Well I finally got my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. This is commonly considered the gold standard of training certifications and with a 56% pass rate and requiring a Bachelor’s degree to fully attain, it certainly earns that distinction. I have heard of people failing this test four times before passing. With such a tough and lengthy exam, a visual impairment doesn’t exactly make things easier. Luckily you have me as your guinea pig. I have taken this exam and the Certified Personal Trainer exam for the National Academy of Sports Medicine with the appropriate accommodations and passed both the first try handily. I also teach a college course covering the material for another training company. Let’s go over some tips for you to pass any personal training test you may have to take. This advice will certainly apply to test-taking in other fields as well.
Tip 1: GET THE BOOK AND READ IT
For any exam, a book will be involved. Get it, read it. I know some people don’t want to spend the money but it is better than failing a test and having to pay the ruling body to take it again. Not to mention, exams are to prove you know information. Better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. As I searched YouTube for advice on how to approach the CSCS exam, most of the speakers mentioned how they failed and “didn’t have time to read the book”. With certification exams, you get to choose when you schedule your test. Not having read the book ahead of time is a choice. Not only does reading the book give you exposure to all possible topics, it also allows you to see what content you are most and least comfortable with. Not to mention that different governing bodies will have different recommendations on some topics such as plyometrics volume so knowing what your governing body advises is huge.
To end my little rant, read the book. I have never had trouble finding the necessary books on Amazon Kindle and using my screen reader to have them conveniently read for me.
Tip 2: Accommodation exploration
Now that you have read the book, you need to schedule your exam. If you need accommodations, this is the time to speak up. Be sure to make it clear you need accommodations and when put in touch with the right person, inquire as to what accommodations can be provided. This may include but will not be limited to extra time, having a reader, separate room, etc. These will be crucial to your success and making for a more even playing field. My test required me to review videos and photos of exercise which was challenging given my very limited sight. Looking back, I would have requested that the reader could answer simple questions about what is going on in the video as I had to guess a couple of times due to the subtlety of the faults I was supposed to perceive. I would encourage you to keep this in mind when requesting accommodations. Do not be shy when requesting accommodations.
Receiving accommodations may require a signed form from a medical professional to legitimize your handicap but it will be well worth it.
One issue I had cooperating accommodations and the normal exam was ensuring that both were approved in the same time period. Due to the pandemic, my exam was pushed back a couple of times. During the rescheduling process, I learned the hard way that accommodations aren’t always automatically updated accordingly. Be sure to reach out to your contact with your governing body each time you have to reschedule to ensure your accommodations are extended so you can properly schedule your exam. I don’t want you needlessly sitting on the phone for hours multiple times. It’s not so fun.
Tip 3: Practice under test conditions
While studying, have someone read you study questions aloud with you having to think and answer. Having this stimulus in small doses of about 4 chapters or 20 questions at a time really acclimated you to the test-taking style you will use while not overwhelming you. After all, the common saying practice like you play is common for a reason.
Tip 4: Test taking tactics
Alright, now that you have read the book and studied hard and navigated the accommodation process, it is game time! With these lengthy tests, it can be a mental grind. So, to simplify things and help you endure, I have a few test-taking tips.
First, I found stalling tactics very helpful. I would occasionally turn my mind off while a question was being read to me. Then, if it was an easy answer, I could not hyper-focus and get it. If it was a long or complicated question, I could do a long pause and ask for the question to be flagged for later review. These breaks, though short, make a huge difference in your capacity to focus on one question at a time. Especially when having to be read complex questions multiple times, a period of relaxation will be very welcome.
Speaking of flagging questions, utilize this ability whenever you question your answer or simply wish to review a question again. I used this choice when I was split between two answers or when the question contained a topic I wanted to mull over more in the back of my head. During the CSCS exam, I used this trick to sit and think about psychological terms in the back of my head so I could go back and answer a sports psychology question in the manner the NSCA would want. Flagging questions and moving on to others also helps you keep momentum in the test instead of sitting for minutes and overthinking one.
Tip 5: Shades
Next, wear sunglasses if you have residual vision and/or lights bother you. Those fluorescent lights do a number on you after a while and simply wearing your usual sunglasses can make a big difference. I found this very helpful to let my brain be taxed and not my eyes.
I really hope these tips help guide and encourage you to pursue whatever certifications you choose. You are used to adapting to thrive, this is just another time to do it. Use any of these tips for whatever field or academic setting you find yourself in. I used many of these tactics in grad school as well. As always, reach out with absolutely any questions you have!
BS Health Science
NASM Certified Personal Training
NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist
Functional Movement Specialist
And now, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
*sigh* what’s next?!