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ACSM Exam... Tougher Than a Two Dollar Steak!

by Jalen Krupa
(Reno, NV)

Me throwing down a back roll on the wakeboard

Me throwing down a back roll on the wakeboard

ACSM Exam... Tougher Than a Two Dollar Steak! I just finished taking the ACSM exam, (for the second time) and I have to say… This is no walk in the park. For the people that said it was easy… Please spare me with the “I’m so smart” and “I can pass this test with my eyes closed” comments. C’mon now, how about sharing your test scores with us? Oh what’s that, you passed but barely passed? Hmm, that’s surprising. Well, not really.

Oh, you did get a high score… Now I’m surprised! What’s that you say? You’ve been a personal trainer now for 6 years and you went to college to get a degree in the health and fitness field? Okay, I get it now. ACSM is not a certification for newbie’s like myself, (Hence the reason why this exam was so hard for me). I guess it’s all starting to make sense now…

Or is it? Now, I understand that to receive a certification in personal training, you have to be knowledgeable about the field. As ACSM puts it, “…a summative amount of knowledge at a level of at least minimal competency…” Alright, I understand this, but what I don’t understand is why I’m solving questions like, “Albuterol, terbutaline, glucocorticosteroids, cromolyn sodium, and theophylline are effective drugs to prevent or reverse ____________.” Am I a doctor or a personal trainer?

My words of advice to those who read this, (and maybe I'll change my mind on this later down the road)... Don't go with ACSM. Go with NASM, or another certification that puts the focus on personal training and not in the complicated learning and physiological theories, or in depth anatomical functions of the nervous system, or risk factors such as Ischemia, Dyspnea, syncope or orthopnea. No doubt, this is important information to know, but where do I go to learn about being a personal trainer?

What a silly thing to say right? ACSM should give me all the tools I need to be a great personal trainer... And yet here I am. It’s been literally 5 hours since I passed the exam, and here’s what’s going through my head right now, “Alright, the exam is done… Now it’s time for me to learn how to be a personal trainer.”

Here’s the perfect example of what I’m talking about. Let’s talk about exercise prescription... A pretty important thing to know if you’re looking to become a personal trainer. Now, if all you had were the Resources for the Personal Trainer, the Certification Review, and the exercise prescription books, (the 3 books that ACSM recommends for the exam), you would NOT have a clear picture on how to prescribe a proper exercise program for a client. I went out and found a book called “Exercise Prescription, A Case Study Approach to the ACSM Guidelines”. This book is not an ACSM book, but it should be. What this book contains is real world uses for the ACSM’s guidelines towards exercise prescription. For example, they’ll give you a case study, (A 55 year old male has type I diabetes. He wants to lose 10 lbs. What do you do?). The book will go through and describe in detail of how to deal with this type of client. This book should be called “Exercise Prescription… The book that teaches you how to prescribe an exercise program to a client, because ACSM doesn’t know how to.” It’s like me telling you what wood is, what a hammer does, and how a doorknob operates… Then I tell you to go and build a house. I know, ridiculous right?

Now maybe all certifications are like this and if they are, then here is my conclusion: Having a certification in personal training is somewhat a joke. A client no doubt wants a certified personal trainer, but what does that even mean anymore? Should a client care that I know about the blood flow through a human heart? Does he or she care that I know about Intramuscular Coordination? I don’t know, maybe one day a client will ask me “Hey, what do you call the synchronization of motor units within a muscle?” Then I can proudly answer him, “That my friend is what we in the biz refer to as Intramuscular Coordination.” Oh yeah, I’m a stellar personal trainer now!

Okay, I’ll let up on ACSM. I want even mention the fact that the ACSM exam has questions about spotting a client during weight training, and spotting clients isn’t even covered in the 3 text books I mentioned above. I also won’t mention that I called ACSM and asked them if they knew what the proper techniques were on how to spot a client during weight training, and nobody at ACSM head quarters in Indianapolis, IN could answer me. I won’t even talk about the three different people who didn’t have a clue, and the promised email with an answer, that I never received. I’ll just skip all that.

Okay, if you’re still with me, props to you, because now I’m going to help you pass this test. You ready for it? Here is what you’ll need to know: Muscle types, and classifications; how a muscle contracts; know Troponin and Tropomyosin; know Static (Isomeric), Dynamic (Isotonic), and Isokinetic; know muscle fiber types (Type I and type II); know the Golgi Tendon Organ and the Myotatic stretch reflex; know the planes of motion and flexion, extension, abduction, protraction ect; know your aerobic and Anaerobic systems; study HR, BP, SV Q and Hypertension; know what the long term and short term effects of cardio/resistance training are; know the importance of warm up and cool down; know DOMS; know how to calculate BMI, Maximum HR, the Karvonen formula, Waist to Hip Ratio, LBM, IBW and METs. Know the sit and reach test procedure, know all stretches, (Static, Passive, Active, Dynamic, Ballistic and PNF); know the difference between maximal and submaximal testing; know your sequence of assessments; know how many calories are in a carb (4) protein (4) and fat (9). Know Ketones; know ALL skinfold measurements; know all conversion factors (cm-m); know ALL risk factors and be familiar with risk catagories (low, moderate, high); know Impaired fasting glucose levels (100-125mg dL); Obesity (BMI >30kg, WHR >0.95 men and >0.86 for women); know claudication; LDL and HDL; know what lipids are; know your spine regions and names of the spine curvatures; know all about the heart; know your energy systems; know what a motor unit does; know the stages of The transtheoretical model (contemplation, Action ect) and Social Cognitive Theory; know the Principle of Specificity and reversibility; know learning theories; know FITT and FITTE; learn all you can about the informed consent, PAR-Q, Duty of Care, Negligence, Waiver, Risk Management and Tort Law; know glycogen and Anaerobic Glycolosis; know all about circuit, interval, pyramid, and plyometrics training; know what the Valsalva Maneuver is; know the original Borg scale (6-20); know Tidal Volume; know the difference between an acute injury and a chronic injury; know about Hypoglycemia (Low blood sugar <50 mg/dL) and Hyperglycemia (High Blood Sugar >200 mg/dL); know the symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa, Angina, Hyperthermia and dehydration; know what the category 1 medications are; know short term and long term changes in HR, SV, BP and Q during exercise training; know what ACSM recommends for cardio and weight training for conditioned and deconditioned clients); know what vitamins are vat soluable (A,D,E,K); know your minerals; know all about Diabetes (Type I and II); know your energy systems (ATP ect.) and know everything about the rotator cuff muscles and how they operate. This is just a tip of the iceburg, but you’ve got to start somewhere!

Also, here’s a little plug for this website. I did purchase the practice exam from this site, and it is well worth the money. The questions are much easier than the ACSM exam questions, but it’s a great place to start.

Something to keep in mind for the exam, there is going to be questions like, “Name the antagonist muscle for the Hamstring.” Now, Quadriceps is not one of the options. Oh no, the answer is Rectus Femoris. So, if you didn’t study the muscles that make up the quadriceps… Chances are, you would have got that one wrong. Also, if you don’t know agonist, antagonist, stabilizer or synergist… You didn’t even have a chance with this one.

Here's another one, “Which rotator cuff muscle adducts the shoulder?” This is no doubt a good question to know, but what I want you to see is that if you’re not familiar with the Adduction movement, all four of the rotator cuff muscles and their functions… You’re screwed on this one as well. One question will often mold many different questions into one hard one.

Alright, there’s my opinion on ACSM and their silly little exam. I hoped this helped. No doubt you’re more confused now than where you were a few minutes ago, but let me just end by saying this: A certification means nothing. It’s all about your passion for this industry. Now I’m not saying that you should pass on getting the certification. Getting a job as a personal trainer is nearly impossible without it. All I’m saying is that you need to stay focused on the dream of becoming a personal trainer. If you get to wrapped up with questions like “what do I need to study” and “how long do I need to study?” Then this is going to be a long and hard ride for you. But if you can just jump into the mindset of, “I want to be the best personal trainer”. Then you will no doubt pass the exam and find yourself a great job in this industry.

Comments for ACSM Exam... Tougher Than a Two Dollar Steak!

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Good to know
by: Meg

This was a great read and hilarious... very information to say the least so thank you!

I'm taking my test in 2 hours and I'm hoping to use your suggestions as a last-time-through study guide. I know... the easy route...

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Take a personal training course!!!!
by: Anonymous

taking a personal training course is highly recommended! I just took a 5 month course and after reading over what you said was on the test i already know the majority of it. Also it helps with program design and understanding what to do for people with hip,should,rotator cuff, ankle knee problems etc. I would have never gone and taken the test with out taking a course. You learn so much! The test doesn't prove you are a good trainer it only allows you to work in the field!!!!

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So True
by: Tina

That was a very entertaining summary of the ACSM test. I took it about a year ago and failed by 3 points. Having felt completely deflated after that, I haven't been back to retake it because I really thought I was as prepared as I could be. I have to say that I felt very much the same as you in that I felt blindsided by the exam! Anyhow..because I want so desperately to be in this field and I know that I would be good at it, I'm looking into taking another exam. Since my course materials are no longer up-to-date for ACSM, I am on here researching other certifications. I came across your post and wanted to thank you for sharing your experience and making me feel a little better about the whole thing.


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I agree totally
by: liz

I agree.....very tough exam. Yes, I will be taking it again for the 2nd time.
Study everything...3 and 4 times especially everything the newbie listed.

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Good study info...don't agree with you, though
by: Anonymous

ACSM intends for their tests to be difficult so that having the ACSM certification MEANS something! Anyone can put together a series of exercises, but it is important to know why. ANYWAY, I have two bachelor's degrees, am a registered dietitian and have taken college level exercise prescription courses and am quite certain that without that background this test would kick the livin' crap out of me!

I do appreciate the time you took to write what you wrote (great study outline!) And you're a very funny writer. The ACSM study guide kind of sucks--not to put too fine a point on it, ahem. However, most trainers I've met don't know enough to be embarrassed that they don't know how to do a basic fitness evaluation! The personal trainer exam doesn't make you an expert, but it does seem to weed out the people without adequate background. It attempts to ensure that personal trainers understand that it's important to understand basic human motivation theories, basic nutrition (NO, PROTEIN IS NOT THE MAIN THING YOU EAT AFTER A WORKOUT!!!), basic anatomy (yup, understanding antagonist muscle groups is pretty basic) and general information about WHY exercise is good for us. (As a trainer you should know that exercise raises HDL cholesterol and lowers blood pressure. God forbid people who become personal trainers actually understand what that means.) And if you're standing there supervising an overweight client while he exercises, you really should know what ischemia, dyspnea and claudication are.

And there better not be a question about what adducts the shoulder. You can adduct the arm, but you can't adduct the shoulder.

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I wrote the previous post.
by: Anonymous

Just took the test and passed with no problem. You need to study like hell if you haven't taken college courses in exercise prescription, human anatomy, nutrition and psychology. I used the ACSM study materials and they only kind of help. I don't know much about the courses, but I suspect they would be very beneficial.

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Thank You!!
by: Anonymous

Thank you for putting this together. I am VERY OVERWHELMED and while I do plan on reading the entire book, it helps that you outlined the main things to concentrate on. I have a Communication degree but I teach Group Fitness but this get material is so OVER THE TOP to me. I will stay focused and positive and I will get it!!

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ACSM
by: Anonymous

If you think the ACSM personal training exam was hard, you should try the Fitness Specialist Exam. They even have a Clinical Specialist Exam which requires 600hrs of Physical Therapy or working as a therapist and a number of years working as one also. The personal training exam is...they say...the least amount of education should be high school...and this is just so the trainers that never went to college but know their stuff can be certified. Otherwise, a degree in a health related field does help greatly. You have to realize that ACSM is the Gold Standard when it comes to Personal Training, Cardiac Rehab, Wellness Centers, Therapists, and many more....so YES this exam would be extremely hard to the average person especially if they do not have a degree or are in the process of obtaining one.

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HFS certification
by: Brent

I just finished the ACSM ( HFS ) certificaton about 2 hours ago. I am not sure how it is in terms of diffuculty or how different it is than the personal trainer certification from my understanding it is a little more clinically based and I am told more difficult. As far as my thoughts, this certification definately seperates the guy or girl that just like to work out and stay fit and exercise profesionals. The test itself I felt was difficult but completely passable with proper preparation. The resource I found to be helpful was the certification review do not neglect the guidelines book and the exercise testing guide however. My final score was a 629 with a 550 being the minumum passing score. I do have a 4 year degree in exercise science and studied the resourses off and on for about 2 months than intensly for the last week.

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accurate info
by: Anonymous

I recently took the acsm personal fitness test and failed by 12 points. I do agree with you that it deals with anything and everything other than how to actually train someone on the floor as far as accurate spotting, correct exercises, stretches etc. The information you gave is the things that i struggled with and missed.. i am retaking it tmr morning. Will no doubt pass time but wish i would have come across this before! I still have two years of college left but just got hired as a fitness director and personal trainer at a gym.. the pressure is on they exect me to pass. thank for sharing

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Just Passed the HFS exam
by: Dan

I thought the exam was difficult as I was taking it and didn't think I would pass it, but I passed with a score of 669 points.

I recently passed my NSCA-CPT exam; so the preparation wasn't as difficult. Just studied the ACSM Certification Review.


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Shoulder Adduction
by: Anonymous

For those who've read these posts, I do agree the ACSM certification can be difficult, but for the person with two bachelor degrees who doesn't think the shoulder moves in adduction has completely missed the basic principals of their Bio/Kinesiology courses.

Movement is defined in terms of articulation, not a body part moving in space. The "ARM" is of course made up of three joints, and does move into the midline, however, it is the shoulder that adducts.

Sorry... you probably passed the test, but certainly got this one wrong if answered.

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very very true
by: Anonymous

haha literatly everythinggg you said was so true, the test is ridiculous and the books do NOT prepare you for it. I was very tempted to call acsm and complain about the test because it had questions that no one would know with studying the books. You are very right with what is on the test, and I am going to study all of that for the next time i take it, thanks

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Why the ACSM exam is valid and important
by: acsmcertifiedtrainer

As a gym owner, a certification only tells me so much. If a trainer is certified by either NASM or ACSM or NPTI (National Personal Training Institute), it at least tells me the trainer is knowledgeable.

I agree with you that the test is difficult and even though I thought with my background I'd come close to acing it, I did very well but did struggle in areas. I truly had little interest in some of the less important areas of the behavioral topics and therefore ignored them.

I do fit the category you mentioned of someone with a strong academic background, so take that for what it is worth.

The reason, as a gym owner, that I like to see ACSM or NASM on a resume is because I know that even with some of the faults of the exam, if a trainer has the knowledge that they MUST have about kinesiology/physiology, that along with a strong commitment to studying the material, will result in a passing grade.

Not passing either exam is a clear indication that the academics need more work, bottom line.

No certification out there will alone teach you to be a personal trainer. It is a combination of academic study, in gym experience and training, and a devotion to learning from other trainers.

ACSM will not give you experience but will indicate if you have the right academic strength to begin your journey as a PT.

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Spotting techniques
by: Anonymous

How do you spot someone doing lunges, squats, shoulder press, etc.. ?


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Take my hat your coat and get outta here!
by: Clear Combat

Well done Grasshopper. All the certificates that are offered have one goal in common, to make money. Here is how they take different approaches. First, they want you to fail, so you have to pay for a re-test. Secondly, they tell you that another test is needed to certify you for the one you really want to take. Great! I'll spend thousands of dollars and still can't get a job in this rotten economy.

I am a self defense instructor and now have seen the worst. Now all these martial arts out there are doing the same thing, but with DVD's. How can your become a trainer in any martial arts program in only 7 days. MMA certification is the next wave confusion in sports science.

I am a old school martial artist who's style resembles kickboxing with judo and greco/roman wrestling. I have had students show me their new, well printed certificates and say " can I teach now?" Answer: NO

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Love It!!!
by: Anonymous

I have my degree in applied health and exercise science. I have taken a wide variety of chemistry, nutrition, ECG, exercise physiology, and nutrition for sport, classes but I still did not feel prepared for this exam. I think to really pass this test you need LUCK and lots of it. This test is a down right BITCH.

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FML
by: Anonymous

I have my bachelors degree in Applied Health and the curriculum we used in college was ACSM. I took the test for three times! I have never been a great test taker but I did well in school because I worked hard. Never could I have imagined what a BITCH this test was going to be. To be honest, I feel alot of the information on this test is not what is most important, what you really will need is people skills. If you are great with people and have a passion for what you are doing you will be successful. I have been working as a trainer for 1.5 years now and I love it. No test prepares you for the real world you just have to get up, dust yourself off, and do try again...dont let a frickn test tell you your potential! Kick its ass!!!

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Took Exam a handful of times
by: Anna

I want to keep this short. I agree with what you said. I have called ACSM several times. They do return calls and have answered all my questions but I really feel strongly that the materials do not match the test. I have an "old version" of the materials and about four months after i purchased ASCM decided to update and of course I didn't know. They say it was posted and I got an email....blah blah blah! There were several questions on the exam that were not in any of my books and I have combed through this thoroughly. I don't know if I should take the 3 day course, any feed back on that? I was certified through NASM at one point and it was very different for sure. I passed on the second try. Anyone out there preparing to take the exam in the next month? If so, can we talk? I have taken the test 5 times and am close but not freaking close enough!!! Ugh!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Completely Agree
by: Kasie

I am currently a senior exercise science major at a four year university (3.97 GPA- my B was in Italian, not a science class!). DO NOT go into this exam thinking all you need to do is read the books ACSM recommends. The ONLY reason I knew some of these answers was because I covered the material in my upper level exercise science classes!!! Some of the questions did not even come from the KSA's. So be prepared!

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Strongly disagree
by: SRU rugby

The ACSM Health Fitness Specialist exam is not just for personal training. The problem with the personal training field is that too many certifications are centered directly on the lifting/aerobic aspects of the fitness realm. The Health Fitness Specialist is a comprehensive certification that helps to ensure competent entry level professionals who are well rounded in all components of fitness. Anyone can get a CPT but it takes a bit more knowledge to get the HFS, by the way I got a 685.

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Kasie
by: soccer03

What four year univeristy are you in? I'm a senior as well in an exercise science program with a 3.4 GPA and I felt completely comfortable taking the HFS exam. I studied maybe for 5 or 6 hours and passed the exam with a 657(only needed a 550 to pass). I guess GPA isn't everything

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Yep
by: Anita

I totally agree! I'm actually one of those people who passed on the first try (earlier today), but I've been an ER nurse for almost 17 years. However I did not think this test was easy, nor did I think it prepared me to be a personal trainer. I'm so glad to hear someone else echo my thoughts about ACSM.

I took the (overpriced) workshop and despite three days of boredom listening to an instructor sit in front of us and literally read her notes for 8-10 hours a day, I fared no better on the exam for that. I am cynical, but I suspect that the ACSM is very similar to anything that has the term 'medicine' in it in this country: they want your money and the best way to get that is to pretend they are the most elite and useful program around.

So, thank you for your writeup and though I'm excited about working with people as a trainer, I suspect I'll be relying more on my own personal experiences of working with people as a nurse than whatever they taught me with the ACSM. But I am going to check out the exercise prescription book as well as look into other certifications that teach me how to do the job I wanted to be certified to do now.

Either way, passing the exam was a huge ego boost, but I agree-it didn't make me feel ready for what I'll be needing to do now.

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HFS Exam
by: Anonymous

Took the HFS exam today after cramming for 8hours yesterday. Didn't think I was ready but like it has been said the exam covers so much more than is on the study guides I just referred back to my memory from EXSC classes. Lots of tricky questions. Got a 650

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Good points made here
by: Anonymous

I teach undergrad exercise science part time and work in public health full-time. I'm reviewing to take this exam so I can better-prepare people to take it. I am a little bit put-off that this does not relate too much to the modern world. People don't read stress ecg's in fitness centers, lose weight on monark bikes, measure weight and workload in metric or any of that stuff anymore. I've not seen anyone seriously use skinfold calipers since 1993. It is like the exam is testing for an imaginary job from 1987. I understand the frustration and dry humor completely. There is not a 21st century demand for Coooper Aerobic Institute types of establishments with laboratory measurements. The challenge is that people eat at burger king and are sedentary beyond even all the current research. I can't think of anything less relevant to the American predicament and exercise employment in this decade than calculating the caloric expenditure on a Monark bike. That is stuff from 1985 before PC's and exercise machines with consoles and GPS watches.

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typical...
by: Anonymous

It's too bad you discredit an organization like ACSM, without them the exercise science world would be even more confusing than it already is. I'm sure you are concerned about that, though, considering you don't see why it's important to how the blood flows through the heart. If you want to be the best personal trainer you can be you should consider how crucial it is to have a thorough understanding of anatomy and physiology. That's the problem with personal trainers these days...they're so arrogant and think they know what's best for every body when in actuality they need to humble themselves and make an effort to learn the fundamentals of the human body before they go out there perscribing exercise. If someone can't pass the HFS exam they shouldn't be a personal trainer. Thank you ACSM for attempting to weed out all these pathetic excuses for fitness enthusiasts. <3

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Learning Theories
by: Anonymous

Thank you for this! I just failed the ACSM test this morning and I am already a certified NESTA trainer. Talk about embarrassing. Your post did make me feel better about failing and reminded me to remember that I am still a great trainer and want to be the best I can possibly be and a piece of paper doesn't completely control that. Another note about the exam, I noticed that I had MANY questions on the Learning Theories and Legal stuff... I was surprised and wished that I had spent more time studying those areas.

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ACSM certified
by: Anonymous

I have to agree with a little of what most everyone is saying. I started out years ago with a CanFitPro certification and continued to read anything I could get my hands on. After purchasing the ACSM books I also bought specific books in biomechanics and exercise physiology through Human Kinetics. While the ACSM exam is hard what I appreciate is the fact that it is not all about how to put a program together. In today's world where 3/4 of our population is either overweight or obese and close to half of the population has at least one chronic disease the information in those texts is more valuable then how many reps someone should do. I have nothing more then a high school diploma but was able to read, understand and apply the information in all of the texts. And I think the more people who have certifications from ASCM or the others that you mention (being from Canada we do not have alot to choose from) the stronger the repuation personal trainers will have and the more trusted and respected we will be.

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Holy difficult...
by: Anonymous

This was by far the most difficult exam I have ever taken. Harder than any I took in college, that's for sure! The questions seem to have more than 1 correct answer, thus you need to know which is more correct! I have a 4 year degree in Exercise Science, a minor in Nutrition and graduated with honors...and I still only got a 537/550. Does anyone know if the re-take questions are completely different or similar to the initial exam? I'm going to re-take it in ~15 days and was wondering!

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Certificatin is not education
by: Anonymous

Here is where many are confused. Certification is not education. The certification examination is to protect the public by showing the client that the personal trainer they are paying knows a minimal amount, it is not teach someone how to be a personal trainer. To not know anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, and the physiological adjustments associated with activity is to not know personal training. To be educated, take a course and research the evidence to support your choices for your clients. The responsibility fall on you not the examination or organization.


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Must Know Your Stuff
by: Anonymous

Yes, the HFS exam is difficulty and if all you are looking for is a personal training certification, then you should have taken the ACSM: personal training cert.

When I took the HFS exam after completing my BS degree I scored a 704. I now teach at a university and the students that come through our Ex Sci program have an 80% pass rate on the HFS. The national average is 59%.

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Exactly this
by: Anonymous

After researching as much as I could and feeling I had covered as much as I could with the study materials I still only got 420 score and i'm resitting next week.
Have to agree with all this. Its a pointless exam and I never once felt like I was struggling but I did at times see a lot of questions that weren't in the books so ended up taking a calculated guess. I;ve spoken to established friends in the industry that tell me I have a lot of knowledge and dont need it but I feel I had to get it and wont give up. My thoughts the whole time have been that a lot of the info in the books are outdated and some are wrong so you are forcing yourself to learn this info just to pass, then you'll literally drop about 90% of it, never to use it again.

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My test result
by: Christina

Hi. Passed my exam yesterday. Scored 733. Thanks for your post. I read it the day before the exam and reviewed some questions. Good luck to everyone with the test. It really is not that hard if you put enough time and effort for studying.

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ACSM exam
by: Anonymous

I agree i just took it yesterday Nov 17, 2016. I failed it by 100 points and I downloaded 2 apps and studied in information in the 3 books. The app ACSM CPT 9with the silver dumbell) only had like 20 questions on it. The app i got from amazon helped more however there was alot of material i seen on the test for the first time. The only questions i got right were from college biology and a couple from the app. I think they should prepare you better than giving you 3 books and saying good luck! And btw i have a 3.9 GPA and this was the hardest exam i ever taken lol so good luck!

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Failing Score
by: Anonymous

What was someone's failing score?

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