Preparing Students for Success on the ACSM Exercise Physiologist Certification Exam

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Preparing Students for Success on the ACSM Exercise Physiologist Certification Exam

James E. Schoffstall, Ed.D., FACSM, ACSM-EP, ACSM-RCEP |  Jan. 9, 2023
Preparing Students for Success on the ACSM Exercise Physiologist Certification Exam

As a professor, I get a great sense of joy from seeing my students succeed: from seeing them do well on an exam, to graduating, finding that first job, getting into graduate school or passing a certification exam. Every year I hear stories from our graduates regarding how having the ACSM Exercise Physiologist (ACSM-EP) certification in addition to their BS in Exercise Science helped them to land a job.

I have been teaching at Liberty University (LU) for 22 years now and this is the 14th year that our exercise science students have been taking the ACSM-EP certification exam (formerly the Health/Fitness Specialist certification). During this time, we have made changes and modifications to our curriculum and how we prepare the students for the certification exam. Over the course of the last five academic years, we have had a 95% pass rate (91%, 95%, 100%, 95%, and 93%) with 343 students passing the ACSM-EP exam during that time. I trust you will find the following tips on preparing students for the ACSM-EP exam to be of benefit for you and your students.

I hope that your school’s exercise science program has been accredited through CAAHEP*. If so, great—the program should be covering all of the Job Task Analysis (JTA) items, which are found online in the ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist Exam Content Outline. If it is not accredited, I would recommend doing a brief self-study to determine if your program is addressing all of the Job Task Analysis items. This can be accomplished in a relatively short time frame and can be very helpful in assuring that your students are well versed in the material that will be covered on the ACSM-EP exam.

A number of times we have had students that want to jump the gun and take the ACSM-EP exam before they are truly prepared to succeed. I have to remind the students to stay with the course sequencing. At LU the ACSM-EP exam is part of the curriculum (EXSC 485 Exercise Physiologist Workshop and Certification) and the students take it during their last semester of coursework. The ACSM-EP exam also serves as a gateway to internships. If sitting for the ACSM-EP exam is not built into your curriculum, encourage your students to take it at the end of their course work.

Prior to the ACSM-EP exam your students should be doing some sort of focused study. At LU in the students’ final semester of coursework, they enroll in EXSC 485. In this course the students have weekly readings for the ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 11th (or current edition) and the ACSM’s Recourses for the Exercise Physiologist, 3rd (or current edition). Also, each week the students take one or more quizzes and complete a total of 20 quizzes during the semester. The students are required to earn an 80% or higher on each quiz and the quizzes can be taken multiple times. ACSM also has study tools available for students. One is an online course, ACSM Exercise Physiologist Certification Preparation Course, and the other is an interactive, online quizzing platform, PrepU for ACSM’s Resources for the Exercise Physiologist, 2nd Edition.

For the last phase of student preparation for the ACSM-EP exam, I would recommend holding an in-person ACSM Exercise Physiologist workshop.  At LU, we host a workshop the first weekend of November and April every year and have been doing so for 10+ years. The workshop serves as a great review for the students, and it lets them know how much they actually know as well as some areas to focus on during their final bit of study. The week following the workshop the students sit for the exam.


*Beginning in 2027, the ACSM-EP certification exam and the ACSM Clinical Exercise Physiologist certification exam will require a baccalaureate degree (or higher) in Exercise Science, or equivalent, from a regionally accredited college or university and CAAHEP accredited program for eligibility. Learn more.

Learn about the programmatic accreditation process, benefits and associated costs.

Read FAQs about programmatic accreditation.


james schoffstallJames E. Schoffstall, Ed.D., FACSM, ACSM-EP, ACSM-RCEP, has been a teaching at Liberty University for the past 20+ years and holds the rank of Professor. He has served in the roles of Director of the Human Performance Lab, Director of the Exercise Science Program, and is currently the Chair of the Allied Health Professions Department. Dr. Schoffstall is certified as an Exercise Physiologist and Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the ACSM, and is a Fellow of the ACSM. He has served as a Director of the ACSM Exercise Physiologist workshop for the past 10 years. He has served as an Associate Editor of ACSMs Resources for the Exercise Physiologist, 2nd Edition. Dr. Schoffstall has also served as an exercise physiology curriculum designer for the Chinese Association of Sports Medicine.