CSCS Exam Day Tips: best practices for test day

certified strength and conditioning specialist exam tips

So much attention is paid to studying the material to for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) exam, that “gameday” preparation often falls by the wayside. The same way that you might give your athletes some gameday tips, there are CSCS day exam tips that you can utilize when you sit down for the exam on test day.

You’re in an athletic industry so I’m sure many of you have played competitive sports before. Think of your exam the same way you would approach an important competition. Sure, practice and preparation are important, but so are the small details and logistics that occur right before and during the game:

  • Imagine how disadvantaged a football team would be if they arrived to the Superbowl late and had to skip their pregame warm-up.
  • Imagine how an Olympic diver would perform if they didn’t eat their normal breakfast and had to eat 2 candy bars and a down a Redbull instead.
  • Imagine how the cold would affect a basketball’s player concentration if he was playing in an air-conditioned arena and he forgot his warm-up suit at home.

Those are just a few examples, but I’m sure you can think of many occasions in which athletic performance was affected by factors that had nothing to do with the game itself. Taking the CSCS exam is no different. Proper exam “gameday” preparation helps to minimize the chance of extraneous factors affecting your performance and lowering your score. Here are some CSCS exam tips to help you through the CSCS exam:

CSCS Exam Tips: day before the exam

  • Confirm your test registration online and print out the confirmation receipt (if available). At the very least, save a PDF copy of your registration confirmation and email it to yourself. This way you’ll have it on your phone or you’ll be able to access it from computer anywhere in the world.
  • Set aside your approved identification  and a backup form of ID (just in case).
  • Locate your testing center on Google Maps / GPS and determine the route.
  • Study your material.
  • Try to follow your normal routine:
    • eat your regular meals at the same times
    • stay hydrated throughout the day
    • don’t load up on caffeine (unless that’s normal)
    • don’t overexert yourself (normal workouts are okay; running a marathon, probably not)
  • Create a schedule for the day of the exam:
    • Determine exam start time and then schedule backwards
    • Schedule the time you’d need to leave home to get to the testing center
    • Schedule the time you’d need to wake up
    • Schedule the time you’d need to go to sleep the day before so that you can get a full 8 hours rest
    • Build additional time into the schedule to account for traffic, mishaps, etc. (better to be early than late)
  • Visit the exam center:
    • if you don’t have to travel far to the exam center, you might want to drive down the day before, park, and walk into the center. This way you’ll have experienced part of test day without any pressure.
    • ask the testing center staff any questions you might have:
      • are there lockers available for personal belongings?
      • how early do you think I should show up to avoid a registration traffic jam?
      • where is the bathroom?
      • am I parked in the right location?
      • is this form of picture ID acceptable?

CSCS Exam Tips: what to take with you

  • Government-approved, picture identification (driver’s license, passport, etc.) and a backup form of ID (just in case).
  • CSCS exam confirmation paper / receipt / email.
  • Light jacket. It can get cold in the testing center so you want to be able to put on, or take off, clothing to regulate temperature.
  • #2 pencil. The testing center will probably provide you with a pencil, but it can’t hurt to bring an extra just in case.
  • Something to drink like bottled water or a sports drink
    • stay away from anything that requires a cup, utensils, mixing, etc. The break between exam sections is only a few minutes long so you’ll need to consume food / drink quickly
    • be well hydrated before, but cut your beverage intake an hour before exam start time. This will give you a chance to use the bathroom before the exam starts
  • Snacks. Try to aim for healthy, brain-food-type things like trail mix, fruit, beef jerky, granola bars, etc.
    • try not to consume anything excessively sugary, salty, starchy, or fatty (unless that’s normal for your diet)
    • try to bring foods that you can eat quickly and cleanly with your hands
  • Earplugs.
  • Facemask (if required in the testing center for COVID-19 precautions)
  • Flashcards, study material, textbook, etc.
cscs exam taking tips
Probably not the best choice of snack to eat during your exam breaks.

CSCS Exam Tips: day of the exam

  • Wake up fully rested after 8-hours of sleep.
  • Eat a nutritious breakfast.
  • Leave home early. Get to the testing center early.
    • check the place out if this is your first time there
    • locate the bathroom
    • lightly review some study materials, flashcards, or practice questions
  • Use the bathroom immediately before checking in for the exam. Some testing centers will check you in, have you put your things into a locker, and then they’ll walk you right to a computer to start the exam. 
“Arrrrraaagggh! I should have taken a dump before the battle started!”

CSCS Exam Tips: test taking strategy

  • If you’re taking a computer-based exam, there will probably be an optional section that shows you how to use the computer, mark questions, and move through the exam. I’d suggest sitting through this portion just to allow yourself to settle into the testing center environment. You wouldn’t want to be rushed into a stadium only to receive the kickoff 5 seconds later, right? Sit down, go through the practice portion. Relax. Get comfortable. If you need any assistance or accommodations, get them now.
  • Do a “brain dump.”
    • during the how-to-use-the-testing-computer section of the exam, you can use the extra time to do a “brain dump.”
    • use your scratch paper to write down any facts, figures, or concepts you might need to quickly reference. Some topics that come to mind include:
      • calories per gram for fats / carbs / protein
      • Karvonen heart rate calculation method
      • 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class lever characteristics
  • Answer the easy questions first.
    • since the exam allows you to skip around through the section, mark questions, and come back to them later, do all of the “slam-dunk” questions first.
    • bang the easy questions out quickly to rack up points fast and build up your confidence.
    • after answering all the easy questions, go back and work your way through the rest of the section.
    • each question is worth the same amount of points so you don’t need to waste all your time on a difficult caloric percentage-type calculation question when the next two questions might be easy ones. Aim for the low-hanging fruit. You could be the one guy out of a thousand that answers the most difficult question on the exam, but you still only get 1 point for it.
  • Narrow down your answer choices as best you can.
    • from what I remember, the exam typically has 3 answer choices available
    • eliminate an answer that’s obviously wrong and even a guess can be 50/50.
    • if you absolutely can’t make an educated guess, then just guess; don’t leave the question blank.
    • use your scratch paper to remember which questions you had to make a wild guess on. You may be able to remember something later and then more accurately answer the question.
    • as you work your way through the exam, your brain will be working on things in the background. As time passes, you might remember things that you initially thought you didn’t know.
    • some of the questions can also provide insight on the more difficult questions. If you find yourself stuck on the last few questions and you have sufficient time, skim through the questions you’ve already answered to see if there’s something that jogs your memory about the question you’re stuck on.

CSCS Exam Tips (Optional): Get a room

  • If you’re lucky, you might be taking the CSCS exam at a testing center just a few minutes away from home. But, if you live in a more remote location, you may have to drive for hours (or even fly) to get to an official testing center. 
  • If the testing center is more than a short drive away, consider getting yourself a hotel room for the night before the exam. Waking up early and driving a long distance is tiring, both physically and mentally. When you’re paying $400+ to take this exam, a hotel room might be money well spent to ensure that you’re well rested, on time, and unfrazzled by traffic. 


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