Like a good number of us, I’m an accidental instructional designer. I started off by writing training in addition to normal job duties, then shifted into training delivery, and then later into instructional design as my full-time job. On that journey, I used both formal and informal learning to gain expertise.
It wasn’t until I helped write a certification exam about my former company’s software that I truly realized how effective certifications are at measuring and validating areas of expertise (AOEs). Compared with other professional development opportunities, such as getting a master’s degree, I saw certification as having a much higher return on investment.
I had heard of the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance Certification (CPLP), but the Associate Professional in Talent Development Certification (APTD) really focused on the AOEs in my wheelhouse and daily work. I signed up for the beta offering of the APTD and took the exam in September 2017. After completing (and passing!) the exam, I saw three keys to my success that could help you too.
Make Room for Social Learning
I highly recommend using ATD’s APTD Learning System, which is masterfully organized and includes plenty of practice questions. I also recommend creating or growing your personal learning network so you encounter instructional design, training delivery, and learning technologies on an everyday basis.
I’m particularly fond of Twitter; I follow L&D folks from around the world who post interesting articles and stories about their own work. There were a few times during the APTD exam where I specifically remembered reading articles about the question’s concept on Twitter. Because social media can also be a huge distraction, I limit who I follow to those who post on L&D topics almost exclusively. You’ll find L&D communities in Facebook and LinkedIn groups as well, so take your pick!
Practice Using Spaced Repetition
The APTD exam covers a lot of material, and you likely won’t know everything when you start preparing to take the exam. Rather than reviewing content from beginning to end, plan to review important concepts at spaced intervals to refresh your memory. Creating your own notes or flashcards is a great way to do this.
I took flashcards one step further and used a free program called Anki to make electronic flashcards that I could review on my computer and phone. While reviewing cards, you rate their ease or difficulty so it shows easy cards less often and more difficult cards more often. I also liked Anki because you can add in graphics, like a picture of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
On Test Day, Remember You’re Taking a Certification Test
We’re all familiar with the types of tests you take in school. In the United States, you typically need to get above 90 percent for top marks. Certification tests are not like that!
Every question on a certification exam is written to measure a minimally qualified candidate. A minimally qualified candidate is still a qualified candidate.
You won’t see a wide range of difficulty in questions like you would in a test for school, and you definitely won’t see answer options that can easily be thrown out or used as hints for other questions. This will naturally be more difficult than the tests you’re used to.
While your studying and preparation should focus on getting every question right, leave that idea behind on the day of testing. Someone who scored 100 percent on the exam and someone who scored exactly enough to reach the cut score will both pass the exam. Don’t beat yourself up during the exam if you don’t know the answers to a couple of questions—stay calm and keep going.
Preparing for a certification exam is a sizable task. However, out of everyone on the planet, we’re the ones most equipped to take it on. Leverage everything you know about adult learning theory to make a plan that fits your schedule and existing knowledge. You won’t regret the hours of studying once you’ve earned your APTD!