How Can I Prepare to Take the NCTRC Exam? 

How Can I Prepare to Take the NCTRC Exam You may be wondering, “How do I get started?”, “How can I prepare to take the NCTRC exam?”, and “How do NCTRC and CTRS relate?” You need not worry; we’ve laid it all out for you. Taking the next step towards becoming an accredited fitness professional or recreational therapist? Getting accredited by NCTRC (National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification) is a great way to move forward in your career as a physical fitness specialist, and to help people who require moving at a different speed in their exercises.  No matter who you choose to help as a recreational therapist, you will be making a difference in their life, their family’s life and in the fitness world in general, and NCTRC can set you up for success to do exactly that.  

How Can I Prepare to Take the NCTRC Exam?

Preparing for the NCTRC (National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification) exam requires a combination of comprehensive studying and practical experience. Begin by thoroughly understanding the content areas of the exam, which include foundational knowledge, assessment process, planning and implementation of interventions, evaluation of programs and services, and professional ethics. Obtain study guides and practice exams related to these areas to familiarize yourself with the type of questions asked. Aside from these, it’s essential to obtain practical experience by engaging in internship programs in therapeutic recreation. Join study groups, take online courses, and attend relevant workshops and seminars for greater understanding and better retention. Lastly, schedule your study time properly and be consistent, ensuring that you remain healthy and stress-free during your preparation period.  


National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification, or NCTRC, is an organization that provides notable certification for those who are in the profession of therapeutic recreation. In order to get certified as a CTRS (a certified recreational therapist), one must prepare to take the NCTRC exam, which will provide professional eligibility in a career of recreational therapy.  

There are seven specific areas that NCTRC recognizes and awards:

  • Adaptive sports and recreation
  • Behavioral health
  • Community inclusion services
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Geriatrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Physical medicine/rehabilitation 
Though you may be drawn to a specific area or areas of interest, each of these provide an excellent selection for professionals.  

How to Obtain a Preferred Designated Interest

Obtaining your preferred area of interest requires some prior knowledge. For example, if you want to go into pediatrics, you will need to research and study how children with illnesses and/or disabilities interact and work with certain activities and how this may be different from adults. The same goes for geriatrics; what do you need to be aware of for helping seniors meet their physical or mental goals? These are surely different from children’s.   

In order to prove your prior knowledge, you’ll need to make sure to have the following items under your belt:

  • Educations programs
  • Conferences focused upon specific skills or diagnostic populations
  • Relevant internships or jobs

NCTRC Exam: Overview

In order to become a certified therapeutic recreational specialist (CTRS), you must complete the NCTRC exam as a prerequisite. The exam is three hours long and consists of 150 items. It is recommended that individuals mark questions they are unsure of and return to them as time permits. Each question should be attempted, however. The test is based on a pass/fail score report. Once you have passed the test, you are eligible to move on to becoming a CTRS, and add the achievement to your fitness professional resume.  

Preparing for the NCTRC Exam

NCTRC provides many resources for those gearing up to take their certification exam, which can be found on their website. Note: third party exam reviews and studying materials are not endorsed by NCTRC. NCTRC provides the following exam preparation materials, which are all great ways to make sure you are 100% ready for your exam:  

General Exam Information

  • Fast facts
  • Fast facts with accommodations

Exam Specifications

  • Exam content outline
  • Job analysis
  • Exam reference list

Exam Review

  • Practice questions (requires a fee)
  • Sample questions

Exam Times and Fees

NCTRC lists several deadlines, exam times and fees for their catalog of exams. Exam times can change based on the year that you register, but typically there is a window once a month, every other month (January, March, May, July, September, and November all have designated exam times).  

As far as cost, the application fees are as follows:

NCTRC exam fee $325
New application for professional eligibility $125
CTRS reentry fee $80
Recertification fee $105
Exam reschedule fee $25

About CTRS

Now that you understand how to prepare to take (and pass!) the NCTRC exam, you can move on the path of becoming a CTRS.  In order to officially become a certified therapeutic recreational therapist (CTRS), you’ll need to follow a specialized program through NCTRC. The program has several paths to obtaining a certificate, and once your specific path is selected and completed, you can gain even more NCTRC professional eligibility.  A certified therapeutic recreational specialist (CTRS) is a qualified professional who provides recreational therapy services. They work to improve the emotional, mental and physical well-being of sick or disabled individuals and often work in nursing care facilities, hospitals, social assistance and more.   

Some things that CTRS professionals typically do on a day-to-day basis include the following:

  • Observe patients and assess their needs based on medical records and behavior, and discuss findings with their family and healthcare providers
  • Develop treatment plans based on patient needs, wants and interests
  • Meet with clients about their goals, and help them see them through by effectively encouraging them
  • Help patients learn skills that will allow them to become and remain independent on different levels (cognitively, emotionally, physically, etc.)
  • Document patients’ progress in every area
  • Introduce patients to activities and engage them in games and exercise for therapeutic purposes
No matter who a recreational specialist is coaching, they are there for support, growth and helping their patients maintain their well-being and overall health. While they help their patients do this by means of recreational activities, it is important to note that the activities they organize provide way more than just enjoyment.  

What Are the Important Skills to Have as a CTRS?

As with any career, it is important for recreational therapists to have certain skill sets in order to be successful. These include:
  • Listening skills – to listen to your patients’ struggles, wants, needs, and interests, and gear this towards the work you do with them.
  • Leadership skills – to guide your patients in exercises and problem solving, and to correct them appropriately when you need to.
  • Patience – to make sure your clients are seeing success at their own speed, as well as learning and practicing new skills correctly.
  • Resourcefulness – to provide the best exercises, games, etc. for each client. Remember, not everyone will benefit from the same one!
  • Speaking skills – communication is key in every job you will have, but effectively communicating with people who have disabilities is highly important, and could take practice.
  • Compassion – be kind to your patients. Be passionate about helping them and thoughtful of their struggles, as they could very well be facing emotional or physical stress underneath their physical demeanor.

Paths to CTRS Certification

There are two acceptable paths to achieving your CTRS certification, which will then allow you to become eligible to sit in the certification exam:  

Academic Path

This path is designed for the traditional academic graduate and includes three steps:
  • Completion of Bachelor degree or higher with a concentration in recreational therapy (therapeutic recreation)
  • Completion of a minimum 14 week/560 hour internship supervised by a CTRS
  • Successful completion of the NCTRC certification exam

Equivalency Paths

These paths are designed for students who have already completed a significant amount of work in recreational therapy, as well as specific coursework.  

Equivalency Path A (will be phased out July 2021):

  • Completion of a Bachelor degree or higher
  • Completion of specific coursework in recreational therapy/therapeutic recreation
  • Five years of full-time paid work experience in recreational therapy/therapeutic recreation
  • Successful completion of the NCTRC certification exam

Equivalency Path (effective July 2019):

  • Completion of a Bachelor degree or higher
  • Completion of specific coursework in recreational therapy/therapeutic recreation
  • Paid work experience that uses the therapeutic recreation process under the supervision of a CTRS
  • Successful completion of the NCTRC certification exam
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What CTRS Recertification: Navigating the Renewal Process

Additionally, to continue enhancing their expertise and maintaining the high standards of their certification, Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS) must undergo recertification every five years. This process ensures that professionals stay updated on the latest advancements in their field. Here’s an in-depth look at the renewal requirements:

Renewal Options:

  1. Work Experience and Continuing Education:
    • Continuing Education Credits: To maintain their certification, recertifying CTRS professionals are expected to complete a minimum of 50 hours of continuing education credits within the five-year period. Furthermore, these credits encompass a diverse range of topics relevant to therapeutic recreation, such as emerging trends, research findings, and advancements in practice.
    • Professional Work Experience: Alongside continuing education, individuals must accumulate a minimum of 480 hours of professional work experience during the recertification cycle. This hands-on experience ensures that CTRS practitioners stay engaged in their field, applying theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios.
  2. National Certification Exam:
    • Alternatively, individuals have the option to recertify by passing the National Certification Exam. This option is ideal for those who prefer a comprehensive examination to demonstrate their proficiency and commitment to maintaining the highest standards in therapeutic recreation. Successfully passing the exam reaffirms the individual’s expertise and dedication to the profession.

CTRS Recertification Fees

  Recertification for CTRS is $25, plus the annual maintenance fee of $80. The NCTRC website has more in-depth information, but you can refer to the chart below for more CTRS recertification fees:  
CTRS recertification fee (non-refundable) $25
CTRS recertification late submission fee $50
CTRS annual maintenance fee $80
Exam registration fee $325
Exam reschedule fee $25
CTRS reinstatement fee $25
Continuing education approval process review fee $35

Special Strong Certification

Just as becoming a certified recreational therapist involves the determination and compassion to work with individuals who have illnesses or disabilities, getting certified as a Special Strong trainer provides specialized fitness goals for individuals with disabilities such as autism and Down Syndrome.  Building onto your NCTRC and CTRS certificates with a certification in Special Strong truly goes hand and hand, because it is rewarding in the same ways that getting your NCTRC/CTRS certificates are. The two share many of the same benefits, passion, and goals for both you and your clients. Not to mention, they are both highly respectable lines of work. Learn more about Special Strong here.   Strong Education teaches personal trainers and service providers on how to adapt fitness and nutrition for children, adolescents, and adults with autism, Down Syndrome, and other disabilities through our online adaptive special needs certification course.

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