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The American Council on Exercise (ACE) would like to take this opportunity to remind the fitness community, of the importance of a quality certification.

Seventeen years ago, ACE set the standards for fitness professionals and started rigorous testing to assure those standards were met. Since 1985, more than 200,000 people have taken the ACE exam. Today, there are nearly 45,000 active ACE-certified Fitness Professionals in the United States and 77 other countries.

ACE-Certified Professionals are the most sought-after and respected fitness instructors in the world. Known for their inspiration, dedication and knowledge, they train and educate their clients on safe and effective exercise techniques and motivate them to achieve healthier lifestyles.

Personal training can never be an effective tool for achieving optimal health and fitness if it is not first and foremost safe for the client. A professional certification should provide the client assurance that he/she is working with a trainer who has the requisite knowledge and skills to provide a safe and effective workout.

ACE is dedicated to improving the professional standards of the fitness industry. That effort is a partnership, in which consumers have the important role of taking the initiative to ensure that their fitness trainers are certified by a reputable organization with a track record of meeting the highest academic and professional criteria.

ACE exams are developed using a six-point exam development process and are guided by standards accepted by the American Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education.

For your reference, the following outlines the ACE exam-development process that adheres to accepted certification practices. This ensures that certified professionals meet minimum standards of knowledge and skills necessary to provide safe and effective fitness instruction:

  • Job Analysis/Role Delineation: A group of industry experts analyzes the specific job requirements in order to develop an outline of the tasks, knowledge and skills required to perform the job effectively (e.g. group fitness instruction, personal training, etc.).
  • Validation Study: A research survey is conducted to determine the validity of the job analysis. The survey is sent to a large, national random sample of fitness professionals for validation.
  • Item Writing: A national and representative panel of industry experts develops exam questions that are related to exam specifications and referenced to acceptable texts or documents.
  • Exam Construction: The questions are reviewed, selected and approved by an exam committee. The constructed exam is then forwarded to an independent testing service for final editing.
  • Cut Score Determination: The passing score is determined as a standard for public protection. Each question is rated by a group of industry experts using criterion-referenced procedures. The experts estimate the percentage of minimally competent professionals that will answer each question correctly. The passing score is then calculated and based on the overall degree of difficulty.
  • Continual Exam Evaluation: Following an exam administration, there is a continual evaluation and analysis of each question to help ensure validity. If a question is determined to be flawed, it is revised or replaced. A new exam-development process begins every 5 years.

The ACE exams contain knowledge questions that assess facts, terminology, and comprehension of important principles and scenario-based questions to assess a candidate's ability to accurately analyze information and appropriately apply their respective knowledge of exercise science.

All ACE certification programs are legally defensible and follow current, accepted certification standards and practices. Each ACE exam is administered by an independent testing agency to help ensure exam security, integrity and the elimination of bias.

To protect professionals and the public, a legally defensible certification is crucial. The following three factors will be considered by any court of law reviewing a certification exam:

  • Validity: Validity refers to the extent to which an exam measures what it is supposed to measure. For an exam to demonstrate that a candidate has achieved a certain knowledge level, content validity (job-related-ness) is essential.
  • Reliability: Reliability is a trait of how consistent and stable exam scores are. High reliability is desirable since it reflects superior score confidence. Candidates should receive approximately the same score if they took the exam twice with no additional preparation between tests.
  • Lack of Bias: The content of the certification exam should be appropriate for all qualified candidates regardless of race, religion, gender, age or reading-comprehension level.

Professionals and consumers alike need to understand that fitness certifications and their respective organizations can be differentiated by a variety of factors. This includes how long the organizations have been certifying, whether they operate on a for-profit or a nonprofit basis, how their certification exam is developed and administered, and the level of respect and recognition they have within the industry.

We hope that this information is valuable to you and your clients in your endeavors to improve the standards of the fitness profession. If you would like to have a description of the value of ACE certification including the standards used in creating the exam, you may view it on our web site or click here for a printable PDF. (Note you'll need the free Acrobat Reader to view this file.)

Best in Health,


Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., FACSM
Chief Exercise Physiologist/V.P. of Educational Services
American Council on Exercise

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