One Down, One to Go

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I’m happy to report that I successfully passed the Knowledge Exam of the CPLP certification process on Thursday.  Passage of the Knowledge Exam entitles me to study for another 3 months and take the Skills Application Exam in November.

Before moving on to the Skills Application Exam, I thought I’d share how I went about studying for the Knowledge Exam.

Established My Baseline

Before I started studying, I took the practice exam that ATD provides in order to establish a baseline score that I could gauge my progress against.  In effect, an understanding of the base knowledge I was bringing to the effort.  I scored a 63 when a 65 is needed to pass the Knowledge Exam.  Not a Herculean task, but I clearly had work to do.

Mind Maps

The first challenge, in my mind, was how was I going to process the 1000 pages of the “Learning System” – the corpus of information, based on the ATD Competency Model, that could be on the exam.  10 Areas of Expertise (AOE) and a unit on the Global Mindset Foundational Competency were broken down into 10 +/- Key Knowledge Areas each.

I knew simply reading and highlighting wouldn’t be enough for me to retain the information so I decided to mind map the content for each Key Knowledge Area.   (I use Mindmeister as my mind mapping tool.)

There was definitely an upside to this strategy.  I found summarizing and organizing the content into the maps was very helpful in processing the information and the natural groupings of the content aided review.  The downside was that they took a substantial amount of time to create.  I ended up not being able to create them for every Key Knowledge Area.  Here is one of them that you can peruse.

10.5 0rganizational Systems, Culture, and Political Dynamics (Click to Open in Mindmeister

I’m not sure if it was a positive or a negative, but the mind maps like this one for 10.5 – Organizational Systems, Culture, and Political Dynamics demonstrated very clearly the sheer volume of content covered by the Knowledge Exam.  There are over 75 Key Knowledge Area sections.  You do the math.

Virtual Study Group

The Rocky Mountain Chapter of ATD, along with 5 other co-host chapters, sponsors a virtual study group once in the spring/summer and another in the fall.  I decided to enroll in the Spring/Summer cohort that ran every Tuesday evening from mid-April to the end of June.

The weekly sessions were conducted with a teach-back methodology covering one AOE per week.  Participants were expected to select one of the Key Knowledge Areas and prepare a presentation/review/lesson to present to the cohort that week.  This action learning strategy was definitely helpful in learning the content.  But for me, it served an even greater purpose in time management.  If it weren’t for the schedule of the study group, I’m a bit afraid where I would have ended up trying to sort through all of that information.

The study group was facilitated by a group of CPLP’s led by Shannon Wzientek, CPLP.  Shannon, Mary, Trudy, and Lori not only took care of the administrative issues involved in running the group sessions, but they also provided invaluable advice regarding taking the exam, how content might appear in questions, and various study strategies.

I highly recommend this virtual study group for anyone preparing for the Knowledge Exam.  It is worth far more than the $50 registration fee for people who aren’t members of one of the hosting chapters of ATD.  (Members of hosting chapters get registration for free.)

Review Strategy

After the end of the virtual study group, I had 3 weeks until my testing date.  I had some content that I had to complete my first pass through, so that was priority #1.

I re-took the practice exam to gauge both my overall progress and what AOE’s I needed to focus on.  My overall score was 73 – a great improvement over my pre-study score of 63 and comfortably over the 65 required to pass.

I also paid for a 30-day subscription to Owl’s Ledge’s preparation site.  The variety of tests, quizzes, and other resources for preparing for the exam were incredibily helpful.

With 10 days to go, I laid out my final stretch strategy.  I dedicated time to the three AOE’s I scored the lowest on my retake of the practice test. I then methodically reviewed all 10 AOEs by reviewing my mindmaps and the ATD competency model for each.  Where I needed, I drilled down into the Learning Systems to clarify and refresh my knowledge.  I also reviewed the glossary.

As I worked through this process, I recorded my scores on the Can I Recall It? and Can I Apply It? quizzes.  When I missed a question I made a note of the topic.  My final review the morning before my test date was of these 47 topics.

Rest and Relax

I have long been in the camp that eschews “cramming” for an exam or worrying over the details of a presentation right up to the last minute.  I had to trust that my 3+ months preparation was adequate.  I had to believe the practice exam score and the various quizzes and tests I had used in my studies were correct.  So I relaxed, focused on other important matters, and got a good night’s sleep.

It Worked!

Obivously, my preparations worked. I passed.

In the process of studying for the Knowledge Exam, I gained a deeper appreciation for the amazing breadth of our profession. There was a tremendous amount of content to master and yet it was really only the surface level of the knowledge in each AOE.

Now I’m going to take a couple of weeks off before starting my studies for the Skills Application Exam which I will be taking in November/December.



  1. Impressive setup. Reminds me when I took certification exams for Microsoft and others. It’s a very US minded view of learning, vast corpus of very formal knowledge first, application separated. You should have used Kneaver, it makes the the mindmaps, manage the learning progress and build the glossaries automatically. and there’s a personal x_pi LRS built in


    1. Actually, the test was more than a dump of formal knowledge. There was a first level of application involved in many of the questions – “given scenario, what model, analysis, etc. would be best” or “what principle is being used in this case” I’m curious to check out Kneaver. Although the creating the mind maps myself was the key part of my use of mind maps. Automatically generated mind maps wouldn’t have had the same learning effect.


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