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Trainer by Accident, APTD on Purpose

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The APTD Learning System was my first exposure to formalized training in the talent development field. Webinars, reading, networking, and on-the-job experience have been my primary sources of development since I became an “accidental trainer” in 2013.

The Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) certification has been on my radar since first joining ATD, but it always seemed out of reach and way beyond what I would ever need or want to pursue. When I read about the new Associate Professional in Talent Development (APTD) credential, I knew immediately it was something I wanted to achieve. It seemed to be a perfect fit for my role and an opportunity for me to solidify the informal learning I had done. And, what an honor to be part of the first group taking it!

I applied and was thrilled to be accepted a few weeks later.

I knew this was going to be hard. I would need to study a lot, so I created a plan to balance studying with work and family obligations. All-night cram sessions were barely successful in college; I knew I had no chance of them being helpful now.

Here’s what worked for me:

  • I scheduled my test date as soon as the window opened. That gave me a definite target and allowed me to plan my studying.
  • From July to September, I committed three to 10 hours of time on my calendar each week to studying. My commute to and from the office (an hour each way by train) was a big chunk of that time. Lunch breaks became study halls. I woke up early and stayed up late some days. I took breaks from studying too, but never more than a week.
  • I read the Learning System materials. Then I reread them. I highlighted, took notes, and then reread them again.
  • I kept a study notebook for notes and points of review. I tracked my quiz scores and prep course progress. I also kept notes regarding things I wished were different with the materials and prep course. I figured ATD would be seeking feedback, and these notes came in handy when the survey came out shortly after the testing window closed.
  • I completed the prep course. I think participation was limited in this first round, or perhaps people were just like me and a bit timid at engaging in the message boards and chats. The content was good, but the lack of interaction was disappointing.
  • I created my own quizzes from the sample questions in both the prep course and learning system. I created flashcards—I wrote old-school index cards, and used a free online tool.

I walked into the testing center with confidence. I totally had this.

After about 15 questions on the exam, I knew I had missed some things in my studying. At the end of my first run-through, I had marked about 30 questions for review. Going through the questions again, I really started to worry. Did I know as much as I thought I did? Why was I having trouble confidently answering so many of these questions?


I walked out of the testing center feeling somewhat defeated, beyond the normal self-doubt I tend to have. This test was beyond the difficulty I had prepared for. I was certain I was not going to pass, even though the cut score was unknown. And now I needed to wait more than two months to learn my results!

I quickly started to re-evaluate my study approach and analyze what I could have done differently to prepare. On the train ride home, I jotted notes in my study notebook. I needed to remember these thoughts for when I studied to retake the test. This process helped me realize that my study approach was not wrong, just incomplete.

Here’s what I would have added to my study approach:

  • Join a study group, or be brave enough to start one. Early in the prep course, a couple of us messaged about starting one up, but nothing ever developed. I was afraid of having the responsibility, but I missed a huge opportunity to learn from others. I found the study group on LinkedIn too late for all the call-in discussions, but the support offered on the message board was invaluable to me nonetheless. I knew I was not alone on this journey.
  • Focus on the content, and don’t over-focus on the example questions in the learning system and prep course. They are there to give you guidance and general reinforcement, but do not represent exam questions verbatim. In the Learning System, I found myself rushing through chapters to tackle the questions I knew were at the end. Scoring well on my practice quizzes became part of my main focus. I knew this was wrong, but I was so enthralled with improving my scores every time that I did not grasp the breadth of the content in the chapters.

Imagine my relief when I got the news I had passed. I was disappointed in my score though, and I am certain it would have been better had I included the added steps. The CPLP seems less out of reach for me now, and I have confidence that my updated study plan will help me be successful!

About the Author

Sarah Hackenmueller is the education coordinator for the Client Technology Solutions team at Faegre Baker Daniels. She coordinates technical training for a specialized technology team. Sarah also assists in drafting documentation for users of the legal technology tools in the firm. She is also responsible for maintaining the team’s intranet content. Sarah is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Sociology.

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