ACSM Exam Tips
I recently passed the ACSM personal trainer exam on the first time around. It was hard, but I passed it and I am new to the industry (never certified before and no exercise science degree).
However, I studied hard for at least six months prior to taking the exam, bought all the ACSM study materials, bought additional study materials (flash cards and review book) from an independent source on the web (Morrison Media), and attended the ACSM workshop (not to mention I just read a lot of fitness books and journals in general).
Had I to do it over again I would of only bought the ACSM Resources for the Personal Trainer book and the ACSM Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription book. The review guide that they sell as part of a package deal with the other two books was a waste of time and money as it pertains primarily to the higher level certifications and not the personal trainer exam. The additional study guide and flash cards I purchased from Morrison Media were also of little help and of such poor quality that some of the answers and information were incorrect. I emailed the company about this problem a couple of times and they just told me to write in the correct answers on the flash cards and they would get back to me, which they never did.
In hindsight, I would of bought the two books I mentioned, taken the workshop immediately (I waited until a few weeks before I took the test) and took the test within a month of that. The books and the workshop will still not cover all the material on the test, but in my opinion it will cover more than enough of the material for you to pass the test.
At the workshop they will give you a study guide that you cannot buy otherwise and cover the core concepts which are vital to passing the test. I seriously do not think I would have passed the test without having attended the 3 day workshop.
I have no other certifications under my belt to compare ACSM to, but I have read through other certification books and talked to a lot of people in the industry and best I can tell ACSM is amongst the best and well respected (which is why I chose them). However, I believe it's the trainer that makes the certification, not the other way around. Getting certified is just the start, it's what you do with it and learn on your own after being certified that matters most.