When preparing for any personal trainer certification exam, it’s important to bear in mind that there’s both an art and science to test-taking – especially multiple-choice test-taking. I have taken several certification exams during my 20-year career, and I learned something new with each experience. The following personal trainer certification test-taking strategies are what I have gleaned over the course of my career.
Two overarching lessons are paramount in my mind. First, no, the exams do not get easier – they are designed to be tough (and they need to be to ensure competence in the field). Second, test anxiety is normal for many folks and should not quell confidence in your knowledge and preparation.
These tips may help ease any worries you may have about sitting for this exam (or any NCCA-accredited exam) and give you, as a burgeoning fitness pro, a strategy to tackle each question with confidence.
7 Personal Trainer Certification Test-Taking Success Tips
Go into it prepared. We have all encountered people who doubt themselves and their knowledge, but then there are those who are so confident that they know it all, they don’t bother to read the material or prepare adequately. Despite what some apparently think, the information required to become a competent and skilled personal trainer is much more than knowing which exercises work which muscles. Exam topics range from physiology to business ethics. Read the manual, take the practice tests, and always feel free to reach out and ask questions if something doesn’t sit quite right with you.
Read the entire question. Then, read it again. So often, the mistakes people make on tests are due to reading the question too fast, believing they know the answer, and then not re-reading it before selecting a response. This happens for a couple of reasons. One, certification exams are timed, and we are eager to “get through it”. Second, nerves are at the forefront. Slow down. Read the entire question thoroughly. Then, read it again. If it doesn’t make sense at the time, move on to the next question and revisit the skipped question at a later point in your exam.
Read every answer option slowly and carefully. Generally, there are two answers that are just blatantly wrong and a distractor that may appear correct on the surface. There will only ever be one right answer or “best” answer. So, read every possible response and select the best fit. Eliminate the wrong answers immediately and you narrow your chances down to 50/50.
Avoid overthinking or arguing with responses. This is one I’m famous for doing – overthinking. I find myself arguing with the question and thinking “well, B could be correct if…” or “D would be right if…”. Don’t place conditions in the question that are not there in black and white. Read the question for the context it presents and nothing more. Don’t “if” yourself into a corner and then overthink the answer.
Answer questions you are sure of first. Flag the rest. Since tests are timed, I found it helpful to move on to questions if I did not feel confident in selecting an answer in that moment. I flag those I’m unsure of and circle back after answering those that were the easiest. This saves time and struggle.
When in complete doubt, guess. If you fail to answer any question simply because you did not know the right answer, you will get it wrong 100% of the time. If you make a guess, at worst, you have a 25% chance of getting it correct if not a 50% chance. Those are better odds. Make your best-educated guess and move on.
Try to determine the answer before reading the options. This is where people take a tumble. Reading the responses first and trying to match it to the question before reading the question through once or twice. Avoid focusing on the four answer choices and just read the question for context and information. In your mind, think what the right answer might be. Then, read the answers presented and make your selection.
Following the above personal trainer certification test-taking tips doesn’t guarantee you will get a passing score, but they are strategies to employ that will improve your chances of answering correctly. Set aside at least an hour a day to study and review concepts that are the toughest to absorb (usually the deep nerdy science concepts). Finally, take advantage of the practice tests as often as you can.