I recently took the NSCA’s CSCS exam to earn my certification. When preparing for it, I found it almost overwhelming to figure out what to use to prepare for the test. So, I tried out a bunch of different CSCS study materials, and you can find my favorite ones below.
The absolute most important study material for the CSCS exam is the The NSCA’s Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, which recently released its 4th edition. This is the text recommended by the NSCA and it has all of the information needed to earn your certification.
The book is massive, at over 750 pages and is pretty daunting at first. The first few chapters in particular can be difficult to get through if you weren’t an exercise science major. Regardless, you will want to read through this because anything in there is fair game on the exam.
You absolutely will want to get your hands on a book somehow, even if it is to only skim through once or twice at the bare minimum. If you are looking to save a few dollars on the book, you can see your options here.
Human Kinetics has, in partnership with the NSCA, created an online course for the CSCS exam that is meant to be a companion to the book. It is an interactive course with a bunch of multimedia and it comes with a practice exam at the end to see how you’ve progressed. I found this course to be challenging when I first looked at it, but after reading the text it became one of my favorite CSCS study materials.
There are all kinds of learning tools for different styles, including videos, text lectures, multiple choice, true/false, and matching questions. If you have already read the text, this is one of the best review options you can go with, although it is a bit pricey. You can read my review here if you want more information.
There are a few different study guides available online if you look hard enough. The Secrets of the CSCS Exam Study Guide by Mometrix was the one I used. It covers all the major topics of the exam in a review format and comes with a practice test included.
All the information is broken down into the highlights, which makes it great for review purposes as it is very easy to skim. The guide also includes general test-taking tips and other instructions for how to prepare. If you aren’t familiar with the content, this may not give you enough information, but after reading the text, you should find it very beneficial.
Khan Academy is a free online academy that has great courses on a number of different topics. Because I don’t have a background in the content, I found Human Anatomy and Physiology course very helpful. It has a ton of video lectures on all the basics of A & P, including the circulatory system, respiratory system, nervous system, muscular system, skeletal system, and endocrine system.
If you have taken a college anatomy course, you may not find this necessary. But if you know very little about the structure and function of the human body, this serves as a great introductory course. It has video and text lectures, with a place to ask questions that are quickly answered by a helpful community.
If you struggle with this content, I’d recommended going through this course before reading the CSCS book or any other study materials for 2 reasons:
The CSCS Pocket Prep app, available for Android here, became incredibly helpful for providing practice questions whenever I had a few free minutes to get studying in. The free version of the app comes with 30 practice questions 14 “question of the day” questions. I absolutely recommended you at least try out the free version to see if it helps you.
If you purchase the premium version – for about $12 – you get access to 600 practice questions. That is an insane number, but you don’t have to answer all 600 at once. You can start a practice test whenever you like and you get to choose the number of questions you want. Only have a few minutes? Do a 5 question quiz. Have the night free to study? Try giving yourself a 100 or 200 quiz to simulate the exam format.
The cool thing about this app is that, even though it isn’t made by the NSCA, I found it very helpful in familiarizing myself with the structure of the real test questions. Obviously, not all 600 questions are realistic representations of what you’ll see on the test, and it can be risky to trust a 3rd party’s information, but overall it is very helpful.
The bonus cool thing with this is that it saves the score of every practice test you took and you get a score by category. This is helpful for spotting trouble areas that you may need to put some more study time into.
Seriously. YouTube can be one of your best free allies as you study for the certification exam. Now, there are no perfect resources on YouTube and you always have to be cautious when you can’t tell where the information is coming from, but it can still be incredibly valuable.
Let’s say after reading the text, you are a little confused on exactly how oxygen travels through the lungs. Well, then just go to YouTube and search around for a little bit. Most likely you will find a handful of really well-done videos that explain everything you need to know.
These are hardly the only CSCS study materials that you can find. These are the ones that worked for me, but that doesn’t mean they will work for you. You know your learning style better than anyone, so go with what you feel gives you the best chance for success. For other tips on how to prepare for the exam, you can read this guide.