Hey, and welcome to our page covering all of the basic information on the ACSM exam.

The ACSM exam is a comprehensive and respected exam in the fitness industry, and it is required if you wish to become an ACSM personal trainer.

Within this article, we will cover topics such as:

  • The basic exam requirements for certification
  • The difficulty of the certification exam
  • ACSM certification exam breakdown by domain
  • The answers to all of the most frequently asked questions

When you are through reading this article, you will be well prepared for the ACSM exam by knowing the majority of information to prepare yourself and getting an idea of how to study for the exam.

Let’s dive in and look at the breakdown of the exam by domain first.

Check out our premium ACSM CPT MVP study materials here. Reduce your study time by half and receive an exam pass guarantee.

Don’t forget to download our 22-step ACSM CPT exam preparation checklist to ensure that you pass the test.

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ACSM Exam Breakdown

The breakdown is going to go over the basic information regarding the exam-taking process.

The ACSM, or the American College of Sports Medicine, uses a scoring process that is different from other organizations. In order to pass the ISSA exam, you must get 550 points in total.

The ACSM uses their PrepU online study tool, and the exam utilizes the Pearson Vue to ensure the best exercise program testing.

There are various options for testing, like online through computer-based testing centers or at in-person testing center sites.

The possible scores in the exam are shown from a score of 200 – 800 scale. 550 is the minimum score needed to receive a passing grade and get certified.

This passing score will be based on the expectations set by experts and test developers throughout the industry, and these scores are based on the percentage representations of each domain of knowledge.

For this passing score, the exam will have a total of 150 multiple choice questions, and 120 of these are actually graded for the final score.

The ACSM exam is a total of 165 minutes to complete the entire test.

The exam is not an open-book exam like the ISSA certification for personal training, but it also isn’t quite the hardest in the industry.

It is a good idea to get in some practice testing to make sure you can pass, as the pass rate for the personal trainer certification exam is around 69%.

ACSM is a nonprofit organization like ACE and NSCA. It ranks up there with certifications like the ACE personal trainer cert.

ACSM was the first fitness organization established with the main personal training certification. It was established in 1954.

The exam on its own will cost $349 out of pocket, with a retake fee of exactly $175 for each retake of the exam.

You can also become a member of the ACSM, and the certification packages and specializations will all cost a bit less.

For an ACSM member, the exam-only package cost will be $279, which does make it one of the cheapest CPT certifications, especially as a exam-only price. The cost of ISSA certification is at minimum a $799 endeavor!

But if you don’t pass the ACSM certification the first time you still have to pay that re-take fee.

Hopefully, this emphasizes how important it is to get the first test aced, so you don’t have to pay out a crazy amount of money.

To be eligible for the certification, you must be a minimum of 18 years old, with a high school diploma or equivalent, and you must keep your CPR and AED certifications up to date.

Every two years, you may attend an emergency medical certified CPR and AED course to ensure renewal.

Now, let’s take a look at how the domains of the textbook break down in this exam content outline!

Weight in ACSM-CPT ExamDomain
10%Legal & Professional Responsibilities
20%Exercise Leadership Client Education
25% Initial Client Consultation and Assessment
45%Exercise Programming and Implementation

Domain 1: Initial client consultation and assessment

This domain represents one-quarter of the ACSM exam and utilizes recall, application, and synthesis.

The topics covered in this domain are:

  • Consultation with clients
  • Communicating successfully
  • Doing fitness examinations
  • Overall program design
  • Physical testing of clients
  • Readiness of behavior
  • Included risks
  • Specific measurements
  • Assessment of physical goals

Domain 2: Exercise programming/implementation

This domain is the most important of the four and represents around 45% of the entire ACSM exam. If you were to focus on one domain, this would be the one to do it with.

Recall, application, and synthesis will all be utilized in the testing of this domain.

The topics covered throughout this domain are:

  • Medical records of clients
  • Results of assessments
  • Exercise instruction
  • Modalities of exercise
  • Presentation of exercises
  • Client feedback responses

Domain 3: Practice leadership and client learning

The domain makes up around 20% of the whole exam. Application and synthesis will be the focus of testing here.

The following will be covered in the domain:

  • Forms of communication
  • Behavioral exercises
  • Powers of motivation
  • Educating clients
  • Topics relating to exercise leadership and client learning

Domain 4: Legal and professional Aspects

This domain makes up about 10% of the entire exam. Application and recall will be the focus of these parts.

This domain is the smallest of all domains in the textbook and ACSM exam, so if you were to choose one with which you could spend a smaller amount of time, it should be this one.

The following items will be covered:

  • Working side-by-side with healthcare specialists
  • Minimizations of risk factors
  • Designing comprehensive risk management plans
  • ACSM Code of Ethics
  • Industry accepted businesses
  • Ethical and professional minimums
  • Standards of copywriting
  • Intellectual property
  • Customer confidentiality

This ACSM test is accredited through the NCCA, which is considered the gold standard for fitness certifications. Having a NCCA personal trainer approved cert will improve your chances of being taken seriously as trainer by gyms and organizations.

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ACSM Exam Difficulty

The ACSM personal trainer cert test is not the most challenging exam in the fitness industry as that spot belongs to the NSCA CSCS certification exam, which is 63%. (If you take that test make sure to use our CSCS study guide and CSCS practice test so you pass it with no problem).

In the case of the ACSM CPT exam, it’s a 69% first-time passing rate as of 2020. So, about two-thirds of the people taking the ACSM exam will actually pass.

The ACSM fitness instructor study program allows you to get certified online for the most part, and thankfully they offer CPT practice testing to enhance your ACSM testing experience on the final exam.

It can also be a great idea to seek out third-party free certification study sources for additional study materials to guarantee a pass or to stay in close contact with the ACSM educational support and ACSM guidelines just as it would be if you went with NASM or ACE.

Let’s compare some of the other ACSM exam pass rates to get an idea of their difficulty.

The ACSM Certified Group Exercise Instructor (ACSM GEI) exam pass rate is 75%.

The ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist exam is at a pass rate of 78%.

The ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist (ACSM CEP) exam is at a pass rate of 69%.

The last two certifications involve health fitness professionals and advanced exercise testing. They are excellent advanced specializations to pursue, especially if you are interested in exercise science jobs.

Now that we have gone over some of the pass rates for the ACSM training programs let’s dive in and look at the various forms of test prep that are out there for ACSM.

ACSM Study Materials

Exam prep starts at the utilization of your study materials included with the purchase of your ACSM certificate for a certified trainer.

The primary form of ACSM exam preparation is through the ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer, Fifth Edition.

This is the main textbook, and it covers the main ideas of anatomy, exercise physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, behavior modification, assessments for strength and flexibility, client education, and physical activity like resistance training and cardiorespiratory training in programs.

The ACSM also offers online practice questions in the form of a practice test to imitate the experience during the final.

The practice testing is broken down with the same percentages of performance domains and test questions matching the final.

PrepU works to create your own personalized quizzes and tests so that you may focus on the things you have not yet mastered.

ACSM also has a study group you can register for and receive constant help on many of the ACSM courses offered.

ACSM has many webinars, and live video conferences held to help with learning all of the personal trainer responsibilities and duties.

It is also recommended that you pursue a third-party resource for study guide prep, audio guides, flashcards, free personal trainer testing, and other beneficial resources.

We offer great study materials here at Trainer Academy to ensure that you pass this fitness trainer exam, guaranteed.

If you are a busy person who has little time to spend on studying but want a 99% pass rate while enjoying a money-back guarantee, our best choice will be the premium MVP version here.

Check the table below to find the pros and cons of the ACSM study materials that the company includes with purchases.

What we liked:

  • Excellent behavioral change, aerobic programming, and special populations coverage
  • Great for trainers planning to work with clinical populations
  • Straightforward ACSM exam

What we didn’t like:

  • Inadequate coverage of resistance training, movement assessments, and corrective exercise
  • Not suited for athletic strength and conditioning
  • Expensive exam fee does not include any study resources

When you are learning how to become a personal trainer, it’s imperative to be able to teach exercise technique to clients and ACSM does not emphasize this information as much as we’d like to see. In fact, most of the major organizations do a great job of this like the NASM CPT certificate.

In addition, some of the nutrition material in the ACSM textbook feels a little outdated, and you may want to pursue a further nutrition certification to round out your knowledge as a complete fitness coach such as the NASM nutrition certification or ISSA nutrition certification.

Next, let’s look at some study tips to help ensure your success!

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ACSM Exam Study Tips

We are going to cover some study tips to ensure that you know how to get certified in your chosen certification. This advice will work with all fitness exams, even group fitness certifications, and other specializations like health coach certifications.

First, you need to begin your studies by viewing an ACSM exam content outline, which allows you to get a better idea of the things you need to master.

This could be just looking into the breakdown of the domains by percentage in the ACSM exam or a more detailed outline from another source.

Next, you want to make sure to review the various job tasks and their complexity. You should create a checklist with which you highlight your strengths and weaknesses to see what should be worked on.

If you created the previously mentioned checklist, you would then be able to prepare the amount of time and focus your studies will require.

For those wondering, “how long does it take to become a fitness trainer,” it will depend on this preparation.

Another tip is to study the materials with the resources that fit you the most. If you learn better with listening, make use of study materials that contain an audio guide or a live workshop.

Make sure to take advantage of the things that ACSM offers as a company and the outside materials like study guides from Trainer Academy.

We have free resources, like an ACSM CPT study guide and an ACSM CPT practice test to help you pass the test with flying colors.

The last major tip is that you should establish your own timeline and make sure that you stay committed to it.

Think of this like it is a checklist, but you could be checking off each week when you hit your mastery of chapters goals.

Take advantage of all your resources, and remember that the test only has a 69% pass rate, so don’t take these resources for granted.

Now let’s take a look at what retaking the exam costs us.

ACSM Exam Retake

If you were to fail the ACSM exam, you would have to pay for a retake on the exam.

How much would that be?

Well, it turns out to be on the higher side when it comes to retakes on the ACSM exam.

It’s going to cost you $175 for a retest fee each time you need to retake. About 1/3 of people actually fail this certification for personal training.

It is definitely worth it to take some practice testing when you can. As far as a number to shoot for, you should aim to get at least a 70% on all of the practice material you have.

I would even venture further to say that you should set a percentage like 85% so that you have room for error on your test.

Practice testing is such a good idea to avoid retakes as it allows you to get a true idea as to the types of questions on the final exam and an idea of topics you may need to brush up on as the test gets near to you and you schedule it.


That wraps up the majority of the information regarding ACSM personal trainer certification testing.

With this certification, you will be able to apply for a variety of personal trainer jobs and kickstart your career in the fitness industry and start earning your first personal trainer salary.

We hope that this page has helped you in your endeavors of finding certification for personal training, finding out more information regarding ACSM as a company, or any other goal you might have had.

Best of luck to you if you are signing up to take the ACSM exam. We hope you pass with flying colors!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is ACSM nationally accredited?

The ACSM has accreditation with the gold standard of accrediting organizations in the fitness industry. This is the NCCA. The certifications live up to the high expectations of the industry.

How many questions are there on the ACSM exam?

There are 150 multiple-choice questions to go through on the ACSM exam, but only 120 of these are actually graded for your score. They cover a great range of topics from the 4 domains of the textbook.

What is a passing score on the ACSM exam?

A passing score on the ACSM exam is actually by points and not based on an exact percentage mark that the company is looking for. The points needed will be a 550 total score.

Where are ACSM practice exams?

Practice testing can be found through the study portal on ACSM’s website. You can also find a lot of study materials and practice exams online through our website, and other websites, such as PTPioneer.

Is ACSM a valuable cert?

ACSM is extremely valuable and hits all of the high standards that exist in the industry. It is one of the highest regarded and most widely accepted certs that you could go for. You can’t go wrong with an ACSM CPT certification.

Is the ACSM exam an open-book test?

This is not an open-book test like some others that exist in the fitness industry and instead is a closed-book and proctored exam.

Do gyms accept ACSM certification?

They sure do! ACSM is respected and accepted in virtually all gym settings. You can get a variety of jobs as a trainer with an ACSM certification.

What third-party study materials do you recommend?

Our paid guide Trainer Academy is thorough and of excellent value.

What ACSM specializations are popular with the CPT cert?

ACSM offers many specializations for experts in the fitness industry. The ACSM Certified Group Exercise Instructor, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist, ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist, and the ACSM partnered with ACS Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer certifications are some of their popular advanced certifications. There is often a voucher to find with great deals on ACSM certifications, along with membership options. Call by phone at 317-637-9200.

If you’ve decided to jump into fitness or are already on your way in and ready to certify, feel free to make use of our excellent study solutions that guarantee success!

At Trainer Academy we want to make sure you pick the right certification for your needs.

We have a ACSM vs NASM, ACSM vs ACE, or you can look at our NASM vs ISSA article, which will help you clarify your decision either way.

We also have free exam help for the ACE fitness certification with our free ACE study questions and ACE practice test.

If you decide on NASM you will want to have our NASM practice exam and NASM flashcards.

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