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!