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Lessons Learned Along the Way


Thu May 04 2017

Lessons Learned Along the Way

For those considering Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) certification—or those currently studying—please know that preparing for this goal is difficult. If it were easy, everyone would be certified.

I discovered the CPLP certification in December 2013 while researching instructional design information. I took the online practice test at that time. Although my overall score was only 49 percent, four of the content areas were within striking distance of the passing goal. I was encouraged, but didn’t act right away. I decided to keep this certification information for future consideration.


Eventually, I enrolled in the year-long Preparing for the CPLP: On-Demand Course in August 2015, which gave me access to the ATD Learning System. This resource is more than 1,000 pages long!

At first, I would simply work through the online modules and activities, then read the corresponding chapters in the ATD Learning System. The content seemed logical and understandable, but after checking the results of my answers for the review questions, I realized I was not comprehending the information, or else not retaining it for very long.

I had to change my approach.

As I adjusted my process, I was reminded of three valuable lessons:

Lesson 1: Reading Isn’t Learning

My previous certification study efforts were more than 15 years ago, for the American Payroll Association’s (APA’s) Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) certification. It took quite a while for me to remember the process that I used successfully for the CPP certification. Once my memory was jogged, I created notecards and studied them during morning walks to enhance my study efforts. I also graded and tracked the progress of review questions, using the results to adjust my focus along the way.


Unlike APA’s certification exams—which are based on federal laws and regulations—ATD’s are updated at various times. During my study, several chapters were revised or corrected, and one new chapter was added. When I started this journey, I honestly didn’t realize my goal was a moving target! I’m not sure if my experience is typical, or if it was simply a matter of timing based on when I began the program.

Another difference: APA certifications involve one exam with immediate results. But the CPLP exam consists of two exams: the Knowledge Exam, with immediate results, and the Skills Application Exam, with results provided seven to eight weeks later. The Knowledge Exam must be passed before proceeding on to the Skills Application Exam.

Another moving target: When I first began my study, the second certification requirement was a Work Product submission. This requirement changed midyear to the Skills Application Exam. I’m so grateful I paid attention to these changes along the way.

Lesson 2: Our Brains Skip Words When We Read

During my organization’s certification prep courses, we often remind students to carefully read each exam question. There are no trick questions, but poor reading skills may cause us to answer the wrong question. Skimming words usually isn’t a problem while reading a novel, but this can be disastrous when taking an exam. The On-Demand Course provided a great tip: Read every question twice before answering it. This ensures that we read every word, which should help us better understand the actual question being asked.

Lesson 3: Go With Your Gut

During both exams, I recalled a certification tip that we also give our candidates: When you are thoroughly prepared, if you don’t know the answer to a question, use your intuition. Why? It often guides you to the correct answer. And once you’ve followed your intuition, don’t even think about changing that answer! Don’t second-guess yourself.


Throughout my CPLP journey, a favorite topic was ATD’s human performance improvement model. Although we may think we know the reason for a problem, it may not necessarily be the root cause. This structured process helps us map out business needs and analyze gaps. Then we can study the root cause to resolve the issue. Because the reason may not be what we originally thought, we shouldn’t leave anything to chance by using this structured process. I certainly look forward to incorporating it during future improvement initiatives. 

Now, when I teach my organization’s certification study courses, I find the CPLP experience even more valuable. I remember how hard it was to study for something you don’t necessarily do daily. This empathy is very important: My students know I’m rooting for them even more so now because I recently went through the process again myself.

Yes, preparing for CPLP certification is hard work—but what a worthy goal! Through carefully crafted design, dedication, and determination, you too may join the nearly 2,000 professionals who have earned this elite distinction!

Learn more about the CPLP Certification.

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