Curious about the National Pilates Certification Program (NPCP) exam? This exam used to be known as the PMA exam, but now the NPCP is a separate entity offering a third-party stamp of approval that Pilates teachers meet industry specific competency standards. Regardless of your training program, taking the NPCP exam can offer significant benefits when it comes to getting your foot in the door at a new studio. Tune in to learn more about the exam entails, what study resources are available to you, and what to expect during and after the exam.
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Learn more about the NPCP and exam process here.
You can find the exam study guides here.
This anatomy coloring book was helpful to me for visualizing the muscles (I know it's yoga, but the muscles are the same).
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[00:00:00] Welcome to Pilates Teachers' Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and the Pilates community on Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. Today's chapter starts now.
[00:00:56] Hello. Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. [00:01:00] Today, we're going to be diving into the wild world of the National Pilates Certification Program, talking about what it is, what it does, what the National Pilates Certification Exam is, and why you might consider taking it, why you may not consider taking it, as well as how to prepare for the exam and what to expect if that is the route that you choose to take in your Pilates certification timeline.
[00:01:32] This is kind of a fun episode for me because if you go way back to the very first episode of this podcast, I talked about taking the national Pilates exam and becoming a nationally certified teacher. It is wild. That was back in 2018.
[00:01:49] So a lot has changed on the National Pilates Certification Program front since I took the exam, but I'll be sharing with you what I found on [00:02:00] their website, as well as directing you to their website, which answers a lot of questions that I had just preparing for this podcast episode, and as well as sharing some of the materials that I used to study for the exam, there's even more exam study materials available now, which is awesome. And I'll share those with you too.
[00:02:18] If you were interested in learning more about this National Pilates exam, but you had heard something about the PMA exam, and then you tried to look online and were having difficulty finding information, I completely get that and I totally understand. The National Pilates Certification Program's website, NationalPilatesCertificationProgram.org, doesn't show up in the first 10 or 15 like searches when you do a Google search for it. Like you kind of have to know what you're looking for to look for it. So I recognize that.
[00:02:50] And then also as we're going through it, you'll also see that it is really complicated, like unnecessarily complicated, and bonus, this is also only in the [00:03:00] United States, so this is the national program for U. S. teachers. I know that the exam is offered in multiple languages, and you might be in another country and speaking another language and also take the National Pilates Certification Exam, but this is U. S. based, so I apologize to everyone listening in other countries. This is U. S. time, for sure.
[00:03:25] So, what is the National Pilates Certification Program? It is a third party accrediting institution for Pilates teachers. It's the only third party accrediting Pilates based institution and what it does is it sets forth an exam that if you meet the eligibility requirements to take the exam and you take the exam, reaching a certain grade on it means that you pass, it means that you meet [00:04:00] what they've set as the standards, the minimum standards for Pilates teachers.
[00:04:05] And then, regardless of where you did your program, regardless of how long your program was or what style of Pilates the program was in, whatever your program was like, this third party says, yes, you meet national standards for a Pilates teacher. This exam used to be known as the PMA exam, and I'm not sure if at the time it was also nationally accredited.
[00:04:35] I know that after I took the exam in 2018, but before I started the podcast in 2020, the National Pilates Certification Program came into being and started offering this accreditation. And before you say like, well, who are they to say that I meet the minimum standards of the Pilates teacher? Um, in the ever [00:05:00] increasing complexity of bureaucracy, they themselves are a nationally accredited accrediting institution, which means that they have been okayed to then accredit other people in this sphere of Pilates.
[00:05:15] They, they being the National Pilates Certification Program, is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, which is a non governmental agency that was established in 1987 by the Institute of Credentialing Excellence, and as I said, the bureaucracy continues. But basically, they've got a stamp saying that they're allowed to give stamps to Pilates teachers.
[00:05:46] This is made more complex by the fact that Pilates schools and training programs are not standardized, and what you could learn in one program might be very different from what you learn in [00:06:00] another program. So the National Pilates Certification Program sets forth a standard, which is put forth in their eligibility requirements, which I'll share with you that says, if you meet this eligibility and you pass this exam, then you meet the minimum standards of a Pilates teacher.
[00:06:17] Now you may not need to take this national Pilates certification program exam to be a Pilates teacher and work as a Pilates teacher. A lot of times you get certified by a studio and then you work in that studio. And that studio knows because you went through their program that you meet the standard that they've set for their Pilates teachers. You have the knowledge base, you completed your assessments, your test outs, and they know that you are a competent Pilates teacher and you're working there.
[00:06:48] The difficulty that we can run into as Pilates teachers is maybe you did your certification in one studio, but then you move to another state. And that state doesn't know anything about your training [00:07:00] program, and sure they could still audition you and say, yes, we now judge that you are a competent teacher.
[00:07:05] What the National Pilates Certification Program does is by taking that exam, wherever you go, whoever you talk to, they know because you've taken this exam and you've passed it, that you are a competent teacher, you're meeting those minimum standards.
[00:07:20] The reason I took the national Pilates certification exam is because I did my studio certification. So my comprehensive teacher training that covered, you know, all of the pieces of equipment and the magic circle and Pilates history and anatomy and special populations and all of this stuff. I did my training at a very small studio in Chicago that not only do people not know nationwide, they don't know in Chicago sometimes, like very small boutique studio that may have certified 20 teachers in its entirety in its existence.
[00:07:56] So when I'm applying for jobs and I say, well, this is where I [00:08:00] did my training. That doesn't mean anything to the people, like they don't know anything about me based on me completing that training. So I took the exam as a very new teacher because I wanted people to know that I knew what I was talking about and I didn't think that my studio certification would be enough.
[00:08:17] I recognize that it can be enough and now that I've been in the industry for a while I know that you can be studio certified and complete your training program and continue to work as a teacher, have a great time, be totally fine. I wanted something that showed that I had gone the extra mile and that there would be no question about the validity of my training program. That's why I chose to take the exam.
[00:08:43] The eligibility requirements for taking the national Pilates certification program exam are that you must be 18 years old, you must have completed a comprehensive Pilates training program and done [00:09:00] all of your final tests and all of the necessary assignments to complete that training program. They go on to define a comprehensive training program as a program that is at least 450 hours of training. It includes mat, reformer, trapeze table, Wunda chair, ladder barrel, spine corrector, and magic circle that the course was taught live or live virtual and covered lectures about the history of Pilates, about anatomy, about working with special populations, that part of the 450 hours is observation hours, is self practice, and practice teaching hours. They have some footnotes about if you completed multiple different training programs, or if maybe you didn't complete a formal training, but you apprenticed under a teacher for a long period of time. [00:10:00] They give you an alternate way to meet the eligibility requirements and that's available on their website. I'll share that.
[00:10:06] But they're saying in order to take this exam, you have to have completed a Comprehensive teacher training. In your comprehensive teacher training you will do Several teaching assessments and things where you are actively teaching Pilates. The National Pilates Certification program exam does not have any practical components to it. It is a multiple choice test. It's 150 questions long and up to three hours long. You have up to three hours to finish it and you sign up for it online. You find the closest testing center to you and then you go over there at the time you signed up for and take this test on the computer. That's how it works.
[00:10:51] Coming up after the break, I will tell you a little bit more about how to prepare for the exam, what resources are [00:11:00] available for you to prepare for the exam, and what comes after you take the exam. That's coming up next.
[00:11:14] Hi there, I hope you're enjoying today's chapter so far. There's great stuff coming up after the break, too Be sure to subscribe wherever you're listening and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. There, you can make a one time donation or become a member for as little as $5 a month.
[00:11:33] Membership comes with some awesome perks, including a shout out in the next episode, a monthly newsletter, a monthly zoom call with me, and more. You can also visit links.OliviaBioni.com/affiliates to check out some sweet deals on products I use and love. Now back to the show.[00:12:00]
[00:12:11] I was trying to think of ways to think about this exam within another context that also might help it make sense because it just jumbles in your brain, I know. And it's kind of like taking the SAT after you've completed high school. So everyone taking the SAT, like you've gone to high school and you've, you're either going to finish or you're finishing high school and this is like another exam that shows what you know.
[00:12:39] And the SAT is not a great test. I'm not talking about the merits of the test, but what it is is it's this outside test that everyone, you know, has knowledge and then it's just providing another standard of measurement. Maybe that's not exactly the way to think of it, but it's kind of like that, except it's pass/fail. So maybe it's more like a [00:13:00] GED, in that you've met the minimum requirements to graduate from high school, you meet the minimum requirements to be a competent Pilates teacher.
[00:13:12] How are you going to study for the exam? This is a great question, and of course you want to be prepared when you're going into it. There are great resources on the website. And I highly recommend that you take advantage of those resources to help you prepare, not only if you have testing anxiety, but also if you just want to feel prepared going into this exam. The resources that the National Pilates Certification Program provides are really helpful in helping you be comfortable with the formatting, the types of questions and what information is going to be on the exam. I
[00:13:52] would recommend taking the exam, if you can, very close to the end of your teacher training program, because the [00:14:00] best preparation for this exam is completing your comprehensive training program. So all of the information about exercises and spring settings, and the Pilates history and scope of practice and working with special populations, all of that information that was in your training program is also going to show up on this exam.
[00:14:28] The study guides are available for purchase on Amazon, and while it is a bit annoying to have to spend more money on test prep after spending, I believe this exam is $295, so it's not a cheap, little adventure here that you then have to pay more money to study for the exam, but like the SAT, being prepared for it is going to be really handy.
[00:14:53] There is a national Pilates certification exam study guide that [00:15:00] is like a condensed version of your teacher training manual. It has all of the anatomy bits. It has the about the equipment bits, it has the exercise choreography. It has special populations. It has pretty much your entire training manual, just super condensed. That is one thing that you're probably going to want to get, and this is updated as of August of 2021. So this is newer than the one that I got.
[00:15:30] Then there are national Pilates certification exam um, practice questions, which are literal questions from past exams that you can take. I think there's 60 of them and it's this little tiny booklet, but you can work through and take actual exam questions and see how you do taking those as. And the answers are also provided and then if there are any gaps in your knowledge, you know what you want to revisit and look at. It does that.
[00:15:58] There's also a Pilates [00:16:00] mat exam study guide, because the National Pilates Certification Program has now released a Mat only certification, or I think they're in beta testing for it, so they do have a study guide if you are only certified in Mat and you want to take the national exam and it's only for Mat instead of for comprehensive, so, yay, more things to be complex here.
[00:16:23] So those three guides are on Amazon, and I don't know if you also need the Mat certification if you're taking the comprehensive one. I'm not sure if it would be useful or not. That is a good question.
[00:16:36] And the other resource that the National Pilates Certification Program offers is a practice exam that is a timed test that you take through their platform, and it's a hundred questions long, and it will give you a grade to see if you would pass the exam. That is another resource that I [00:17:00] would recommend.
[00:17:01] The way I would space it is taking it as close to my test out as possible because then you already have that information fresh in your head. Of course, if that ship has sailed and you've been teaching for a while and now you would like to take the national exam, I would say give yourself time to study.
[00:17:17] I don't know how much time would be right for you, but give yourself more than a couple days so that you can really work through the material and feel ready to take this exam. I worked with a friend, we were both studying together and we would review things together. We would get on the reformer on the mat and review choreography together. We would quiz ourselves and we took the practice tests and then we went and take the test together. If you can have some accountability partners in this process, that would be excellent because it is a lot of material to cover and it's just, in my opinion, more fun to do with a friend.
[00:17:55] I think that the way I did it, that worked for me is [00:18:00] I reviewed the study guide. When I felt like, yeah, I've got this. I took the practice questions that were in the booklet and saw how I did with those, like just answering all of them cold. Identified what I needed to review more of, went back to the study guide. Two or three weeks before I took the certification exam for real, I took the online practice test to see if I would pass it because you know, two weeks out I want to know, you know, where I'm sitting and if I was in a good place and what I still needed to review.
[00:18:34] So that's the way I structured it. I do think that you need some time to study it, especially if you're also working another job or other things or having a family on top of studying for it because it is a lot. And the questions are tricky because they use, you know, all of these are true except or- The "except" questions always get me even though it tells you at the beginning. It's like, look out, that except question's gonna get you, and you're like, yeah, and then it [00:19:00] gets me. Just definitely give yourself time to prepare for this exam the way I imagine you prepare for the bar exam the way I imagine you prepare to take your board exams as a doctor, like it is definitely certifying you to like the standard of our industry, so it's going to be serious and it requires some serious preparation.
[00:19:25] The great thing about taking the exam is as soon as you take it, you know if you passed it or not. The year that I took the exam and had an 80 percent pass rate, which is good odds, and I'm from Vegas, so that is good odds. Um, but still, you're going to be super prepared for it, and you are definitely going to excel.
[00:19:43] If you do have to retake the exam, it is not stressful at all. One thing that's nice is you get to take it for way less, and you have to wait a month in between taking it the next time, so that you'll have plenty of time to prepare if you need.
[00:19:59] Now, you [00:20:00] know that you passed the exam. Congratulations, by the way, you worked super hard on that. Now you are for the next two years listed in their registry as a nationally certified Pilates teacher. Studio owners or people who are looking for Pilates teachers can search this registry and find people within a zip code or a state of registered teachers, and then they can decide that they want to work with those people, or they know that these people are have already taken this national exam and have been certified as reaching the standard of competent Pilates teachers. Fantastic. I will say that is how I got one of my first Pilates teaching jobs was a studio looked me up through that registry.
[00:20:44] In order to renew your standing as a nationally certified Pilates teacher and to continue to be listed in that registry, you have to complete 16 continuing education credits for the next, like, within [00:21:00] that two year period. So every two years, you need to take 16 CECs and pay a fee to renew. I like that you have to continue learning because especially what we're doing in Pilates, exercise science is such a new science and we really are learning new things about biomechanics and kinesiology and how bodies work when they exercise, how they don't work. Um, it really is a new field. So I love that if you choose to be a nationally certified teacher, those education credits are a requirement to continue to be in good standing. And that rinses and repeats for as long as you continue to do it.
[00:21:44] There are lots of continuing education opportunities listed on the National Pilates Certification Program website, and they also have a really great FAQs page that I will link to that tells you even more about the process as well as the step by step for the process, [00:22:00] if that's something that you're interested in learning more about or pursuing.
[00:22:04] Huge thank you to all my supporters on Buy Me a Coffee, including Kathryn, who asked this question. This was a great question, and it really tested my knowledge of it because it is a bit convoluted. I can't wait for this month's Coffee Chats to catch up and answer even more of your burning Pilates questions. If you want to get in on that, visit the Buy Me A Coffee page and join this project. I'd love to have you. I hope you have a great couple of weeks, and I'll talk to you again soon.
[00:22:40] Thanks for listening to this week's chapter of Pilates Teacher's Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. Check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual, and be sure to subscribe wherever you listen. For more Pilates goodness, check out my other podcast, Pilates Students' [00:23:00] Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
[00:23:03] The adventure continues. Until next time.