We have a lot of serious personal trainer talent coming our way. Unfortunately, sometimes it is only potential talent because it is not being put to use. Why?? Because of that annoying nag of self-doubt called test anxiety! We get it, it’s been a long time since you’ve taken a test, but the worst of it is in your head.

I know this because I live with a couple of test takers, every week they take tests, my teenage daughters. I share with them the study habits, tricks and tips that were incredibly valuable to me when I was their age, and all through college. And they’re the same habits, tricks and tips that still work, today! I’m going to apply these to the NFPT Certified Personal Trainer exam, specifically. My hope is that this eases some anxiety for those of you who would be awesome personal trainers and just haven’t taken the plunge because of the fear monster, test anxiety.

Remember, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t (or shouldn’t) feel at least a bit nervous about taking a test, it’s natural and you’re not alone. Anxiety is more and more prevalent in our fast-paced society. Expectations for you to do something NOW causes that flight or fight reaction that gets you sweating, heart pounding and that sick feeling in your stomach – thanks a lot adrenaline! To make it worse, for people with test anxiety, specifically, it’s a trap of round and round you go through the emotions of ‘maybe I don’t have what it takes to do this. My self-doubt causes me to grow more anxious. And the more anxious I get, the worse I feel about myself. And the worse I feel about myself, the less I can concentrate on my test – I need to calm down! But how!??’

Be Prepared

Study Guide Picture - CopyCramming doesn’t work, don’t fool yourself and don’t wait until the last minute. Learning takes time, retention takes even more time…the less time that you spend on your studies, the more anxiety you will have. Because there is a sort of continuum for aspiring trainers who, on one end, have lots of existing education and lots of experience or, on the other end, have no fitness related education and very little to no experience, study time is highly individualized. Only you know what you know…you may be someone who needs a couple hours of refresher or maybe you need 60+ hours to get comfortable with the exercise science – first, estimate where you feel your prep time falls on the continuum before diving in (30 hours is a good minimum # of hours to shoot for in terms of book study). Next, decide on what period of time you want to take the test by (at least there is that luxury, you get to decide! When in school, you didn’t get to pick your test date…so let the ease of this ease your mind). Let’s say, for example, that you plan to give yourself one month to prep for and take the NFPT Personal Trainer test, and you feel like you’re going to need 30 hours of study; then work to divide up your prep time as evenly as possible through the month of your preparation. Take an hour every day, or as close to every day as possible, to read and review resource material. Consistency is key. Your brain will retain the information with more frequent bouts of ingesting the knowledge.

Be Productive

The more productively you study, the less wasted time you’ll put into it…you may actually feel like you’re not studying because you’ll start to enjoy it! I tell my daughters – ‘you have to read it, write it, and speak it in order to retain it’. Read it first, then chunk it out and write it down, then try and teach it to someone else (talk about it with your dog, if that’s the only being who’ll listen, make it work).

NFPT provides you with the Personal Trainer Manual, which we want you to read and then go back to as a reference. Now, keep in mind, you don’t have to read it because you could get your exercise science knowledge from a ton of available sources, and still pass the NFPT test. We just kind of like how we present the info to you in our text (call us biased) so maybe you’ll use that as your prep tool – totally your call.

Either way, we give you the Exam Content Outline (the full outline is provided with certification enrollment), which is a checklist of subjects that you’re going to find on the test – use this. Go through it, one section at a time (there are 5 sections), and check things off as you feel that you’re comfortable with them.

1. READ IT. Read your text (the NFPT manual and/or other books and manuals) all the way through, then use your checklist and read the text that is specific to that section.

2. WRITE IT. Make flash cards and/or take notes. Yes, you can use someone else’s flashcards that already exist on the web, that may work for some, but it’s not writing. To write it down is like a stamp to the brain (some stamps may wash off a little easier than others, so stamp it many times if you have to). Writing your own flash cards will work better for retention purposes than using someone else’s. It will take longer, and you may get writer’s cramp, but it’ll be worth it come test day.

3. SPEAK IT. Talk about what you’re reading, or your flash cards or your notes with someone else. You can talk about it with your dog (or your goldfish is fine too) – but another human can ask you questions and engage with you about the topics, which will help even more for retention. This is also where I have ‘fun’ with my studying teens, we use mnemonic devices in an attempt to better stamp the info on the brain. Any silly song, poem or ridiculous phrase that connects two things together will help you tremendously. Remember ‘ROY G. BIV’ for the colors of the rainbow? (yeah, I got stuck on ‘I’ too, it’s Indigo) This is just a silly acronym that looks like a first, middle and last name, but it helps kids learn the sequenced colors of the rainbow. For you, it may be that ‘distal’ sounds like ‘distant’ or that motor unit recruitment starts slow to fast and fast (and reds stick together). Whatever clever way you may think through some of the terminology, it will help come test time.

*I’m also going to add a #4 because of the nature of this material

4. PERFORM IT. This doesn’t work as well when you’re studying for a history test, but it will work wonders for studying anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and exercise programming. When you work out, think about what you’re working and feel the muscles that are involved in the work. Think through what you’re doing and why. Shadow a trainer, teach and assess a friend just like you would a potential client, get your hands in it because it’s a hands-on job. Make your time at the gym count for more than your workout, it can be study time too!

The More You Know…the Less You Freak Out??

Not exactly the PSA we remember…but we all know that actually knowing your ‘stuff’ is going to set you up for success (on the test, and in life). Do your research and take it seriously. I personally have spoken to a whole lot of studying test candidates who are very worried about the test. And I understand, tests can be stressful. The conversation may start off with something like ‘I’m freakin out, do I need to memorize all this!?!’ Well, first, no. No you don’t need to memorize all the fine print, formulas and charts and tables… the memorization of these things won’t necessarily assess your ability as a trainer (we’re not looking to assess your memorization skills). So don’t memorize the Hume formula for calculating LBW, for example. But do understand why it’s important to know the LBW of your clients and how and why your goal-oriented training program can positively effect LBW. Second, it’s okay to freak out a little, just not too much. Usually, those people who care enough to be freaking out are the people who do far better than the average. In my experience, it’s generally those who are most anxious up front that do the best on the test…because their anxiety fuels their need to study.


You have life experience on your side. You didn’t get into this industry just because. You’re doing it because you love it and because you have a desire to understand how the human body works and how to train it properly – right? There’s your base right there. It is much to grow on. So, freak out a little, but only a little. Take care of yourself in a way that doesn’t mean you’re losing sleep at night over this test. Remember, you don’t have to know all the fine print, it’s not like that…no tricks, no complicated formulas or charts and tables to memorize. Know the fundamentals. Know how to do it like a trainer. Understand how the body works in response to training, and how it performs at its peak. Get plenty of sleep the night before your test (studies show that 8 hours of sleep the night before the test actually does improve performance) and if you feel like you’re not prepared, then postpone the test date and get back to your studies. Yes, there is a small fee for that, and it’s not ideal, but being prepared and feeling confident the day of will be worth the minor inconvenience.

Better yet, plan and prep, prep and plan. Get on a cycle for the short time that you’re going to have this studying-for-a-test thing in your life…it’ll be over before you know it, and then you’ll be on your way to doing what you love and putting what you’ve learned to work! It’s worth it!