Group Fitness spotlight Youth Fitness

A Close Up Look at NASM's Expanded Personal Trainer Exam Options

Kinsey Mahaffey
Kinsey Mahaffey
| Stay Updated with NASM!


Becoming a certified personal trainer is an exciting step in your career journey, but it's just the beginning. Choosing the right program is crucial for a successful fitness career that employers respect and that aligns with your goals of helping others.

The fitness industry is evolving to meet both client and professional needs. One notable change is NASM's introduction of a open book exam that awards a certificate. This option can ease test anxiety and better accommodate aspiring fitness professionals as they pursue their Certified Personal Trainer dreams.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between these two exam options and the advantages of having more choices when it comes to your fitness certification journey.

💪🏻 Crunched for time? Take your learning on the go with the NASM-CPT Podcast hosted by Rick Richey.

What are NASM’s CPT Training Exam Options?

In the past, NASM offered only one option for the CPT exam, which was the NCCA Accredited Certification Exam for obtaining your Personal Trainer Certification.

Before 2020, this exam was proctored, meaning you had to schedule it in advance and physically go to a designated testing location to take the exam. If the idea of a proctored exam makes you anxious, I have some good news for you! NASM offers an additional examination choice: an open-book Personal Trainer Certificate test you can take from home.

We'll discuss the distinctions between the certificate and the certification later, but for now, you might be curious about what sets these two exams apart.

Consistency of Program Content:

First of all, it's essential to understand that whether you opt for the NCCA Exam or the open book exam, the program's content remains the same for both testing options. You'll receive identical study materials containing identical content, regardless of your exam choice. This means that your preparation process for either exam will likely be quite similar.

Preparation Timeframe:

It typically takes as little as four weeks to adequately prepare for the examination, depending on your study schedule and learning pace. Even if you choose the open-book exam, it's highly recommended that you invest sufficient time in studying and mastering the information. Consider the certificate exam as a tool to assess your knowledge and identify areas that might require extra study if taking the proctored exam.

Inclusive Exam Costs:

Furthermore, no matter which CPT course package you select, both exams are included in the package cost. This provides you with the flexibility to postpone your decision on which exam path to pursue until after you've studied the materials. However, it's important to note that scheduling a proctored exam typically requires advanced planning.

Learn more about these exam options and get started on your path to becoming a personal trainer today!

What is the difference between a personal trainer certificate and a personal trainer certification?

Is a certificate and a certification the same thing? In short, no.

A personal training certificate shows that you’ve pursued education related to personal training, while a personal training certification shows that you’ve passed an accredited exam that demonstrates that your knowledge meets industry standards.

So why wouldn’t you just go straight to taking the certification exam? What’s the benefit of having a open book exam option?

I’m glad you asked!

Benefits of NASM's Expanded CPT Exam Options:

NASM credentials stand as the industry's most coveted and highly regarded fitness professional programs among personal trainers. Why? Read below to get a better look at the benefits of NASM’s CPT exam options.

1. Diverse Paths for Aspiring Trainers

For some aspiring trainers, the prospect of taking a proctored exam as a prerequisite for entering the industry can pose a significant hurdle. To ensure that the final exam doesn't become a barrier, NASM has introduced the open book exam option. This alternative allows aspiring personal trainers to kickstart their journey in the industry sooner than they might have otherwise.

Whether you're eager to start learning more about what it takes to be a successful personal trainer and earn a certificate, or you're ready to dive right in by taking the NCCA-accredited certification exam, NASM offers both exam options to align with your preferred learning approach.

2. Accessibility and Convenience

The open book exam option offers the flexibility to take the test whenever you're prepared, whether it's today or two months from now. In contrast, scheduling a proctored exam requires advance planning, often weeks in advance, but the open book exam is available at your convenience. This is particularly helpful if you have a hectic schedule and require a more adaptable testing choice.

3. Confidence Building and Stress Relief

If you've ever taken a timed exam, you're familiar with how swiftly time can pass while answering questions. The new open book exam option offers test takers a generous 3-hour window to tackle 100 questions. That's a whole extra hour compared to the proctored exam, and it involves 20 fewer questions. This extended timeframe can lead to reduced stress for some during the test and provides an opportunity to build confidence, especially if you plan to take the proctored exam in the future.

Furthermore, the open book exam allows you three attempts to pass with a minimum score of 70%. Knowing that you have multiple opportunities without facing penalties can significantly alleviate test anxiety and boost your chances of success.

4. Industry Recognition and Competitive Edge

NASM's NCCA-accredited certification, also known as the proctored exam option, carries significant value in the industry and enhances your competitiveness in the hiring process. The NCCA, a nationally recognized third-party agency, accredits certification programs that meet and adhere to its rigorous standards. Employers frequently seek this accreditation as a way to verify that candidates have studied relevant material and passed an exam that aligns with industry norms.

Establishing a benchmark for certified personal trainers benefits not only the industry but also the trainers themselves, employers, and clients. It's a win-win situation for all involved parties.

The competitive edge of the open-book exam is that it allows you to access reference materials during the test. This can be advantageous because it tests not only memorization but also the ability to locate and apply information effectively, mirroring real-world scenarios where fitness professionals have access to resources while making decisions. It can also reduce test anxiety for some individuals, promoting a more relaxed testing environment.

💪🏻 Do you have a passion for helping others? Start your journey in becoming a NASM Certified Personal Trainer.

What to Consider Before Choosing a CPT Exam

Selecting the right CPT exam is a crucial step in your fitness career. When choosing a Certified Personal Trainer exam, there are several factors to consider, including accreditation, cost, curriculum, exam format, and more.

1. Varied Recognition

Introducing the Personal Trainer Certificate option might mean that some employers are not yet familiar with this designation.

While it's possible that an employer may still insist on you obtaining an NCCA-accredited certification (often with a specified time frame for certification after hiring), having your certificate could open the door for you to begin working while you prepare for the certification exam.

Moreover, because NASM supports the certificate program, it signals to employers that you are dedicated to learning and professional growth. Engaging in conversations with potential employers can help you determine the best exam option for your career.

Additionally, it's important to note that your liability insurance company may require NCCA certification before providing coverage. Therefore, it's advisable to contact them before selecting your exam option to understand their specific requirements.

2. Self-Discipline and Preparation

Both exam options require you to be dedicated in your study efforts, regardless of whether they are open-book or not. However, there is a noteworthy distinction between them.

In the case of the proctored exam, once you've scheduled it, you have a set deadline to work towards, which can help maintain your motivation. On the other hand, with the open book exam being available "on-demand," it places the responsibility on you to exercise self-discipline in staying on course with your study plan and eventually completing the exam.

Final Thoughts

It’s never too late to go back to school, especially with the opportunity to pair your education with NASM’s industry leading curriculum. Being able to earn your NASM credentials while furthering your education and training prepares you for a successful career as a fitness professional. Whether you’re thinking about a formal education or more career-specific learning, NASM has everything that you need to craft a bright future in the industry.

What to Read Next

The Author

Kinsey Mahaffey

Kinsey Mahaffey

Kinsey Mahaffey, MPH, is a Houston-based fitness educator, personal trainer and health coach who developed her commitment to lifelong fitness while playing Division I volleyball. She’s passionate about helping others cultivate a healthy lifestyle and enjoys educating other fitness professionals who share this vision. She’s a Master Instructor and Master Trainer for NASM. You can follow her on LinkedIn here.

A NASM advisor will contact you to help you get started.

Get Started