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It's Not What You Study, But How You Study

Exam candidates for the NSCA CSCS Exam come from all different education backgrounds and levels of experience. Odds are if you asked someone with CSCS credentials on their tips to pass the exam, they probably told you to read the book. Well, they are do need to read and understand the material in the book to pass the exam. But why do so many candidates fail the exam?! If we are all told to study the same thing, what is the problem? I believe a big part of the problem is not what we study, but how we study. Let me explain.

From my experience teaching students at the collegiate level, and through The Strength Coach Tutor, the goal for many students is to be able to read the book and familiarize themselves with key terms, definitions, and concepts. When it comes time to start answering questions on the exam, they subconsciously rely on their ability to recognize a term and immediately recall every detail about it. I will be blunt. This is lazy. This does give you the best shot at success. This requires minimal effort.

In my experience, typically what requires the most effort, the most time, and the most inefficient, is the mindset you need to have when studying. There is no shortcut to being able to memorize, recall, and apply a new concept. Here are some my approaches I have personally found successful:

1. Eliminate distractions, maximize focus. No IG, no FB, no YouTube, no iMessage on your MacBook. iPhone should be shut down and away from your body. You should not be able to reach it while sitting in your seat. Turn on Do Not Disturb on your iPad or MacBook. Sit in a room with the door closed. Definitely no Netflix or TV while studying.

2. Test Yourself. I owe much of my academic success to my discipline and commitment to testing myself until I got it right...consistently. Personally, I read off my downloaded PowerPoints or typed notes. I hate reading my own handwriting, and taking the extra time it actually takes to write versus type. Anyways, I would read a PowerPoint slide or a 1/4 page worth of notes as many times as needed until it felt like it started to stick. Then I would be begin to test myself. Without looking at my notes, I would attempt to repeat everything in my head, verbatim. If I got anything wrong, time to start rereading the same set of notes. Got it right? Then I would repeat it in my head AGAIN, 2-3x in total. This was my criteria to move on to the next slide or set of notes. Periodically and at random, I would test myself on that same, first set of notes, after reading and memorizing several subsequent slides or paragraphs. If I could do this successfully, I knew I had this information down. Walking across campus to class? Great. Test yourself during the 10 minutes it takes to get from class to class. As you repeat this process, you learn to become more efficient over time. Odds are, your life will force you to become more efficient as well.

3. It doesn't hurt to know something. Yes, there are some concepts that are more likely to appear on the exam compared to others. But anything and everything is still capable of appearing on the test..and more real life. I believe part of the value we provide is limited to what we know. The more we know, the more value we can provide. The more people we can help. The more problems we can solve.

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