with my director there and see how much I can realistically take on in the short-term for some extra cashola.
  3. VIRTUAL!  Some of you may have noticed the “Personal Training” page I added under my Fitness tab at the top of my site.  Once I actually sit down and have the chance to do this (and get my official certification letters in the mail), I am going to offer virtual personal training through Fitness & Feta.  Whether this be customized workout plans, goal programs, etc. I envision offering all of YOU an affordable means to reaching your fitness goals through online personal training.

More on this to come, so stay tuned!

I think I covered everything, but if there are any remaining questions that I didn’t address here, please let me know! 


96 thoughts on “ACSM Certified Personal Trainer Q&A

  1. Let me know what you think of the Wellcoaches program. It’s one I have been considering. I’ll worried about the time commitment. It seems like a lot of homework/prep work that I may not be able to keep up with given my schedule right now. I would be curious to know how many hours per week you spend in class, studying, etc.

    Good luck!


  2. thanks for this very informative post!! once i get comfortable with teaching classes, I plan on getting my personal training cert. When you get your online thing up and running, I’d love to take part in it!


  3. Congrats! How was the Karvonen Method? Did you have to do dones of formulas? I am streessing out remembering all of the formulas! AH! Thanks so much for the post it really helped!


    • You DEFINITELY need to know the Karvonen Method. I obviously can’t give you the exact questions from my test, but if you practice a couple of scenarios where you figure out the target training heart rate using that method, you will be okay.

      Don’t stress too much about remembering every single formula. Aside from Karvonen, I would recommend knowing how to calculate BMI, max heart rate, mets, and the caloric equivalents to fat, protein, carbs etc.


  4. Congrats and awesome on your high score…I do have some questions though.
    1. Did/Do you have to study Guidlinees for Exercise Testing and Prescription
    2. The breakdown of the percentage of questions on the test how do you line those up with the text book information?
    Exercise prescription(training) and programming chapter?
    Exercise physiology and related exercise science chapter?
    Health appraisal and fitness exercise testing chapter?
    clinical and medical considerations(risk factor identification chapter?
    Nutrition and weight management chapter?
    safety,injury prevention,and emergency procedures chapter?
    program administration, quality assurance, and outcome assessment chapter?
    human behavior chapter?


    • Thanks! If you are wary on going through and reading each of the Chapters in the big book (Guidelines) I would make sure to at least go through all the study material in the certification review, as well as the KSA questions that tell you what you need to know, and reading those sections in the big book. All the other sections aligned pretty much spot on for the actual exam. Good luck!


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  6. Wow! This was amazing! I ordered my study materials this week and this post has made me feel more prepared AND super stoked! Can I add you on FB? Maybe your FB is already posted; when I view pages through my phone I always seem to miss something 🙂 Thanks for this post!!!


  7. I won’t be able to take a workshop as there are none near me or near family, I was wondering what your thoughts were on the webinaire (sp?)? I would think that might be a good option. I’m a certified unemployed Health and PE teacher and a gym rat voracious reader so I am not new to any of this. Thanks for all the info!


    • Hi Tanya, I think that if you can’t take an in person workshop the webinar would probably be the best option. I’m sure a lot of the material is pretty similar — you just won’t get that same “in person” experience. Since I didn’t take the webinar option myself I can’t say for sure, but I would probably just call and talk to one of their customer service reps to get the best idea. Good luck!


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  10. Thank you so much for this overly detailed breakdown of your journey from ordering the materials to taking the test. Wow I was nervous after just having received my ACSM study materials because I didnt know the time frame of how I should study and just other good advice that someones whos been down that road. But this is perfect, I feel a lot more confident about taking the exam now and am trying to find a workshop I can get in to 2 or 3 months down the road 🙂 Thanks so much again!


  11. Hello Athena;

    Thank you for the piece, I read it all the way through with interest as I am just beginning the study process and looking for a clear path technique to study.

    Perhaps you should add “Study Coach” to your list of services.




  12. hi Athena! love love love your blog! just wanted to ask you how the wellcoaches program was going? I’m very interested in pursuing a career in nutrition/pt and I’ve been checking out another health coach program, but it seemed like it was geared more toward marketing. I would love to get your feedback on Wellcoaches: is the information provided scientific, or more based on lifestyle coaching? upon completion are there options to be employed with other organizations, or it is more to work for yourself? any information you can provide would be ammmmazzzzzing! thanks so much & have a great weekend 😀


    • Hi Emilia, due to some personal things this year and a change in career plans, I did finish the Wellcoaches course but I haven’t taken the test yet! It’s more based on lifestyle coaching. I will probably do a post on it once I get through what I need to do. Sorry I’m not more help!


  13. hey. im so happy you passed the exam! im about to take the exam in another month, after i pass, do you have any tips or advice on how to look for a job? im looking to work in a commercial gym…


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  15. Hi Athena, I have been studying from the certification review and reforcing what I don’ t understand from the resources for the personal training book. Do you think that is ok or I should focus more in the second book? I just think the resourcesfor the pt book has too much info that you won’t need. Please let me know, thanks and congrats


    • The Resources book (hard cover) is VERY important. You need to read every chapter. Make sure you know your KSA’s as well. Some I didn’t have questions on and others I had multiply questions. Good Luck!


  16. Congrats on your exam score! Thanks so much for putting up this very informative post. I am attending my live 3day workshop in two weeks! I’m so excited, I currently teach spinning/indoor cycling and can’t wait to take my fitness to the next level with training.


  17. Thanks for writing this, I’m going to the three-day workshop at the Quincy MA. YMCA, I am already certified with the NASM and the ISSA.Not sure if Im going to take the acsm text.


  18. Beth,

    Thank you for taking time to write this. I’ve been thinking of getting into personal training, I’ve be teaching group fitness for 2 years, I’ve been anxious about studying again.


  19. Thank you very much for your post. Just having the study materials is extremely confusing as where to even begin! I’m glad i stumbled upon your site. thank you.


  20. Hands down, this is the most helpful write-up I’ve stumbled across about the CPT certifications. Great also that it’s from a female perspective. Thanks, tons!!


  21. I have a question about the Certification Review book. I am having a difficult time determining what in that text applies to those taking the CPT exam and those taking the HFS or CES test. Do I (studying for CPT) need to take the clinical exercise study questions? These seem way over the top for a PT to know but it is stressing me out that I need to know it for the exam. Thanks for any help–I am stressing out a bit.


      • Thanks!! I took the test about 2 weeks ago and passed. Definitely stuff in there you do not need to know. The last 2 chapters did not apply to us at all. What I did find odd was that there were questions on things no in either book, like proper spotting. Test is not easy but not impossible either. Good luck to anyone studying to take it!!


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  23. hey! congrats. I have been looking into getting certified and this was the most help i have seen online. Do you know why the AFAA requires a practical exam as well as a written unlike the ACSM which only requires a written.


  24. Hi Athena! Congrats on the ACSM cert! Great post it was very informative! I am currently certified through NASM and I am looking to get a second cert. I am on the edge between ACSM and NSCA but I have been tipped to ACSM thanks to you! 🙂


  25. Hey there about to take my ACSM exam in a week. I have read the chapters and made notes. Been studying for about the last two months. Any advice on what to do this last week. Feeling very confused as to how and what to actually study now. Did you study using your KSA’s, if so what was your method. Thanks so much!


  26. ACSM is the best Personal Training academy, which is worth of pursuing in this health concious modern world. It certainly has all that needed for carrying out an efficient business in Personal Training gaining huge profits, with minimum expenditure.


  27. Hi! I enjoyed reading about your expierence a whole lot! thanks! I am interested in becoming a group fitness instructor and I was wondering if you would recommend acsm as the certification for it or can ACE certification do? Is there a big difference in salary? thanks


    • Thanks Victoria! If you are looking to become a group fitness instructor, ACE or AFAA are my recommendations (AFAA is what I have). I don’t know much about ACSM in terms of their group instructor program, just more in terms of personal training. Good luck!


  28. Athena,

    I love your blog. It was extremely helpful to me while I prepared for the ACSM-CPT exam! I nailed it today and I am so stoked! Thanks a million.

    – Jack in Atlantic Beach, FL


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  30. I know this may sound repetitive as I see the test breakdown above but, I am curious as to how much anatomy and physiology is on the exam? I am not sure if I should focus more on concepts/formulas or things such as different muscles in the body/joints/


  31. Hello,
    Congratulations on the certification!
    I really want to be a personal trainer, so i have few questions. If I choose ACSM, in order to be a certified personal trainer, I just have to purchase the materials and study on my own to pass the test? There is no school time, etc?


    • Hi Gana, this is correct! There are a few requirements (being 18+, having a CPR certification I think, etc.) but no school time. There is an optional one or three day workshop that you can attend (similar to being in class) that helps you prepare, but it’s not mandatory.


  32. Hey Athena, I just ran across your post, and found it very informative. Thanks!… I do have a question regarding the ACSM Resources for Personal Trainers book though. I see that there is a new edition out (4th)… do you think the 3rd edition would be suffice for preparing for the CPT exam? I already have the 3rd edition, so I would rather not pay an extra $75 dollars, if the 3rd ed. will do the trick!




  33. Hi Athena, great resource and helpful thread you have! Thanks in advance!

    I just received the new/updated materials for ACSM-CPT exam. Seems quite intimidating. Also ACSM has put out a “job analysis” outline for exam (about 16 pages) and they changed the percentages of what material they will test on (since July 1st 2013)

    First, anyone take the exam since changes? Also, any helpful hints or best approach to study and prepare for exam? I’ve read the entire text book and preparing to read again with emphasizes to outline. I hope to take exam in new 6-8 weeks.

    Any helpful hints or direction is greatly appreciated, thanks again!!


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  35. Hi and congratulations on the success. Now my question to you is, do you think you can still do good and pass the exam by just taking the quizzes and tests, without going to the 3 day live workshop?


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  37. Hi Athena! Thank you so much for this information, very helpful. I have been wondering if they have personal trainer certificate study kit soft copy for sale? Or if you came across any used books on any site I could buy and use? I am in West Africa ,Ghana. I do not have access to purchsing the kits unless they are shipped down and shipping cost alone will double my cost!


  38. I cleared my exams on Feb 26th 2014 .

    How long does it take to receive the certification hard copies.

    pl reply. thanks in advance


    • Hi Crusader,

      I see you’ve taken the ACSM CPT exam and passed! Congrats! My name is Ericka and I am preparing to take exam too in the next 4 weeks. I would appreciate any tips or suggestions you can offer. THe one thing I have been struggling with is lookng at the long list of KSA. Seems easier to just study book and know material. Also, what was the volume of mathmetical questions on exam?

      Again, any input is appreciated! Thanks!!


  39. Thank you for posting this!! ( not sure if this page is dead from 2 years ago or not) I took my exam two weeks ago and passed with a 682. I just graduated with BS in Phys Ed.(sports erformance track) so of course that was helpful, but I didn’t buy the personal trainer manual (just the testing guidelines one) and used blogs like yours to get me mentally prepared to what was on the exam. I found that my health ed minor came in handy for questions concerning “A.P.I.E.” and the behavior change theory models. I still am not sure how scoring worked though.. I scored an 87% for initial client consult.; 78% for exercise programming and implementation; 100% on Exercise leadership and client education; and 79% on the legal/profession/ business and marketing category, but I really was unsure of myself right before clicking the finished button of doom! lol 🙂


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  41. Thanks for this post. This is very helpful in thinking through how to prepare to sit for the exam and best study methods. I appreciate it.


  42. I am getting ready to register for my workshop and hoping to get certified by May. This information was EXACTLY what I needed. I like you don’t have a lot of previous education or certifications in this field so seriously, this was so helpful. THANK YOU!!


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