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How to study for the NASM-CPT Exam

March 13, 2019

Chances are if you’ve stumbled across this page, you’re likely preparing to take the NASM-CPT exam and need to know EVERYTHING about the material.

The exam content might seem overwhelming at first, but don’t panic! Between your textbook, online videos and the guidance  provided below, you’ll be sure to feel a boost of confidence as you slowly prepare for your exam.

In this post I’ll be sharing my top tips on how to prepare for your test, along with a comprehensive overview to help you study.

In the effort of saving time, let’s cut right to the chase:

Here are my top 10 tips on how to study and prepare for your NASM-CPT Exam. 

Top 10 tips on how to study for the NASM-CPT Exam

1) Don’t Procrastinate

I get it. Life happens. Sometimes weeks or even months go by before you consider cracking open your book. This is why I am putting this as my #1 tip:

This process can be a breeze if you start studying now.

 In the months leading up to my exam, I too scrounged the internet for the best ways to study quickly and effectively, only to be disappointed by a plethora of Youtubers who fully admitted to waiting last minute to start studying….thus, their advice was to “cram like your life depended on it”. Um, okay. Not gonna fly.

Instead, think of it this way:

You have 180 days from the date you purchase your exam to schedule your test. That is equivalent to roughly 25 weeks. There are currently 21 chapters in the NASM book that you need to cover, which means theoretically you can study 1 chapter per week and still have a few extra weeks leftover for any additional review.

Depending on your reading and retention capabilities, each chapter will equate to roughly 1-3 hours per week. Some chapters will require additional time (I’m looking at you chapter 6) as they contain various graphs and comprehensive concepts that you cannot simply “memorize”.

On the flip side, some chapters are a little more self-explanatory and you might be able to read a few chapters per week. It all depends.

During the first few weeks of your course, NASM will send you emails that include a guideline for which chapters to study each week (or at least in my case they did). However, I personally found them to be unreasonable with my schedule and couldn’t keep up with the rigorous demands. In one week alone I was “supposed” to have read 3 of the more difficult chapters of the book in addition to finishing the video reviews and practice tests. Who has time for that?!

I say find what works for you and plan a daily study time that fits into your schedule.

2) Schedule when the time is right

 Many of you are wondering if you should schedule your test date early or wait until the very last day of your eligibility. While there is no perfect answer to this, there are a few things to consider (which I’ll be sharing in a minute).

Just remember, regardless of when you want to schedule your exam, NASM will ask that you allow 4-6 weeks to get everything set up. This will ensure that if you experience any hiccups in the scheduling process, you will have ample time to resolve them before your exam.

However, the actual date of the exam totally depends on your personal preference.

This brings me to two scenarios that I’d like you to consider:

The Early Bird:

You are eager to complete the NASM course and want to take that test as soon as possible. You believe that scheduling the exam on a closer date will force you to study and not procrastinate.

While this may be true for some, it’s important to note that sometimes unexpected events come up and influence the amount of time you can dedicate towards studying. This is true especially if you have other obligations like a full time job, children, or if you’re a student.

If you’re a go-getter and don’t foresee any major changes within your life circumstances for the next six months, this route might be something you consider.

Otherwise, maybe you’d like to go this route:

The Procrastinator:

You might not necessarily be a true procrastinator if you choose to schedule your exam date much later down the road.

Instead, I like to think of this option as the “time maximizer” route because it allows you to study at a relaxed pace.

However, my word of caution is to make sure you aren’t too relaxed. Many former test takers have stated how scheduling their exam for the last possible day caused them to postpone their studying because they felt they always had time to do it later.

In this case, it’s very easy to have that exam date creep on you without even realizing it. With that being said, you know your study habits better than anyone else. If you’re dedicated and want to commit to studying a little each day for a longer period of time, this might be the best option for you.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you which decision to make because we all learn differently and handle stress in different ways.

What I CAN tell you is listen to your gut and schedule a test date that you think you can reasonably manage based on the events currently happening in your life.

3) Print the study guides in advance

When you purchase an NASM study prep course, you get access to chapter reviews that cover each topic throughout the book. These are an excellent resource that can be printed and used very efficiently!

At the end of each chapter study guide, there is usually a little extra blank space on the paper where there is no content. This is where you can fill in your own personalized notes after you read each chapter. By doing this, you can easily refer to your cliff notes on the same page as the reading content instead of writing everything separate in a notebook.

I found that by doing this I was able to keep everything categorized by chapter and didn’t find myself stressing over where I wrote down essential pieces of information.

If you’d seen my initial study process you would understand what I mean. I had sticky notes, notepads, word documents, journals and scribbles everywhere! Save yourself the time and find a process that works for you right from the get-go.

If you try this tip, I’d recommend that you read the whole chapter first before writing down every little blip that you think will be important.

Once you’ve completed a chapter in the textbook, you can easily identify which concepts you struggled with and which ones were of higher importance. This will save you time and prevent you from writing down unimportant factoids throughout the chapter.

While everything is technically “important” in the textbook, not all things are emphasized equally and do not always have the same probability of showing up on your test.

A random fact about gym facilities will likely have a lower probability of showing up on your test compared to something like a fitness assessment.

Use your judgment and refer to my study guide below for some major key concepts you’ll want to know.

4) Highlight as you go

Whether you get the hardcopy textbook or a downloadable PDF, I strongly suggest highlighting the key takeaways from each chapter only after you’ve fully read the chapter.

Yep, you read that right.

First, read the chapter in its entirety to solidify the information, then go back and highlight anything of importance. I’d suggest trying this method since it allows you to refer back only to the important stuff in slightly greater detail compared to what is provided on each chapter review guide.

Don’t get me wrong, the chapter reviews are extremely helpful, but they provide a general guideline of what you learned rather than a detailed explanation (hence tip # 3). Having access to a chapter review in conjunction with highlighted details definitely helps smooth out difficult concepts.

You can use those highlighted sections to revisit any concepts that you didn’t understand upon first glance. This will save you a bunch of time looking for things that are hidden in your 600+ page textbook.

Pro Tip: If you do need to revisit a concept and you own the PDF copy of the textbook, you can search for a keyword using the shortcut code Ctrl+F.

5) Place difficult concepts in everyday sight

Struggling with something you absolutely need to know?

Try placing the subject in plain site where you can access it every day. I STRUGGLED with learning the fitness assessments for the longest time until I made the Overhead Squat Assessment my computer desktop background.

Every day when I opened my computer the first thing I saw was a graph categorizing overactive and underactive muscles.

If there is a subject you just can’t get the hang of, find an image that summarizes the concept and put it somewhere you see every day. You might be amazed at how well this works!

My only caveat: You still need to study the material, not simply look at it and hope for the best.

This isn’t like the time you tried to passively absorb information into your brain by sleeping with your textbook under your pillow. If that worked I’d be the first to tell you about it!

This method works because it forces you to view the material more frequently without even trying. When it’s right there in front of you, it’s hard NOT to study because the little voice in your head is reminding you to get it done.

It’s sneaky but effective.

6) Learn the anatomy FIRST before studying any fitness assessments

THIS. Definitely do this.

Without learning where the anatomical structures are in the body, you will have no idea what you are actually learning when you dive into fitness assessments.

Everything will just look like words and not actual body structures.

Instead, learn the anatomy beforehand so you can make connections to the rest of the chapter. This will also help you weed out incorrect questions from the multiple choice. 

What’s the easiest and quickest way to learn human anatomy? 

Since some of us learn through different methods, below are a few suggestions to help you study muscle structures. 

If you are a visual or auditory learner: Youtube Videos

While Youtube is a very popular source, there is also a lot of crap out there so be prepared to filter through some confusing explanations.

Luckily, I’ve put together a quick “all time favorites list” below if you’d like to check out some of the videos I personally found useful when studying for the exam. These include: 

Heart anatomy & function

Hip Complex

Autogenic and Reciprocal Inhibition

Muscle contraction process

Studying for your exam

Jeff Williams Channel

If you are an interactive learner: Poke-a-Muscle

Testing your anatomy knowledge has never been easier. Hop onto Poke-a-Muscle for some arcade-like gaming action that will quickly help you master the superficial muscles of the body.

This was by far one of the most helpful tools I came across during my entire study process, so I hope that you will find it just as valuable as I did!

While the game doesn’t necessarily help with muscle function, it does help you visualize each muscle on the body. This can be extremely valuable in case you forget the function of a particular muscle but need to make an educated guess based on where it is located. All in all, it’s a fun helpful tool that makes learning fun.

If you are a verbal learner: The NASM Textbook

The textbook that you purchased provides a detailed explanation of every muscle group in Appendix D.

If you learn best by reading text, this is your bread and butter. Each muscle is categorized by group and is clearly defined in the text.

Not only that, Appendix D provides the concentric and eccentric functions for each muscle and provides a color coded image of the muscle so you know exactly which one you’re looking at.

My two cents: Try a combination of all these learning methods. You might find it easier to learn if you see the material in various formats.

7) Try free study apps

Since you just spent “x” amount of money on your NASM package, I’m going to guess that you don’t exactly want to spend MORE money on additional study tools.

So let’s talk about saving some moula.

There are a variety of free study apps available at your fingertips that will help you master the NASM content. One such app is NASM Pocket Prep. It’s free, it’s practical, and it generates practice questions by category so you can identify which topics you have yet to master.

This tool is a great free resource that provides detailed explanations for the questions you answer incorrectly so you can review the content in real time. Since the app is free, you are limited to the amount of questions and practice quizzes you can take.

However, to make the most of your time, the app utilizes a bank of questions that are relevant to the test material and are not just “fluffy” questions. Obviously the quizzes will vary in difficulty so you will stumble upon some easier questions, but overall they are a great way to apply your knowledge while you’re on the go.

If you do have some spare cash, the app offers upgraded packages to unlock more questions so you can study till your heart is content. But in the effort of saving money, this leads me to my next tip.

8) Make your own practice test

I know what you’re thinking. “I’m studying to take a test, not make one”. Despite this step being a little extra work, your future self will thank you when you have access to hundreds of questions that you might have otherwise forgotten months later.

With a quick Google search, you can get access to dozens of free practice quizzes from a variety of test prep sites. After you’ve completed a quiz, be sure to jot down each question along with the answer bank and correct answer. After a while, you’ll have compiled a lengthy list of sample questions that you can use to create your own practice test.

 By making a personalized test bank from old questions, you’ve essentially given yourself an extra practice test for free. For those of you who purchased a higher study package, this tip might not seem as valuable since you likely have more study resources. But for those of us on a lower study package, this tip becomes very useful as we are limited on the amount of practice exams we have access to.

Creating your own practice test helps to familiarize you with different wording and allows you truly think through each problem using the knowledge you obtained from each chapter. I know it’s a lot of work, but I wouldn’t include it on here if I didn’t think it was worth it. Double the effort=double the reward.

Just be aware that not all the information out there is up to date. When using online resources I occasionally came across terminology that was nowhere to be found in the textbook. Later I realized NASM had made some updates over the years and some methods were not used anymore despite what the internet claimed.

When you are unsure, always refer back to the latest version of the book that you were provided with through your study package. My advice would be to read the text first then do practice stuff online so you can identify what is up to date. It’s a great way to self check your knowledge. From there, you can create a practice exam that you know is relevant and meets current NASM standards.

9) Recognize patterns from all fitness assessments

As you study, you’ll notice that a few patterns emerge when it comes to the overactive and underactive muscles. You’ll start to notice that certain muscles are either ALWAYS overactive or ALWAYS underactive (with a few exceptions here and there).

What’s great about this is how it helps reduce the amount of things you have to study and helps you make sense of each muscle’s dynamic function (or malfunction in some cases).

This tip is a lifesaver if you forget the exact muscles that are pertinent to an exercise but you remember other muscles with a similar function. From there you can filter out incorrect answers based on your knowledge of what doesn’t belong without having to know the exact muscle you’re trying to think of.  

The main takeaway here: Recognize as many patterns as you can to help you with process of elimination.

10) Take practice exams

This last tip is hopefully an obvious one, but I’d highly recommend taking one or more practice exams before the real test.

Reading the textbook is a great place to start, but applying those concepts in the form of a multiple choice answer is where it really counts.

For example, you might have memorized the overactive and underactive muscles when a client’s knees cave in during the overhead squat assessment. But, do you know what strength exercise needs to be performed to overcome this compensation? Assuming all goes well with your exam, this scenario may present itself one day while you are training a client. You want to be sure you can apply the knowledge you learned and not just have everything memorized for the test.

Taking practice exams is an excellent way to test what you know and find out where you are shaky. Plus, it will help calm your nerves when you take the real exam because you can tell yourself “I’ve done this before”. Take the time to practice and you’ll walk in feeling confident. 

You got this!

Remember to check out my study guide below for a detailed overview of all the major concepts you’ll want to know for your exam.

Get your FREE printable checklist here:

Best of luck  on your exam!

I’d love to know more about your study process and what things you found helpful. Leave a comment below!

Happy studying! 

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