10 Tips for Success on the ACSM-GEI Exam

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10 Tips for Success on the ACSM-GEI Exam

ACSM Certification |  July 28, 2023

10 Tips to prepare for the ACSM Group Exercise Instructor (ACSM-GEI) examA group exercise instructor is a fitness professional who safely teaches, leads and motivates individuals through intentionally designed exercise classes. Those who are ACSM Certified Group Exercise Instructors (ACSM-GEIs), provide safe and effective instruction across many class types, from dance fitness, to indoor cycling, to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and everything in between. 

ACSM-GEIs come in all forms: some are full-time group exercise instructors, some teach group classes in addition to seeing personal training clients and/or offering health coaching, and others teach in addition to another line of full-time work to either supplement income or simply because they enjoy it! If you’ve been considering adding “Certified Group Exercise Instructor” to your resume, there’s never been a better time! 

Check out these 10 Tips for Success on the ACSM-GEI Exam: 

1. Understand the professional scope for an ACSM-GEI 

Professional scope (also called scope of practice) defines what an ACSM-GEI understands and can safely and effectively perform based on their certification, education, training and experience. For a full chart of “Can Do” and “Cannot Do” items, consult Table 1.4 in ACSM’s Resources for the Group Exercise Instructor, 2nd edition

2. Ensure you meet the qualifications

The minimal qualifications to sit for the ACSM-GEI exam are:

  • 18 years of age or older
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Current adult CPR/AED certification

3. Develop a timeline 

Set a goal for when you would like to take the exam, and develop a timeline with clear priorities and expectations so that you can manage your time effectively. Every exam candidate differs in their academic background and practical experience, so it would be difficult to prescribe one timeline to meet the needs of each candidate. Use the other tips listed here to help you build your own timeline.  

4. Be familiar with the exam content outline 

ACSM provides an exam content outline for the GEI, which is made up of a job task analysis (JTA). This document serves as a blueprint for the certification examination. The outline is categorized into categories called performance domains (I, Class Design; II, Leadership; III, Instruction; IV, Professional Responsibilities). Within each domain is a list of tasks and statements that describe what an ACSM-GEI should know and/or be able to perform as part of their job. When preparing for your certification exam, it is important to use this document as a study guide because all exam questions are based on this outline. Download the document here! 

5. Create a study plan and find available resources 

There are many resources available to help you prepare for the ACSM-GEI certification exam, so it’s important to identify which resources will best fit your individual preparation needs. ACSM recommended options include: 

6. Be knowledgeable about various group exercise formats 

It is beneficial to understand the various types of classes that an ACSM-GEI can lead, as well as the types of equipment that can be used in group exercise classes. Attending a variety of group exercise classes can prepare a future instructor by understanding the different class formats and seeing the many responsibilities of a GEI before, during and after they teach a group exercise class. Participate in group exercise classes when you can and, if possible, take a moment to talk with the instructor afterward. 

7. Find a mentor 

While you’re talking with those instructors, ask one to be your mentor. Look for a mentor who has experience in a variety of group exercise formats, is willing to spend time answering questions and encourages you as you begin your GEI career. A good mentor can teach you valuable skills such as how to structure a class and select appropriate exercises. 

8. Gain experience leading a group exercise class 

There is no better teacher than experience! Look for a facility that will allow you to teach or co-teach a class under another certified GEI's direction. This experience can be invaluable in becoming comfortable in front of a group and interacting with participants. This also is a good way to learn how to provide modifications, variations and progressions for your participants. 

9. Understand what you will need to keep your certification up-to-date 

The ACSM-GEI certification is valid for a three (3)-year period upon successful completion of the exam. You’ll need to pursue continuing education opportunities to maintain your certification and ensure that you are providing the best possible instruction to your students. To recertify, you’ll need to do the following: 

  • Obtain 45 continuing education credits (CECs)—Learn more about CECs here. 
  • Maintain a current CPR/AED certification
  • Pay the required recertification fee (currently $55)  

10. Schedule your exam 

Once you’ve followed the above steps and feel confident that you’re ready, schedule your exam (you can do that here). You can take the exam in-person at a Pearson Vue testing center, or online from the comfort of your own home. You’re on your way to a new or expanded career as a certified group exercise instructor! 

*Bonus tip* Earn discounts on prep materials and the exam as an ACSM member 

ACSM members receive a 20% discount on resources from our publishing partner Wolters Kluwer, including the recommended books. ACSM members also receive a $100 discount on the cost of the exam! Once you’re certified, ACSM members also receive discounts (up to 50%) on online continuing education courses through ACSM’s ceOnline, and complimentary access to ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®, an invaluable resource of education and practical tips for practicing exercise professionals. You can learn more about ACSM membership and join here.

This blog is adapted from
"Ten Tips on How to Prepare for the ACSM Group Exercise Instructor® Certification Exam," published in the July/August 2023 edition of ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal®.