How To Pass The NASM Personal Trainer Test

This post is by Heather Dziczek an NASM personal trainer. Heather can be reached at her website 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.

Tip. If you’re   on a budget, compare the price of study materials to NASM books on 

The resources page on this website has more NASM stuff too.

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 exams.

Here 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:

  1. Study consistently over a decent stretch of time.  There is a lot of content, and cramming isn’t going to make it happen.
  2. 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 can be contacted at her website She 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.

Also read How to Be a Personal Trainer for more info and my Resources Page for all the NASM materials.

What do you think?


    • jessica harris says

      Joe, thanks congrats on passing your test. I’m actually in the process of taking my test within a month myself and it is a little nerve-wrecking. Do you know how many you can miss and still pass? Thanks

      • Joe Cannon says

        Hi Jessica, that post wasn’t written by me but I’ll have Heather – who did write the review – get back to you with that information.

      • Heather says

        When I took it, you needed 70% correct to pass. (This information should be in your materials.) But the test was 100 test questions and 20 questions that were being tested for future tests. Of the 120, you don’t know which 100 count.

        • jessica harris says

          thanks Ms. Heather..that truly helps me out a lot. I’m so sorry for the late response, I’m getting to do my internship at Club Fitness which would be 4 weeks and then take my test next month. I may ask more questions a little later, any other info would be great. Thanks again

  1. Chucky says

    Is the NASM offering online courses now? I remember you saying that you were hesitant about online certs… How do you feel about this?

    • Joe Cannon says

      Chucky, NASM is a respected organization. I’d like to know how they are doing their online certs if they are doing them. Some may use software that limits how much time you can spend on a page and prevents people from opening multiple pages on their computers. this can cut down on cheating. Not sure if NASM is doing that but if they are, its a step in the right direction. If you find out, please do let me know.

  2. john says

    Great to hear you passed the exam. I am in a similar position as you were when you started. I have a degree unrelated to fitness and am considering a change now. My question is how was the job market for someone with just a certification, assuming you had no prior experience? I hear its tough to get a job even with a degree. And if you got a job, how do you like it? Thanks for the help

  3. Jason says

    Hey, I purchased the text a couple of months ago and am realizing how hard it is to study. The mp3 idea sounds great as I am always in the car. However, where are they? I purchased the most expensive of the programs (999+tax for retest and job placement). Please help…

    • Joe Cannon says

      Jason, wow over $1000 for the NASM test materials! does NASM have a job placement built into the materials? thats new to me. can you explain that? I’ll contact heather about the mp3s to see if she can shed some light on this.

    • Heather says

      When I went through the program (3 years ago!), the mp3s were downloadable from my account. You have an account where you log in to see all of the online materials? The mp3s are there.

  4. Rob says

    Great info!
    Curious, what package did you buy from nasm?

    I have the textbook, study guide and planning on taking the practice exams online. Starting studying this weekend and plan on taking the test in april 2013. If i study hard making notes and flashcards do you think that should be good prepare? or do i need to purchase a package from nasm website?


    • Heather says

      I think what you have would be plenty. I just bought the whole package, so I had everything, but I certainly didn’t need it all.

      You also have enough time to study and prepare to test in April if you’re diligent about it.

  5. John W. Jomp says

    Thanks for all the tips. I used some of them and passed the NASM test a few weeks ago. It wasn’t easy!

  6. Caprice Lejeune says

    hi, i am about to take my test and i am very nervous. I did very well on the practice exam, is the certification harder than the practice exam? and is it very different?

    • Joe Cannon says

      Caprice, Id expect that the actual test is harder than the practice exams if for nothing else than the pressure of “oh my goodness this is the test day!”

    • says

      If you did well on the practice exam, you should do fine on the real one. There were a bunch of questions that are really hard on the real exam, but either I guessed really well or they were the ones that didn’t count. Be confident!

  7. Anonymous says

    NASM: BOOK, EXAM, PHILOSOPHY. As of a few hours ago, I am now a certified NASM personal trainer, and I look forward to working in the industry. However, I am not one bit peachy keen on NASM. I know that it is a respected certification, and at the time it was the easiest one for me to pursue, but if I had it to do over, I might take a few weeks to investigate options before committing to one.

    I got a less-than-impressed feeling soon after I began to try to use the NASM website. I say “try” because half the time a link doesn’t take you to the information you expect to find. If you write and comment on such, you may or may not get a response, and the few responses I did get were not helpful. The best way to deal with them is to call them. They were helpful once I got someone on the phone so I decided to stick with the program.

    One thing they do is market too much once they have your email address. Joe can correct me if this is not accurate, but of the more respected certifications, I think NASM is the only one for-profit, and you sometimes get that feeling that making another dollar is more important than disseminating information. If they don’t think this statement is fair, then they can work on the impression they are giving.

    Now, since I don’t have experience with the other programs out there, I may in time feel that NASM is as good as it gets, but at this point I am disappointed in what I have seen. Of course, if I am dedicated to my work, it won’t be all that much of a factor from here on. I can learn on my own and keep high standards, and have a great experience. That’s the plan.

    First, the NASM textbook. I have a lot of college under my belt, both as a student and teacher, and so I know how hard it is to write a textbook, but there is no excuse for the poor editing, or lack of it, in this book. If you look at the reviews on Amazon, you will see that a lot of readers gave the book very high marks, but I suspect that those readers are either impressionable or a lot younger.

    I think the most accurate review on Amazon is a one-star one that really berates the work, even if might be a little harsh. A little. But what can you say about a book where the word ‘exercise’ is misspelled three times only a few lines apart (as ‘exercies’)? And then it will mention a rare piece of equipment one time without giving you a clue as to what it is.

    On one page, it says the popliteal muscle may be at fault, but I cannot find that particular muscle anywhere in the book (it’s behind the knee). In fact, you can find yourself going on-line frequently to get better explanations than you will find in the book. There are 20 pages of muscle illustrations….very well done….but there is no alphabetical index, a pretty obvious omission, so it can take several minutes to find a muscle you are not familiar with. I ended up typing out my own index.

    If there was ever a perfect illustration of the old cliche “too many cooks can spoil the broth,” this is probably what you have with this book. It seems that they invited many different experts (perhaps one for each of the 20 chapters) to write on their specialties, and no one bothered to coordinate the results, so you can have one very lucid and pertinent chapter followed by one that is muddy and redundant. Some material is repeated, and repeated, and repeated, as if we were dogs being trained and weren’t trusted to get it without lots of repetition. Then, the author of the chapter may write just a few pages, and then write a summary that no one needs. Any one chapter may have five or more summaries in it. And then they obsess with summaries when they could instead use less space for a more effective tool, namely chapter tests.

    This 600 page book could probably be reduced to 400 pages if they hired one professional editor to do the job, and made sure that person did not work in the field of personal training so that he/she focused on clarity and organization, and were not beholden to anyone. Is there anything good about the book? Oh, yes. The illustrations of exercises are fabulous, and a wide range of topics is covered fairly well, even if the writing is uneven and absurdly redundant. As I said, in the end, it is up to you to go on and fill in the gaps and be the best trainer that you can be, and that goes for any certification, so you cannot use the book as an excuse for any failure in that effort.

    Now, for the exam itself. I have never studied so hard in all my life for an exam, if for no other reason than if you fail, it costs $200 to take it again. I have read of people reading the book once and passing the exam. Wow. I don’t know what to make of that, but I wish I had their memory. I would say that all-in-all, I read the book cover-to-cover four times in four months. At least.

    I typed forty pages of notes, and made hundreds of flash cards, and read every hint I could find on-line (by the way, many of the practice exams on-line are for the third edition and not very useful). I scheduled the exam, and then postponed it repeatedly for about two months until I had the right combination of confidence and being sick of it. It took just a little over an hour for the 120 questions, and when I went out to see the proctor, I didn’t know if I had passed it or not. Fortunately, he was smiling. If I thought the book was poorly written/edited, the exam was even worse. Halfway through, I said to myself that if I failed it, I wouldn’t know what to go back and learn better. It just seemed to have far too much “luck” and discombobulated rhetoric involved, when I want factual questions for what is a very factual business.

    Some of the material didn’t seem to come from anything I had read, and then some just made you take your best guess as to what they intended. There were several questions where common sense said that any of the answers could be the correct one, and defended at length. That is just plain poor test-writing. My wife is in a technical program where after the exams the students can argue that a question was confusing. In fact, her instructors end up deleting several questions from each exam, an admission that they are not good writers, but there is no such option with NASM.

    You cannot take notes and then give NASM any feedback, unless you can memorize the questions and answers. No way. I thought that when it was over, I could provide some insights and help for others, but I don’t have any idea what I would tell anyone to do other than study like hell. I guarantee you that there will not be a single question on at least fifty percent of the book, but there is no way that you can skip any part of it.

    Some of the questions will be on topics that seem to be of little value, and then the most important things may not be touched on at all, as if there is a game going on here. Some of the questions are just plain ridiculous, such as the one that asks how long you should keep records. That is not even covered in the main part of the book. Where is the question that should be in its place, one on something, anything, that is much more important than record keeping? (By the way, they say four years when accountants will tell you six is best, so they don’t even agree with common business practices). As someone said, the best news is that if you pass, you never have to take the exam again. Wonderful.

    As for the philosophy of NASM, I admit that I cannot compare it to any other program, but I am not pleased or impressed with what I call the “grad school syndrome.” This is when you take a relatively simple subject and start using jargon that is useless to clients, and probably others in the field most of the time. But you think you need to talk obtusely and pedantically to impress others or your teachers. Bull.

    There is an on-line article today featuring Alan Alda who has established a program to encourage scientists to speak more clearly to the public, which in turn encourages more support from the public. Alda is on the right track, but I will be surprised if his battle with insecure professionals gets very far. The fitness industry badly needs a plain-speaking, inspired Carl Sagan who can do for it what Sagan did for astronomy and science. Joe Cannon is working in that direction and he is to be encouraged and appreciated for his effort. Now, I think I will break training rules and eat lots of chocolate and have a stiff drink. Maybe two. The nerve-wracking worst is over. I think.

    • Joe Cannon says

      Anonymous, thanks very much for taking the time to write all of that! I really appreciate you going to all that trouble to share your experiences.
      Carl Segan, one of my writing heroes!

  8. Tina Healy-Leather says

    Where is the study guide that has the questions in it? Was it only available for the third edition of the book? I have the 4th edition and there are videos on each chapter with questions after the video. Is this taking the place of the study guide questions?

    • Joe Cannon says

      Courtney, you are very welcome – and I like your website. I bet the desert is nice in the summer :)

  9. CESAR CAHVEZ says


    • Joe Cannon says

      CESAR, that’s generally true for many things :) Interesting website you have. I know you are using your website to get clients but can i suggest you convert your website to a blog. then you take control of your website and can add stuff to it just as I do with my site – every easily. Here is my guide on how to make a wordpress website. Follow my steps and youll have a website in less than an hour.

        • Joe Cannon says

          Jasmine, yes I dont think you have to spend anywhere needed to that to study/pass the NASM test. I think the bear minimum – the main textbook, practice tests – is mostly all anybody would need. I dont want you to go into debt to get a cert, espeically if it will take you a long time (at $6/ per 30 min training session, what many gyms pay) to recoup your investment.

    • Joe Cannon says

      Tina, not sure heather is still responding to questions (Heather if you are feel free to as always). I think she was referring to NASM mp3 audio files. Im sure sure if they still have these or not honestly.

    • says

      There were mp3 files that came with all of the rest of the materials. They were basically just the audio of the DVDs, or the DVDs were just the audio with some pictures. Either way, I bought everything over 3 years ago, so I can’t speak to what they’re selling now.

  10. Jason Bailey says

    I have a question for you: Where were you able to get mp3’s of the book? I didn’t see that option anywhere but really wanted it! Do you know how I can obtain these even after my NASM class ended?

    • Joe Cannon says

      Jason, others have asked this also. They may not have them anymore. Id say check craigs list or contact NASM directly.

  11. Tina says

    Shannon, I just did the eTeach version and got certified last month. I thought that eTeach format was a waste of money. You just watch videos, so there is no live teacher leading you through the course. The only live interaction you are able to have is by posting on the message board, so basically what we’re doing here right now. If I had to do it over again I’d do the self-study package.

  12. Stacey says

    I bought the eTeach. I received an e-mail every Tuesday with the 2-4 chapters that I should study that week. (They are not in sequential order) I would watch the chapter video, read the chapter, and then take the short quiz at the end.

    I also found a great site where a guy has posted basically the study guide all filled in for each chapter. I printed every chapter and have used it extensively for review. After finishing all the study work (8 weeks). I reviewed my text book highlights and the study guide.

    I took the eTeach practice exam and make 74%. This did not make me feel good but I have yet to find someone who has told me the ever passed the practice exam (but they did pass the NASM) So I spent today re-reviewing the material and I made notes on the specific numbers. (i.e., training zones, nutrition percentages, sets, reps, loads, etc….)

    I took the practice exam again and I think some of the questions were new. I felt that I knew most of the material this time and I scored 86%. I’m going to study a bit more tomorrow and I’m taking the exam tomorrow night. Wish me luck.

  13. Stacey says

    I took the test. It took about an hour. I passed. Don’t know what percentage I got right or wrong but I did not find the test terribly challenging. I thought the practice exam was harder. Here are my thoughts.

    I agree with a previous post that NASM is very much about making money. They bombard you with workshops and study aids and this builds a bit of an “urban myth” that this test is un-passable with out all their extra help. I was well studied but the level of detail on the test was way less than expected.

    You absolutely MUST KNOW the fitness assessments (overhead squat, single leg squat, push, and pull) and all the overactive and under active muscles involved.

    You do not have to obsess over all the muscled in Appendix D. Just know the ones involved in the assessments. Know all the exercises (pictures) from chapters 7-15. Know what phase these exercises fit, how to progress and regress each, and how to superset.

    The questions are asked in a “practical” manner. Like “If the psoas is overactive and the glutes cannot produce force correctly then what muscle will take over? or what is this called?” so could be hamstring or could be synergistic dominance as the answer depending on how the question is worded.

    So I wasn’t necessarily asked for definitions but rather practice application of these theories. Know the OPT Model of course and the sets/reps/tempo for each phase. Know how to progress and regress exercises for special populations. Know basic knowledge of the “energy systems”. Like “which energy system is used for a sprint, or marathon, or 12 rep set.

    There are a handful of “fluff” questions from chapters 19 and 20 which with a reading of the chapters and common sense should be easy enough to answer. Also a couple of questions on the NASM practices at the beginning of the book and in the BOC.

    The first couple of chapters on biology that drove me nuts are tested very lightly. Nothing very detailed. I also downloaded an app called NASM “something” from Upward Mobility. It has about 400 questions and after answering each question there are a couple of sentences with explanation. I found it helpful with understanding. I went thru it for the 2 days before the test.

    With all this said I should let you know that I have a CPT from NAFC that I took about 3 years ago. The study guide was WAY better and the studying was easier but the test was harder. It was much more detailed on the biology and I had to know and calculate formulas for HR, etc….. But the NASM test was more practical knowledge.

    So the NAFC CPT exam was harder but the NASM CPT exam probably related more to knowledge needed to actually do the job. Good luck.

    • Joe Cannon says

      Stacy, congratulations on passing the NASM test and I do thank you for all that great information. I’m sure it will help everybody who is studying for NASM. Thanks also for mentioning NAFC too. Ive never heard of them but I checked them out online. looks like they have been around since 1992.

  14. Stacey says

    Joe. Just a note about your last post. The acronym is NAFC and Not NSFC. I’m sure it was just a slip of the typing fingers but just wanted to clarify to avoid confusion.

  15. Nancy says

    Joe, thanks for the informative website, and for this forum on the NASM CPT training and exam. I started the NASM eTeach program at the end of January and passed the certification exam two weeks ago. I wanted to post my comments here to encourage anyone who is wondering whether they can pass the NASM CPT exam without a background in personal training, a related degree or other certifications. The answer to that is yes.

    I graduated from college about a million years ago, and had no background in anatomy or biological sciences. I run and work out at the gym regularly, but that’s it for experience. I think the eTeach course is expensive, but I wanted the variety of channels it offered for learning because I knew that just reading the book and studying a text would not be enough for me. I also waited until NASM had one of their sales and signed up then.

    Other posters have done a good job of describing what to study so I won’t repeat that. I took advantage of everything that came with the eTeach course. I followed the schedule that came with the course, and every week read the assigned chapters in the textbook, took careful notes on them (really tedious but worth it), made flashcards for the vocabulary and key tables, watched the videos, used the NASM flashcards that were part of the bundle, studied like crazy and took the quizzes.

    The textbook had an access code for a site called JBLearning, and I found their interactive glossary and chapter quizzes to be helpful reinforcement. The eTeach schedule was grueling for me: it was nine weeks long and I would have liked almost double that. Oh well.

    NASM also provided a study guide for the certification exam, and I used that to prepare for the course final/practice exam and for the real certification test. I didn’t buy any smartphone apps or other practice tests because I worried about their accuracy and felt like I’d sunk enough money into the NASM material.

    I passed all the unit quizzes, the midterm and the practice exam, so I just crammed for two days after the practice exam and then sat for the certification exam. I thought the real test was harder than the practice exam, perhaps because the version I took started with what seemed like obscure questions, perhaps to psych out the test taker. In any case, I was relieved to pass.

    My hat is off to those folks who found the NASM CPT course and/or test to be easy, and who were successful with minimal study. It was very hard for me, but I found the content to be really interesting even though learning it was almost overwhelming. It was many hours of work, but very worth it. I am proof that you don’t have to be really smart to pass if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to learning.

    Now I have to get to work on getting an entry-level CPT job without formal experience!

  16. Trevor says

    Great post! I have a question for Heather that I want to get her opinion on. I’m possibly considering going through NASM to get certified, and I have a friend who happens to have the third edition of the NASM book, along with the study guide and flashcards that are based from the third addition of the book.

    My question is gut feeling, do you think there would be any major differences in material covered with the current fourth edition of the book from the third edition?

    Also, if I were to start studying to take the exam, do you think I would be okay using the third edition of the book or would you recommend that I get the fourth edition?

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