Brian Greenlee by Brian Greenlee

Are you looking for an edge in passing the exam? Although there isn’t a magical pill or some special flash cards with all the answers available for purchase, I do hope to provide some valuable insight and directions. Hopefully, this will help improve your odds and make your preparation – and professional journey – more enjoyable.

I’ve walked in your shoes going through the studying process, taking the exam (even failing) and glowing with  excitement from looking at test scores and reading, “Congratulations, you passed!

When taking all four ACE certification exams and earning each credential, I always asked myself two questions before studying: What should I know? And, what methods of studying will best help me succeed? 

I hope my 10 steps will help guide you through the process and get you confident that you will be successful in taking the ACE exam. If I can do it, I know you can as well.

  1. Know the role of the profession you will be testing on. Before you can prepare for the exam, make sure you do your homework and understand the role of that particular fitness professional.
    • If you are seeking to become a Group Fitness Instructor, take a variety of classes to better understand the role of the group fitness instructor. This will provide you with great insight on how to teach different modalities, acquaint you with different environments for each class (e.g. room temperature, equipment, lighting, sound), and will also allow you to witness how each instructor constructs the class to meet the needs of the students (e.g. class design).
    • If you are seeking to become a Personal Trainer, I would suggest either becoming a client of a current personal trainer or shadowing one. This will help give good insight on the client-trainer relationship (rapport), the role of client assessment and the interviewing process. It will also enable you to understand interpretation of information and testing to design safe and effective programs for clients.
    • If you are seeking to become a Health Coach (assuming you are already a working professional either a personal trainer or group fitness instructor), I would suggest shadowing or becoming a client of a HC or perhaps scheduling a few sessions with a Registered Dietitian. The niche with this credential will require a better understanding of how to encourage and coach individuals who require lifestyle changes and a deeper understanding of the relationship between physical activity and nutrition in weight control.
    • If you are seeking to become an Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (again, assuming you are currently working as a Personal Trainer), I would suggest networking with allied health professionals like physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons, registered dietitians, or medical doctors who specialize in metabolic disorders. You may also want to consider taking continuing education courses that focus on working with special populations, such as pre-/post-natal clients, individuals with metabolic diseases and disorders, etc. Your knowledge outcome of doing so should be: Can I take the exercise programming principles and apply them to any population who may have different needs, issues limitations or unique considerations?
  2. Before you read any part of the manual, turn to Appendix B ACE Exam Content Outline in the back of the respective manual. This provides you with a blueprint of what exam content to expect as well as the percentage of questions from certain topic areas. You will see the exam content outline broken down into a series of knowledge, skills and abilities. Use this as an ongoing check list. Ask yourself if you know that knowledge or skill. If not, go back and find the information in your study materials.
  3. Learn the content beyond the black and white. Many times I hear from exam candidates that they have spent a good majority of their time memorizing all the bones and muscles. Although this is an important process in learning the materials, the focus should be on the outcome, or for what or whom is this exercise is intended. Let’s take a look at these two examples as it relates to the understanding the application of science.

    Scapular winging during the shoulder push stabilization screen would MOST likely be due to:
    1. Weak core and low back
    2. Scapulothoracic joint instability
    3. Curved thoracic spine
    4. Strong serratus anterior

    Which force couple creates posterior pelvic rotation to pull the pelvis out of anterior pelvic tilt?
    1. Hip flexors and erector spinae
    2. Hamstring and erector spinae
    3. Hip flexors and rectus abdominis
    4. Hamstrings and rectus abdominis
  4. Speak the language. When I speak with exam candidates, I encourage all of them to begin speaking the exercise science language while they are working out or even better, while they perform mock training sessions with family or friends. This will help build retention as well as confidence that you know what you are talking about.
  5. Use all the materials and support ACE offers. Many times I will speak with candidates and ask if they used the practice test or Master the Manual. The answer is usually no. Knowing that candidates have different learning styles (just like clients), ACE has created a host of study materials to help you prepare.
  6. If you cut corners, you will end up with a circle. Too many times, I find candidates trying to cut corners with their preparation time and effort. There isn’t an easy or fast track to this process. If you are looking to become a professional you will have – and should want – to do the work.
  7. Read the question carefully and make sure you understand the meaning. This seems like a simple concept but too often, it is an Achilles heel that keeps candidates from being successful. 
  8. Pace yourself accordingly. There are 150 questions and you have 3 hours to complete the exam. There are no bonus points for finishing quickly, so take your time. If you find yourself struggling on a question, bookmark it and move on. It is possible that future questions will trigger your memory.
  9. Consider before changing your answers. The rule of thumb is your first instinct is generally correct 90% of the time.  Before changing your answer, re-read the question carefully. Look for key words within the questions that should give you guidance. For example:
    • Clients fitness level (decondition, average, athlete)
    • Demographic information (age, sex)
    • Risk factors
    • Client ailments (low back pain, knee problems, arthritis)
    • Client outcomes for program design (strength, endurance, hypertrophy)
  10. In order to achieve, you must believe. You will be spending a lot of time and effort in preparing for the exam. Believe in yourself and your ability. The only true failure is not taking the exam.