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CPR Course Study Guide

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, more commonly known as CPR, is an essential life-saving procedure that everyone, not just healthcare professionals, should be familiar with. Whether you're an aspiring medical professional, a concerned parent, or a community-minded citizen, understanding the basics of CPR can equip you with the knowledge to intervene effectively during cardiac emergencies, potentially making the difference between life and death.

CPR course practice skills

Our CPR Certification Study Guide is designed to provide comprehensive and accessible information for individuals seeking to obtain their CPR certification. This guide goes beyond merely helping you pass your exam; it seeks to instill confidence and foster understanding of CPR procedures to ensure that you are well-prepared to respond appropriately in real-life emergencies.

From understanding the principles behind CPR to the step-by-step process of the technique itself, this guide covers a broad scope of topics. We'll delve into essential subjects such as the correct chest compression to breath ratio, the role of automated external defibrillators (AEDs), and the unique considerations when performing CPR on adults, children, and infants.

Additionally, this guide provides practical tips and advice for tackling the certification exam, as well as a 30-question mock test to help reinforce your learning and prepare you for the kind of questions you may face. With clear explanations, concise summaries, and interactive practice materials, our aim is to make the process of studying for your CPR certification as smooth and straightforward as possible.

Remember, the knowledge you gain through this study guide and your subsequent certification isn't just for your personal or professional advancement—it's knowledge that could one day save a life. We encourage you to approach this learning journey with dedication and a commitment to mastery. As you work your way through our CPR Certification Study Guide, you're not just studying for an exam, but preparing to be a potential lifeline in an emergency situation.

What is CPR?

The Definition and History of CPR

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, universally known as CPR, is a potentially life-saving medical procedure employed when someone's heart has stopped beating, a condition known as cardiac arrest. The process involves administering chest compressions and rescue breaths to create artificial circulation, thereby maintaining the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and other vital organs until further medical help arrives.

The journey of CPR through the ages is a fascinating one, showing how our understanding of the human body and its response to medical emergencies has evolved. The concept of CPR traces its roots back to the 1700s. In these early days, methods included the rather crude techniques of shaking a patient or rolling them over a barrel in attempts to resuscitate them.

However, the formal development of modern CPR began in the 20th century. In the early 1960s, the combined technique of chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was introduced. This new approach was based on research conducted by Dr. Peter Safar and Dr. James Elam, and it proved to be more effective than previous methods.

Over the next several decades, research and innovation refined CPR even further. The American Heart Association began to officially endorse CPR in 1963, paving the way for systematic training and widespread public awareness campaigns.

Today, CPR training includes not only the manual chest compressions and rescue breaths but also the use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to help restore a regular heartbeat.

Our understanding of CPR continues to evolve as researchers seek out the most effective methods to improve survival rates during cardiac emergencies. As a testament to its importance, every update or change in the CPR process is extensively studied and debated before being implemented, making it a continuously evolving practice that's committed to saving as many lives as possible.

two kids practicing CPR

The Science Behind CPR

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR, serves a critical function in emergency medical response, providing a glimmer of hope in dire situations where a person's heart has stopped beating. But how does it work exactly, and why is it so crucial in these moments of crisis?

At the core of understanding CPR is the role of oxygen in our bodies. Our cells need a continuous supply of oxygen to produce energy and function correctly. This oxygen is carried throughout the body by the bloodstream. When the heart stops beating, as in the case of cardiac arrest, this essential flow of oxygenated blood is disrupted, leading to cell damage and death, particularly in vital organs like the brain and heart.

CPR comes into play as an emergency procedure to manually restore this blood circulation. Through a cycle of chest compressions and rescue breaths, a person performing CPR essentially steps in to mimic the heart's function, artificially circulating blood throughout the body.

The chest compressions, performed with the hands placed one over the other at the center of the chest, manually pump the heart, pushing blood out to the body. These compressions should be relatively forceful and administered at a rate of 100-120 per minute, about the same rhythm as the beat of the song "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees.

In addition to chest compressions, rescue breaths also play a vital role in CPR.

By breathing into the person's mouth, the rescuer replenishes the oxygen levels in the patient's lungs. This oxygen can then be transported by the bloodstream to the body's cells when subsequent chest compressions are applied.

By maintaining the flow of oxygenated blood, CPR buys crucial time until more advanced medical help can arrive. It's worth noting that CPR itself does not restart a stopped heart. Instead, it keeps the body's vital organs supplied with oxygen and delays tissue death, providing a window of opportunity for medical professionals to use more advanced life-saving measures like defibrillation.


At the heart of Basic Life Support (BLS), including CPR, is a simple, easily remembered framework known as 'ABC': Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. Familiarizing yourself with this sequence and fully understanding each component is crucial for performing effective CPR, as it provides a systematic approach to life-saving care.

  1. Airway: The first step in this sequence involves ensuring the patient's airway is clear. An obstructed airway prevents oxygen from reaching the lungs, which can lead to brain damage and ultimately, cessation of life. To open the airway, use the head-tilt, chin-lift method. This action involves tilting the patient's head back and lifting the chin to open the airway.

  2. Breathing: Once the airway is clear, the next step is to confirm if the patient is breathing. This can be done by checking for chest movement, listening for breath sounds, and feeling for the patient's breath on your cheek and ear. If the patient is not breathing or is breathing irregularly (known as agonal breathing), rescue breaths should be provided. Each rescue breath should be given over one second and make the chest rise visibly.

  3. Circulation: In the context of BLS, 'circulation' refers to the movement of blood through the heart and around the body, which is a function performed by the heart. If the heart has stopped, circulation ceases, starving the body of oxygen. This is where chest compressions come into play. By administering chest compressions, the responder manually pumps the heart, helping circulate oxygenated blood to the brain and other vital organs.

The ABC framework provides an effective systematic approach to a life-threatening situation, helping improve a patient's chance of survival. This sequence ensures that the most critical elements for life are checked and restored in an orderly fashion.

CPR skill practice

The CPR Process

Understanding the Emergency Scenario and the Chain of Survival

The Chain of Survival is a four-step process that improves the victim's chances of survival. It includes recognizing the emergency and calling for help, early CPR, rapid defibrillation, and effective advanced life support.

Step-by-step Guide to Performing CPR

In this CPR certification study guide, we break down the steps of CPR, from assessing the scene to providing high-quality chest compressions and rescue breaths, until professional help arrives.

CPR for Different Age Groups

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) is an essential life-saving skill that can be applied in various emergencies to help individuals of any age, from infants to adults. However, the process of performing CPR does vary slightly depending on the age of the person in need. Knowing how to modify your CPR technique for different age groups is critical for performing effective and safe CPR.

cpr class

Adult CPR

Performing CPR on adults requires specific considerations. An adult's chest is larger and more durable than a child's or infant's, so more force can be applied during compressions.

The recommended depth for chest compressions in adults is at least 2 inches (approximately 5 centimeters). These compressions should be performed at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute, a rhythm akin to the beat of the song "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees.

After every 30 compressions, give two rescue breaths if you're trained to do so and willing and able. Position your mouth over the patient's, ensuring a complete seal, and breathe into their mouth while watching for chest rise, indicating successful breaths.

Child CPR

In children aged 1 year to puberty, the protocol changes slightly due to their smaller body size and fragility compared to adults. While the compression rate remains the same at 100-120 compressions per minute, the recommended depth of compressions is about 2 inches, which is likely to be a smaller proportion of the child's body than it would be for an adult.

Another difference is in the technique used to deliver these compressions. Depending on the size of the child and the strength of the rescuer, one or two-handed compressions can be used. One-handed compressions involve pressing down with the heel of one hand, with the other hand on the child's forehead keeping the airway open.

Two-handed compressions involve interlocking fingers and using the heels of both hands to compress the chest.

Infant CPR

Infant CPR, for those under one year of age, requires the most careful modifications. Due to their small size and fragility, extreme care must be taken. Rather than using the full hands, chest compressions on an infant should be performed using only two fingers (the index and middle fingers). The recommended depth of compressions for infants is approximately 1.5 inches (about 4 centimeters).

The compression rate is consistent with adult and child CPR, but given the size of the infant, be mindful that the relative impact of the compressions will be different. Additionally, when giving breaths to an infant, cover both the nose and mouth with your mouth to ensure effective delivery and watch for chest rise to confirm successful breaths.


Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs)

Using an AED

In a cardiac emergency, an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) can significantly increase a victim's chance of survival. This portable device delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart in an attempt to restore a regular heart rhythm following a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

SCAs often lead to irregular heart rhythms, known as arrhythmias, which prevent the heart from effectively pumping blood around the body. The electric shock provided by the AED can help "reset" the heart's rhythm to normal.

When to Use an AED

AEDs are used in the event of an SCA where the patient is unresponsive and not breathing or not breathing normally. It's essential to start CPR immediately and use an AED as soon as one becomes available.

How to Use an AED

Here's a simplified step-by-step guide on how to use an AED:

  1. Turn on the AED: This usually involves opening the lid or pressing the power button.

  2. Attach the Pads: Apply the adhesive pads to the patient's bare chest, as shown in the diagrams on the pad packaging. One pad should be placed on the right side of the chest, just below the collarbone, and the other should be placed on the lower left side of the chest.

  3. Stand Clear and Analyze: Once the pads are attached, the AED will begin to analyze the patient's heart rhythm. Ensure everyone stands clear of the patient during this process.

  4. Deliver the Shock: If the AED detects a shockable rhythm, it will instruct you to deliver a shock. Make sure everyone is clear of the patient, then press the shock button as directed.

  5. Resume CPR: After delivering the shock, immediately resume CPR beginning with chest compressions.

Importance of an AED in CPR

While CPR can buy valuable time until an AED is ready to use or until professional medical help arrives, it cannot restore a normal heart rhythm. An AED, however, can. The early use of an AED, along with CPR, can more than double a patient's chance of survival.

It's important to remember that while this guide provides an overview of how to use an AED, nothing replaces proper training and regular practice. To feel confident and competent in using an AED, you should complete a certified CPR/AED course. This training will provide hands-on practice with an AED and allow you to familiarize yourself with its operation under the guidance of a professional.

cpr heart

Practical Training and Assessment

Hands-on Practice

In CPR, theoretical knowledge is just as critical as practical skills. Hence, hands-on practice forms a significant part of your training and assessment.

The Value of Hands-On Practice

CPR is a physical skill. No amount of reading or watching demonstrations can replace the experience and understanding that comes from hands-on practice. In a class setting, you'll have the chance to practice techniques like chest compressions and rescue breaths on a mannequin. This realistic practice can help you grasp the right amount of pressure needed for effective compressions and get a feel for the pace required.

In addition, you'll often have access to an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) training unit. These units are designed to mimic the real-life operation of an AED without delivering an actual shock. They provide learners with the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the device and understand the steps to use it properly.

Evidence: The Importance of Practice

To highlight the importance of practical training, let's look at an anecdote: John, a gym trainer, took a CPR certification course but didn't take the hands-on practice seriously. He felt that watching the instructor and understanding the process was enough.

Months later, one of his clients collapsed during a workout. John found himself freezing, unable to remember the exact process of CPR despite having passed his certification exam.

Fortunately, another gym-goer who had also been certified in CPR stepped in and started administering chest compressions while John called 911. The client survived.

When John later reflected on the incident, he realized that his lack of hands-on practice had made him uncertain and hesitant in an emergency situation. He retook his CPR certification, this time ensuring he thoroughly practiced the techniques.

This story underscores how crucial hands-on training is. It not only helps you better remember the procedures but also builds confidence, allowing you to act promptly and effectively during a real-life cardiac emergency.

Assessment of Practical Skills

During your CPR certification course, your practical skills will be assessed to ensure you can perform CPR correctly. This assessment is done under the watchful eyes of trained professionals who provide immediate feedback, allowing you to correct your techniques and grow your competence.

Preparing for the CPR Certification Exam

Exam Format and Study Tips

Your CPR certification exam will likely have both written and practical components. Familiarize yourself with the format and study each section thoroughly. Take plenty of rest before the exam day and keep a confident mindset.


Refer to our recommended resources for further study, including books, websites, and apps that offer in-depth knowledge and additional practice materials to refine your skills.

Our aim is to help you pass your CPR certification exam with confidence. This guide is an essential resource on your path to becoming a life-saver. Be sure to keep practicing and reviewing our "CPR certification study guide" as you prepare for your exam. Good luck!



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Hey, I'm Steve Grella, founder of Lifeguard LI. It is my mission to teach every capable person CPR and lifesaving skills. My only question is, do you have what it takes to save a life?


About Our Founder

Steve Grella is a father of two young boys. He is a Police Detective, EMT, lifeguard trainer and swim instructor, who brings over 20 years of knowledge and expertise in safety and service. He has dedicated his life to educating students in vital lifesaving training and now strives to provide expert resources to arm you with the skills and training to one day save a life if called upon.

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