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ATD Blog

Begin With the End in Mind By Amy Shilliday (CPLP Cetrtified)


Thu Jul 27 2017


I began my Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) journey like many in our industry do: I was eager to put my more than 16 years of experience to the test and prove that I could sit at the grownups’ table. I’d kicked around the idea of pursing the certification for a while. My catalyst was that I had joined a training department that, despite its size, contained fewer than four L&D professionals; the rest were seasoned employees who had worked their way up the ranks and were well versed in the business, but knew little about how people learn. I wanted to make a solid contribution to the department by helping shape how we designed and delivered training programs. I knew that as the new kid on the block, I needed a boost to prove my mettle. Armed with this goal, I convinced my bosses to sponsor my CPLP effort.

I registered for the CPLP program just weeks before it changed–the Work Product I had carefully planned was being replaced by a comprehensive online exam. Change is itchy, but I took a deep breath and told myself, “I can handle this.”


I decided to invest in the ATD Learning System. Interestingly, for a profession that prides itself on recognizing the need for a multimodal approach to learning, this impressive study aid was predominantly a dry read, with very few images. I happen to be a visual learner, so while the information was valuable, the delivery vehicle was a bit painful for me.

I took the first online practice test and failed miserably—which was a good thing, because I knew what areas I needed to focus on if I was going to pass the Knowledge Exam. However, my approach was not especially well thought out. I read through the sections in which I’d performed the worst and hoped it would be enough.

It wasn’t. I failed my first attempt at the Knowledge Exam. It was a close miss, mind you, but still a failure. I was devastated. I’d never failed a test in my entire life! I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to give it another try. I waited a couple of months, and decided that I was going to use my failed experience as a measure of what not to do. I registered to retake the exam. Only this time, I created a study plan.

There are some excellent, for-profit study programs available. If your company is willing to sponsor this, fantastic. By the time I decided to commit to retaking the exam, I had left the previous training department for a different venture, and my professional development became my own investment. I built a study plan that made sense for my learning style, my available time to commit, and the topics I wanted to cover.

Knowing that I’d struggled with the massive ATD Learning System, I looked to online resources to supplement that material. Quizlet proved useful, because I found flashcards that helped me. And then I had my epiphany: Pinterest. I found scores of infographics on Pinterest! For a visual learner, I felt I’d struck gold. Those colorful images helped sear the information into my brain. I printed some of them and taped them to sections of the Learning System. I created my own boards on Pinterest to categorize the infographics like they were cataloged in the Learning System. I had my mojo back.


When I retook the Knowledge Exam, I experienced the same moment many of my predecessors had—the one that had crushed me months earlier. There is a heartbeat or two between submitting your exam and getting the results. I literally held my breath and covered my eyes. All I needed to see was the word congratulations and I teared up—I’d done it this time! My first text was to my then-boyfriend, who’d witnessed my devastation with the first results. Then I started calling my former colleagues, the ones who’d stood in my corner through the entire process. And then it was time to think about the next step: the Skills Application Exam (SAE).

I pulled the two sections I wanted to review out of the study guide and housed them in a new binder. Considerably lighter, my new study aid felt less overwhelming. I printed the case study practice exercises from the CPLP prep website. I made my own flashcards. I was glued to Pinterest. I had about three weeks to prepare for the SAE. But I knew I could handle this.

I took the SAE in mid-December. The questions were hard and thought-provoking. I paced myself. I reviewed every answer when I’d finished, and altered a few as a result. And then I hit “submit.” You don’t get these results immediately, so I resigned myself to wait out the next few weeks. I’d done my best, and at this point, there was nothing to do except wait.

I’ll never forget receiving the email that the results were available. I was at my boyfriend’s house, waiting on an auto repair. I had a few hiccups logging in to the test site to view the results. After two phone calls to tech support and some password and cache tweaks, I got in—and again was taken aback by that very first word: congratulations. More tears. I’d finally done it. I’d joined the Jedi Council of Learning and Development.

I rushed to change my email signature and update my LinkedIn profile. I dropped the requisite social media blast. I am immensely proud of the hard work I put in to accomplish this. I’m proud of the years I’ve devoted to the art of learning. And I’m excited to help others achieve the exact same feeling.


My advice? Begin with the end in mind. Don’t rush anything. Pick a future date for the initial exam, and create a study plan backward from that point. Make your study time a priority. Don’t assume you’ll do well just because you’ve been in the role for a while. Use unconventional resources: Pinterest was my saving grace!

Best wishes to those who decide to embark on this journey. We’re all pulling for you.

Learn more about the CPLP Certification.

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