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I Am a CPLP! You Can Be, Too


Fri Apr 27 2018

I Am a CPLP! You Can Be, Too

My career has taken a long, winding way. I started out as a public school educator, teaching English and theater to grades seven through 12. Then I moved into corporate L&D, became an ATD member, and started learning about and working with adult learners. Though I kept my ATD membership from then on, I found myself veering down a technology manager career path for almost a decade.

When I finally came back around to training, I felt I had some things to prove—to those around me, certainly, but mostly to myself—as a learning and development professional. Though I had a great job, I felt vulnerable in an uncertain and very competitive job market and wanted to ensure that my skills were as up to industry standards as possible (just in case I found myself in search of my next employment opportunity). I started taking classes and webinars, and attended ATD conferences. Eventually, I learned about the CPLP certification and decided that this was my next goal.


The CPLP was an objective way for me to demonstrate to myself (and others) that I have the knowledge, experience, skills, and competencies to be a successful learning and development professional. But achieving the CPLP wasn’t going to be easy.

The two-part certification process involves first passing the Knowledge Exam, which assesses your grasp of 10 key areas of expertise (AOEs). These AOEs test you on everything from behavioral engineering and performance improvement analysis to instructional design and global cultural dynamics.

Once you’ve passed the Knowledge Exam, demonstrating you know your theory, you then need to pass the Skills Application Exam (SAE), indicating you know how to apply these theories to real-world scenarios in your choice of one of three AOEs (instructional design, training delivery, or managing learning programs).

These exams aren’t easy, but there are tips and tools that can assist you. And I believe obtaining this certification was instrumental in my recent promotion to director. So, I’m happy to share what I did that allowed me to pass both examinations on the first try.

I purchased (and devoured) the ATD Learning System. This is the one indispensable resource you need to obtain the CPLP. It’s organized around all the AOEs, and has chapter quizzes, a master glossary, and study guides to help you prepare. Because it’s accessible from any Internet-connected device, I was able to study on the train, while waiting in line, during lunch hour, or any time I had a few minutes to focus. I’m certain I read through the entire system a dozen times. Essential!


I attended an online CPLP workshop. This workshop answered some of my initial questions about the Certification Handbook, encouraged me to plan out my study process, and started me on my study journey. I think I’d have gotten more out of this workshop had I been farther down the road in my CPLP study work, however.

I created my own flashcards. This was one of the most time-consuming yet most useful activities I undertook in my CPLP journey. Using the learning objectives for each chapter of the Learning System, I hand-wrote an enormous stack of flashcards that I carried everywhere in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. I quizzed myself often, and asked family to quiz me on a frequent basis as well. This was an indispensable activity for me.

I took the free pCPLP practice exam multiple times. Once I’d studied for a bit, I tested my knowledge with the practice exam available through ATD’s website. This not only helped me get a feel for the examination experience, but by breaking down my final scores by AOE, it also showed me which areas needed more study. After studying those areas, I took the practice exam again to try to improve my scores. Another key element to my success!

I studied anywhere, everywhere. In the final days and weeks before my exams, my home and office cubicle became classrooms. I drew diagrams and models on my bathroom mirrors at home and doodled them in meetings. I found colorful study materials on the Internet, printed them out, and taped them to kitchen cupboards, refrigerators, walls, and cubicle shelves. I filled my laptop and mobile phone with reference materials and test-taking tips, and studied during my commute and even when traveling. I enlisted the help of my husband and little sister—it really takes a village sometimes! (And they likely learned a lot themselves in the process.)

Don’t wait between exams. Because I was in the group on the cusp—when the Work Product requirement was soon to change to the Skills Application Exam—I opted to wait. I think it would have been a much easier process had I been able to jump right into studying for the SAE immediately after the Knowledge Exam. I recommend that approach.


Clicking the Submit button for each of the exams was particularly nerve-wracking. For the Knowledge Exam, you learn immediately whether you’ve passed. The Skills Application Exam is different. I took it in November and waited until February to learn the results. It was an agonizing interval . . . but the relief, thrill, and joy at getting those results will never dim. I am a CPLP—and you can be, too!

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