man walking over blocks

APTD: First Step of the Certification Journey

Monday, November 19, 2018

Back when I first started in learning and development nearly eight years ago, I recall reading about the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) credential. I remember thinking that if this area proved to be something I wanted to pursue, then perhaps I’d want to take the CPLP.

Fast-forward to January 2017 (six years later), and I’m still in learning and development. I decided that this was the year I was going to buckle down and study for the CPLP. I purchased the online CPLP prep course and began studying, splitting my time reading the Learning System and working through the online modules. At the risk of aging myself, I will admit it’s been nearly 20 years since I was a college student. I’d forgotten what it’s like to make studying my full-time priority. When you work full-time and have family commitments, hobbies, and other things competing for your attention, it can be difficult to make studying a regular part of your routine. Needless to say, my best-laid plans to study and sign up for the CPLP exam were waylaid.

At the beginning of 2018, and I realized that my access to the CPLP Learning Portal is about to expire. I feverishly tried to complete the modules and get back on track with my studying. It didn’t go well, and I found myself frustrated and overwhelmed with the sheer volume of material. I’m not one to quit anything, but I started to doubt my ability to study and pass the exam.

Then at work one day, I was reviewing the messages in my inbox when I noticed an ATD email announcing an upcoming webinar on the Associate Professional in Talent Development (APTD) credential. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard about the APTD. Even though the subject matter closely aligned with my experience and current role—I was past the early point in my training and development career—I figured it wasn’t really for me. But I was still willing to consider it, and decided to explore it further.

I reached out to Sue Kaiden, ATD’s project manager for credentialing. Talking to her was very helpful and convinced me that I should start my certification journey.

The biggest factor for me was that the APTD focuses on five areas, rather than 10. And even though there are five areas to study, only three of them contribute to the weighting of the exam. Sue also told me that if I successfully passed the APTD, I would be able to test out of those three areas of expertise if I pursued my CPLP down the road. In training, we often talk about the importance of chunking material and putting information into bite-sized segments; why should studying for the certification exam be any different? I finally had a game plan that I thought I could tackle!

Sue also told me about the new “Preparing for the APTD” instructor-led workshop. The next session was going to be in San Diego, offered as certificate program prior to the ATD 2018 International Conference & Exposition. Since I was already going to the conference, I decided to sign up for the class. I wanted to take every opportunity possible that could help me pass the exam, which I ended up scheduling for August 2018.


There were only four of us in my prep course, which made for great participation and discussion. It’s worth mentioning that this class is not a typical exam prep course; it focuses more on the content and concepts of the material the exam covers and how they can be applied, rather than sticking strictly to study tips and techniques (although those things are touched on). As talent development professionals, we know application is the best way to learn a concept, and that is the intent of the prep course. Being able to apply the content back to our work reinforces the material, better equipping us for the exam.

Back home after the prep course, I developed a study plan to follow until my exam date. I decided to give myself one full week to cover a module in the Learning System, meaning that I would review the entire system in five weeks. This gave me some flexibility so that if I missed studying one day, I could spend more time on it another day, as long as I was on track to complete that module within the week. Overall, my study plan worked well; and despite some life events that popped up along the way, I was able to review the Learning System in full, twice.

My final week of studying, I reviewed all the quiz questions and retook the practice exam. I was pleased that I had a passing score on the practice exam, which gave me some confidence when I walked into the exam provider’s office.

I know others who have taken the APTD exam say how difficult it was, and I echo those sentiments. Only a few minutes into the exam, I had no clue how to answer the first few questions. I started to panic, thinking I knew nothing. (It’s worth noting that none of the questions on the practice exam or quizzes is repeated on the full exam.)


I took a deep breath, answered the questions I knew, flagged the ones that gave me difficulty, and paced myself. After carefully reviewing all the questions and committing to my answers, I had about 20 minutes left on the clock. I decided to go back and assess my confidence level on each of my answers. The good news was, there were fewer than 10 questions that I had to guess. The rest of them I was either very confident in my response or reasonably confident that I was on the right track. With five minutes to spare, I submitted my exam.

On my way out the door, the exam proctor handed me a slip of paper with my results. I quickly skimmed the words on the page, looking for what I most wanted to see: “Passed.”

There they were. I passed?! Yes!

I was so relieved! As for lessons learned, I’d recommend reviewing the Learning System at least four or five times and paying close attention to the concepts, charts, and graphs. The exam questions are quite detailed and can really get into the nitty-gritty elements. Don’t focus too much on the specific practice exam or module quiz questions, as you won’t likely see them on the full exam. However, they are a good representation of the format and types of questions you will encounter.

I am pleased to have earned the APTD credential, which validates my investment and commitment to this profession. I look forward to continuing my career in talent development. I still plan to pursue the CPLP, and the completion of the APTD is the first step on that journey.

Learn more about becoming an APTD.

About the Author

Victoria Nelson recently joined Slalom Consulting in their brand-new role of technical learning specialist. She designs and develops learning and practicing experiences for Slalom’s systems and technologies.

Prior to Slalom, Victoria worked at Quorum Review IRB for nine years as a learning solutions specialist on the corporate training team, developing her craft as an instructional designer and trainer. In this role, she was responsible for both creating and sourcing a variety of training and development opportunities for the organization, facilitating new employee orientation and other classroom and lab sessions, managing the IRB industry’s professional certification program for Quorum, and serving as LMS administrator.

A native of Seattle, she enjoys spending her spare time in her craft room, making cards and scrapbooking. A lifelong learner, she appreciates trying out new experiences. Her most recent winter adventure has been learning to ski. She enjoys building her skills and courage on the slopes with her husband.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.