Steps to Getting AFAA Certified, Post #4: The Practical Exam

Here we are with another installment of the AFAA Certification series.  We’ve discussed the whole workshop from registration to completion, but in this post we’ll give a little more attention to what you should know about the Practical Exam.  This is a long one, so we’ll cover the cardiorespiratory demo here and the muscle groups + individual presentation next.  If you are interested in the previous posts, here they are: Post#1, Post #2, Post #3

 When testing begins, the entire group will be divided in half, and each person to be tested is assigned a number.  Your group will either first take the written exam while the other group does the practical or vice versa.  When it is time for your group to take the practical, you might be divided into smaller testing groups, depending on the size of your workshop.  Make sure your number is highly visible, like right on your stomach or chest.  I usually wait until the start of the practical to apply the number so that I don’t have issues with the sticker peeling up while I’m moving about.  You may notice the additional proctors who have been brought in to assist with the testing.


Once everyone has their mat and is lined up, the music will start.  A voice will say, “demonstrate exercises appropriate for a warm-up.”  A mad sort of organized chaos ensues.  You, and everyone around you is moving about, doing their own thing, warming up their imaginary class.  It can be distracting and a bit hysterical, so if you are prone to distraction, you should find a way to focus.  I recommend choosing a spot on the wall in front of you, above the heads of anyone in front of you, and imagine that you are teaching your class to that wall spot.  It will help you ignore what is going on around you.  Just be careful not to run into your neighbors. 

The warm up is expected to contain rhythmic limbering movements, movement rehearsal, and static stretches. It helps to have a game plan for your demonstration so that you don’t get lost or blank out.  I recommend that you pick 2-3 movements for each category, memorize and repeat the heck out of them.  The practical is not about showing off your amazing choreography skills.  It is about getting a passing grade, so pick basic, obvious, unassailable movements.  If you aren’t sure if it’s appropriate, leave it out.  Save it for your hard core body conditioning classes.   Here are some examples of movements you can use for your warm up:

Rhythm limbering:

Step Touches
“Reach and Pull” (Rocking forward and back with a lat pulldown)
Arm Circles

Movement Rehearsal:

Knee Lifts
Hamstring Curls
Bob and Weave

Static Stretches:

Cat back with hands on thighs
Standing hamstring Stretch
Calf stretch lunge
Shoulder stretch with one arm reached across the body
Tricep overhead bent arm stretch
Supported Side Bend


After three minutes, you are asked to demonstrate exercises appropriate for a cardiorespiratory workout.  You spend the next five minutes leading an imaginary “hi-lo,” kickboxing, or step class.  You are also expected to demonstrate a progression of intensity with your movements.  You accomplish this by adding impact or travelling or arms.  Once again, I recommend keeping it simple and sticking to your game plan.  You are going to see lots of action around you, and it will be easy to get distracted.  Keep your focus and just keep repeating!  I use the following breakdown to plan it out:

Your music will be, give or take, 130 bpm.  You have to teach for 4 minutes, which means you have 135×4 = 540 beats to fill which is 67.5 8-counts or around 17 32-beat stanzas of music to fill. 

If you choose 4 basic movements that have easy progressions to higher intensity movements, you can use a plan like mine.  Here is my example for a Hi-Lo Demonstration.

Move 1:  Step Touch.  Progresses to Lateral Skater Jumps
Move 2:  Step Heel:  Progresses to a combination of Plyo Heel Digs and Double-Time Heel Digs
Move 3:  Side-to-Side Squats:  Progresses to Jumping Jacks.
Move 4:  Grapevine:  Progresses to Lateral Shuffle Steps
Filler Moves:  Marches, Bob and Weave, just about anything from the warm up, except static stretches can be filler
Knowing that you have 16 stanzas, give or take you have lots of choices for layering and yes, TONS of repeating.  Remember, it isn’t about showing off.  It’s just about getting it done correctly and gradeably.

32-count phrases:
1:  Step touches
2:  Step heel
3:  Side-to-side squats
4:  Grapevine
5:  16-cts stp touches + 16-cts stp heel
6:  16-counts side squats + 16-cts grapevine
7:  Repeat 5.
8:  Repeat 6.
9:  1 8-ct of each movement
10: Add impact to stept touches and repeat skater jumps for 32 counts
11: 1 8-ct of each movement, using skater jumps instead of step touches
12: Add impact to step heels, by either adding plyo or double timing them, or both in combination
13: 1 8-ct of each movement, using skater jumps and plyo heels
14: Add impact to Squats, either by speeding them up or by progressing jacks or both in combination
15: 1 8-ct of each movement, using the impact movements already added
16: Add impact to Grapevine:  Shuffle for 32 counts
17: 1 8-ct of each movement, all movements intensified
18 and on:  Repeat until time to cool down.  How much time is left will depend on how fast the music was.

Is it boring?  Probably.  Does it work?  Yes.  Should you do it this exact way?  Maybe. But it is better to pick movements that you are comfortable with and know without doubt work for you.  But the concept works because it is an easy-to-remember plan of attack that is hard to mess up.  The game plan works no matter what style you are demonstrating or what movements you choose.   You could also pick completely different impact moves that are high intensity to replace your basic moves instead of progressing, but that’s just more to remember.  Your brain will already be full, so I suggest keeping it as easy as possible.  Also, notice I didn’t add the filler moves to the game plan, so what are they for?  Filler moves are for finding the beat, holding your place if you slip up, and all around saving the day if you lose your place.  Just some backup ideas to have in your pocket.  If you have to resort to your filler move, start over in your progression or pick up where you left off as soon as you get your bearings back.  Don’t panic, and if worse comes to worse, you can always follow what the girl in front of you is doing….  🙂

Also, you can apply a similar formula to your warm up:  135 bpm x 3 minutes = 405 beats or 51 8-cts or about 13 32-count phrases to spread your moves among.


Finally, at minute 7 you are asked to start cool down movements. You have a minute to progress back down to your starting intesity.  One minute equates to 4 32-count phrases, give or take.  Work your way back down to your simpler, starting moves, and even on into moves you used in the warm up.  Either way, they want to see you gradually lower the heart rate, so if you’ve been doing jumping jacks, don’t switch immediately to a cat back.  🙂  Cut out the jumping, cut out the travelling, cut out the arms, march it out.  Easy!

 Next time, we’ll discuss the other two sections of the Practical:  Muscle Group Demonstration, and the Individual Presentation.

Next Post >>


27 thoughts on “Steps to Getting AFAA Certified, Post #4: The Practical Exam

  1. Hi- I am planning to sign up for the group exercise certification and I am wondering how important you think it is to pay the extra money for the practice test questions. I am pretty good written test taker, and I really don’t want to spend the extra money unless absolutely necessary. I really appreciate the thoroughness of your blog. Thank you in advance.

  2. I think that the practice questions are useful if you have a hard time retaining information or are afraid that you will not have time to read the book and work through the Study Guide. In other words, they are probably a nice-to-have shortcut for preparing for the test. However, you are going to be provided the test information throughout the workshop, so it really isn’t necessary. Again, it’s an investment I would make only if I didn’t think I was getting enough from the book and study guide. Hope that helps!

  3. Hi Krista,

    I first posted to your blog in February of this year when I was originally considering taking APEX. That date didn’t pan out so I rescheduled for this month. My exam is one week away. I feel prepared and your posts helped in that preparedness. I was at first overwhelmed when I got the huge textbook 3 months ago and I only began officially studying about 3-4 weeks ago. I wrote up a consistent study schedule, put it in my calendar and STUCK TO IT as much as possible. Since I live in LA I purchased my test materials at AFAA’s HQ in Sherman Oaks. I met with the sales director and I asked him how in the world should I tackle this studying endeavor. He told me to focus on the study guide and to create flash cards. So I took his advice. I broke down my level of overwhelm by only reading up on what was in that guide. Then I created flash cards from the more challenging terms and concepts. Within 2 days of doing the flash cards I was pleasantly surprised to realize that those challenging terms are no longer an issue for me. I was rattling off their definitions as if I wrote them. I then simulated the test situation with the Practice Test and timed how long it took me to go through a page’s worth of questions. Did some quick calculations and soon realized that I felt good about where I am preparation wise. And on another note with the Practice Test, I don’t go through the whole thing at once. I actually use a similar technique I used for another monstrous exam I had in 2008. I was rather disappointed that the Practice Test only features ONE exam and it’s not even 100 questions as on the real test. I think AFAA could’ve done a better job with putting more questions and at least 2 different tests.

    So I had to kill two birds with one stone. I wanted to see what my score would be with the knowledge I already have (and hence simulating a testing situation) while also using the Practice Test as an on-the-spot study guide. I don’t go through the whole exam at once but rather do a page a day and whatever questions are challenging for me, I make note of them and research the correct answer from the textbook on the spot. But if I know my answer is incorrect, I keep it as is on my answer sheet so I can assess my percentage correct level. This method has helped me alleviate the stress and gain more confidence with the material.

    I also wanted to THANK YOU for your extremely thorough posts. And especially for giving suggestions on the kinds of routines we can do for our 8 min group demo. As of today I’ve outlined all 8 minutes using the suggestions from your posts. Now all I need to do is just continue rehearsing it. In the next day or two I’ll put together my individual presentation using your guidelines.

    I’d also like to invite you to write a guest post for my blog. I plan on linking your Getting AFAA Certified posts to a separate post on my blog in the near future since I found such amazing value in them. Check out my blog and let me know what you think –

    Cheers and thanks for all your hard work!

  4. I took the Affa Goup Fitness exam this month, and your outline was right on target “very helpful.” I went in feeling pretty confident. I must say that the multiple choise questions are tricky you need to be quick, which I was not. I used the entire time to take the test with no time left to review any unsure answers, which were quite a few. I’m not feeling very confident about that part of the test, I can retake it if I did not pass. My suggestion to anyone taking the exam is to fill out the study guide, and know the answers in detail. Don’t just know that for instance, muscular endurance is not just submaximal force, but it can also also be stabilizing an isometric contraction for a lengthly amount of time. Many of the questions are not straight foreward. Nutritional information is also asked which I spent little time reviewing . So study! good luck

  5. I just got my results on the AFFA Group Certification exam that I took in October 2009, and I am proud to say” I passed.” I thought the test was difficult, but then again it should not be easy. You want to make sure that you can teach your class safely and effectively. I know that I have the knowledge to teach a class with confidence. I have such a passion for exercise, and I want others to benefit from my education, and experience. Good luck! Dawn

  6. Can you describe what plyo heel digs and lateral shuffle steps are? Aerobic moves are not my specialty, so I know just the basic moves and that’s it!

    Thanks for the great article! I take my test on Dec 13th.

    • No problem! A “heel dig” is the same thing as a “step heel” — you step on the Right foot (count 1) then tap forward with your left heel (2) and reverse (3 4). The “plyo” only means you jump instead of stepping, so you end up with: jump on the right foot (1) tap the left heel (2) jump onto the left foot (3) tap the right heel (4). “Lateral Shuffle Steps” are side steps that scoot quickly to the left and usually move on the 1 & counts like: Step wide Right (1) step together left (&) repeat (2 & 3 &) Step right and pause to reverse (4) reverse shuffling to the left (5 & 6 & 7 & 8). Good questions! Hope the explanation makes sense. Good luck on your test — I hope you’ll come back and share with us!

  7. Thanks Krista!

    A couple of other questions about the warm-up. I am doing about 16 counts of each exercise the first time through (I have 5 exercises between the movement rehearse and limbering), then adding arms to the lower body exercises for another 16 counts of each, with a couple static stretching thrown in. Should I be adding arms to the lower body warmup exercises? I am starting out with out them, then adding them to about halfway through the warmup. Also, do you add arms at all to your initial moves in your CR workout? Like, would you add arms to the step touch, step heels, lunges or grapevine or just leave the arms out since you are going to be switching to impact moves after phrase 10? Why I’m asking is that when I add arms to my moves for the warm up, then when I switch to the CR workout (Phrase 1 to 10) without arms it seems like I am going down in intensity from where I was at the end of the warm up. Make sense? I think I may be making it harder than it should be though…maybe warmup can be all the same intensity, and you don’t need arms movements with lower body exercises…

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this information to all of us! My question is that for the group practical, in my study guide it asks us to demonstrate 2 strength exercises and one stretch per muscle grouping for the major muscle groups. Can I still do your four basic movements routine?

    • The basic movements I outlined are for the cardio demo, so yes, they can be used. The 2 strength one stretch are the next portion of the demo. Then, there is the individual presentation, where you’ll do one move at three levels. Hope that helps!

  9. I have a question, I took the AFAA group fitness exam this past Saturday, and I feel very comfortable with everything, however, when doing the cardio portion, I did jumping jacks and jogs, and cannot remember if I brought my heel to the ground. There were only 7 of us taking the exam. Is that enough to cause a retake? I know the muscle groups, individual presentation, and written were pretty solid. I did the jacks and such during our practice run, and didn’t have the instructors correct anything, so I’m not sure.

    • I honestly don’t know if they would make you retest for that. I do know that you did your best, you feel good about it, and so my only advice is just let it go. It won’t do you any good to worry about it at this point, and you won’t know what the proctor saw or didn’t see until you get the results back. However, if you find that you are losing sleep over it, you can always call AFAA and ask their policy specifically. Keep us updated!

  10. This is all new to me, I normally do not do any group exercising when I am at the gym, all machines and fre weights, I am taking the AFAA Test on Sept. 25 2010 and worried that I will not get any of the routines. I have read several blogs about the group and individual presentations and your advice and totally lost. what would you recommend?? I have followed a walking video that was pretty intense but have no idea about beats per min. or what the counts are etc.. I am so lost with what will be expected without following someone else. I so want to teach group fitness to Senior care and I know I have to pass this first, so what would you suggest I do? Please any help… I am going to study the guide book and fill in all the answers along with suggestions from above about index cards. I just need direction on routines and how to understand the different presentations. thanks for your suggestions from someone who just knows machines, free weights, treadmill, bike etc..

    • Joyce, the only thing I can tell you is to take one step at a time. There is a lot of information and a lot to get comfortable with. Set out a plan for yourself to get through the book, study guide and rehearse your movements. If you don’t have enough time to get to where you are sure you’ve got it, you can always postpone your workshop. There isn’t much more I can tell you, especially for what exists on other blogs, except maybe to start with post one and move slowly through them. Don’t stress about bpm or counting right now. Work with what you *do* know and go from there!!!

  11. I am not very good at demonstrating push ups and would love a couple suggestions for another demonstration for the individual presentation. Can a squat be presented in three levels? Any other suggestions. I would like to keep it simple.

    • Yes, Sue, a squat can be presented in 3 levels. The “beginner” squat is your basic squat. To progress it, you might add a knee lift at the top, or add an arm movement. To progress it further, you might add an explosive movement or plyometrics, or do it one-legged. Lots of ways to change it up! Prefer crunches? You could start with a basic crunch, progress to a double crunch (knees come in as shoulders lift) progress to bicycles. Every movement has a progression, the challenging part is defining it and articulating it.

  12. Hi, I have a question about the Warm-up section. When you say do 2-3 movements for each category, are you saying that in the limbering section I can do for example a march for let’s say 16 counts, then step touches 16 counts, then grapevine 16 counts, and then move onto the movement rehearsal and pick 2-3 out of each section and so on? Based on what you said, I’m taking it that I can do a total of 9 moves for the warm up and progress through each move on my own throughout the 3 minutes that they give us?

  13. I just wanted to say “THANK YOU!” for creating these posts. They have been so helpful. Before I found this website I was stressing, freaking out, and confused. I didn’t know and understand what to expect the I take my test. I am now more confident and less nervous to take my test. Thank you so much for writing the post. We all really appreciate it.

    Brittany Lopez

  14. Hello,
    So I had a question about the practical cardio part of the test. I am using 4 similar moves to the ones you have listed. And so as soon as the cardio portion starts, I planned to do 16cts of each 4 moves back to back, with an march at the end (not sure if necessary), then right away the same 4 moves except an 8 count of each and with arms, march then here i was thinking the first moves becomes more high impact such a s the skater moves such step touch= skater for 8ct, followed by all moves for 8 ct, march and then every round changing a move to a higher impact till they all are of higher intensity and to keep doing it till the cooldown. Would that be correct? Thanks!!

  15. I love your posts and they are really helping me. I will be taking my group exercise in a couple weeks and I am working on my practical. I am having some trouble trying to figure out the cardio portion. I was just wondering if when I start, do I just do lower impact moves, like step touches with no arms along with 3 more moves at a low impact and then just keep progressing to higher impact each round? I am so freaking out about the cardio part. I am not so great under pressure but I am building my confidence and going to do my best! This has always been my dream job seriously. I have already done the Spinning workshop and now this is my next step. Any help with the cardio part would be great! Thank you so much!

  16. I was wondering if while you’re doing your warm up and cardio section you have to be talking and cueing. Or do you just do it and not talk? There’s not much time for transitions and explaining what you’re doing so how will there be time to cue? I really hope we just have to perform it without talking.

  17. Pingback: AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips

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