What percent is needed to pass an ACSM certification exam? (hint: it’s not a percent)

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What percent is needed to pass an ACSM certification exam? (hint: it’s not a percent)

Francis Neric |  April 15, 2019

ACSM Exam percent needed to pass

One of the most common questions we get in the ACSM Certification Department is: “what percent do I need to get on the ACSM exam to pass?”

Short answer:

ACSM does not use percentages to determine if someone passes/fails. In order to pass, a candidate must score at least a 550 (scale of 200-800).

Long answer:

Unlike taking a college class where you need to get a certain percent of exam questions correct to pass or have your exam score compared to others (i.e., bell curve), testing companies like ACSM use what’s called a compensatory scoring model. What this means is that an exam candidate’s total number of correct answers must add up to a predetermined passing-point (also known a minimum level of competency). The passing point is 550 on a scale between 200-800.

As in life, it’s not that simple. ACSM also scales its certification exam scores. ACSM scales its exam score because exam forms can vary in difficulty. ACSM replaces scored questions with new items on a regular basis. Collectively, these individual changes can cause an exam form to be slightly easier or more difficult.  Equating ensures that the passing scaled score of 550 means exam candidates meet the same level of knowledge, skill, or ability regardless of which exam form is taken.


If an exam is determined to be more difficult, then you would need to get fewer questions correct. If the exam is easier, then you would need a few more questions right.

You will be provided your results once you complete your exam at the testing center. If the scaled score is 550 or above, then you pass the exam. If your score is 549 or below, then unfortunately you’ve failed and need to retake the exam.

Take home points:

  • ACSM uses this scale scoring so that every exam candidate is treated fairly
  • ACSM equates its exams to adjust for differences of difficulty


For more information, download the Job Task Analysis/Exam Content Outline for your exam

Author: Francis Neric
Francis Neric, MS, MBA
, is the national director of certification for the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Neric leads the development and administration of ACSM's state-of-the-art certification programs. He also serves on the Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences (CoAES) and Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREP) which directly supports the mission, vision, and values of the college. Neric has a BS degree in exercise science from CSU Long Beach, a MS degree in clinical exercise physiology from CSU Fullerton, and an MBA in management from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.