Preparing for the National Pilates Certification Exam

Y’all I am on cloud nine right now 🙂 Yesterday I passed the National Pilates Certification Program (NPCP) exam to become a certified Pilates teacher. I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve taken the leisurely route to becoming certified. I took two years to finish all 500 hours of my teacher training with Club Pilates and another seven months before I buckled down and decided it was about time I take the national exam. I was teaching Pilates classes throughout this time so I felt confident I knew how to put together a well rounded class and cue a complex exercise but if I’m being honest the national exam really intimidated me. My anxiety had me second guessing if I was prepared.

I know many other Pilates students and soon to be Pilates teachers are in the same boat as me, so I wanted to share with you all some tips to preparing for the NPCP exam. Please keep in mind that these tips are based on my own experience and opinion. Preparing for the exam (and to be a good Pilates teacher) takes continuous hard work. These tips are not meant to be a substitute for putting in that hard work!

How to Prepare for the NPCP Exam:

Set a date. It’s tough but you’ve got to get down to it. Setting a realistic date for you to take the exam will help you map out your study plan and keep yourself accountable. I really think one of the reasons I took so long is because I kept telling myself “Oh I’ll get to it next month…” and pretty soon “next month” turned into seven.

Use the study guide. Plain and simple. The NPCP Study Guide is your friend. I learned A LOT in my 500 hours of teacher training but the primary focus of that program was showing you knew how to safely cue each exercise on different apparatus and Pilates equipment. In addition to reading Joseph Pilates’ original text on the classical order of exercises in Return to Life, the Study Guide is a must read if you’re preparing for the exam. The Study Guide puts together all of the most important information every Pilates teacher should know, regardless of where you completed your teacher training. The Study Guide also provides information you can regularly reference as an instructor, like an equipment maintenance checklist, an example of a release of liability waiver, sample medical release form, and an incident report form.

Take a practice exam. I was glad to see the NPCP had a small booklet that includes a practice exam with 60 questions. These were not the exact questions on the exam but I do think they were an accurate representation of the types of questions on the full exam. Taking the practice exam will help you gauge how long it takes you to answer each question and help you practice reading questions carefully. Terms like MOST, BEST, and LEAST pop up in questions often and you’ll want to make sure you are paying close attention so you understand exactly what the question is asking. I do not recommend taking practice exams on Quizlet or other places online that are not endorsed by NPCP. From my experience the “practice” questions on these sites are just a jumbled assortment of words pulled from the study guide or they are such easy questions you’ll get a false sense of preparedness for the exam. You’re better off reading the Study Guide and taking the practice exam provided by the NPCP.

Know your scope of practice. This is unfortunately a line I see some instructors blur online and in person. Bottom line, you’ve got to stay in your own lane. Meaning, if you are not certified by an accredited organization to provide nutritional counsel, it’s not your place to give nutritional advice to clients or students. Same goes for medical advice. It is not the role of a Pilates teacher to diagnose, prescribe, treat, or claim to rehabilitate medical conditions or injuries. Leave all of this to the professionals. For the NPCP exam you’ll need to know what is within and not within the scope of practice of a Pilates teacher.

Apply your knowledge of contraindications. If you’ve been teaching Pilates for awhile there’s a good chance you’ve run into some common medical conditions and injuries (i.e., plantar fasciitis, hip replacement, carpal tunnel syndrome, pregnancy) among your students. You have likely consulted your teacher training manual, textbooks, other health care professionals and more experienced teachers to learn what types of movements are safe and what modifications need to be in place for various conditions. You’ll definitely need to know the precautions and contraindications of common medical conditions for the NPCP exam. However, you’ll need to know more than just the name of a medical condition and it’s contraindication(s). You’ll need to be able to apply this knowledge to preparing a class and teaching. For example, if a client has osteoporosis and you know spinal flexion is contraindicated, you’ll also need to know the exercises where spinal flexion is involved so that you know to avoid them in planning out your class. Personally I think this is one of the most important sections of a teacher training program and the exam. Knowing how to safely move clients, how to adapt and modify an exercise to fit each client’s unique body, while still providing a good workout, will help clients feel strong and powerful within their own bodies, as opposed to held back by a medical condition.

I hope these five tips will help you know exactly where you need to focus your attention when preparing for the NPCP exam. Once you have set a date, plan out when you will study and stick to your schedule. I found it helpful to review sections of the Study Guide every other day for about two weeks. I would spend about 30 minutes reading and then if questions came up I’d allow myself to chase a particular question down a rabbit hole and refer to my teacher training manual, other Pilates books, YouTube videos, or ask fellow instructors if I got stuck. That’s just my own personal study style though. I am easily distracted so I wanted to allow myself the freedom to explore a new concept or review an old concept if I felt pulled to do so. I’d love to hear your own study plan or how you aced the exam if you are already a NCPT! If you have any questions about my own studying or experience taking the national exam, please share your questions in the comments below and remember I’m always just an email away at movewithshelly@gmail.com.

Best of luck studying!


Study materials I recommend:

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