This week I connected with a wonderful person who shared something that I just had to plug here. You know I’m a fan of certification and the benefits it can bring to your career. But once that certification is done you have that teensy, minor detail of getting 60 credit hours in order to recertify every three years.

Truth be told, many of us scramble at the last minute to get them in (or just to collect the information if we already attended enough events–goodness we can be so disorganized with our own professional development!) But what if I told you there’s a way to get 80% of the credits you need for your next recertification. For free. Over the Web. From the comfort of your home or office.

Yeah, I knew that would get your attention. :-)

free hrci credits hcm academyMay I introduce you to Ultimate Software’s HCM Online Academy? Let’s get you two acquainted. Continue reading

I like giving advice based on experience, not opinion. When people previously asked me how to study for the SPHR exam, I’ve had to give them my opinion based on what I understood. To be honest, my response was pretty accurate, but it’s now nice to actually confirm that with my own completion of the SPHR certification. In case you missed it, I talked last week about my success in passing the SPHR exam, so I can now speak from experience in how to properly study. Today we’ll go over some of the best practices for SPHR study preparation as well as the launch of the new SPHR Study Course.

sphr exam studyStudying for the SPHR

I have collected some of the comments from people say about preparing for the exam. Some of them passed and some of them didn’t, but even a quick skim will show you some common themes:

Nicky

This weekend I took the Certification exam…..and didn’t pass. That was a bummer because I’ve been studying for so many months. I really appreciated your weekly emails and enjoyed your perspective that kept me engaged.

This exam reminded me EXACTLY of the SAT and GMAT – soooo abstract. I started the exam and by about question 15 was wondering if I was even taking the right test. Then I started to see a few things that looked familiar. I’ve attended school for many years and was expecting to be tested on text from the study manuals, similar to the practice tests you had provided, but that’s not what it looked like to me.

Instead this appeared to be….obscure sentences that I was really puzzled to figure out what the question was. I provided feedback at the end and indicated that I was really disappointed in the development of this exam. I didn’t think it tested my knowledge of the materials that I had studied. Sometimes I could eliminate two of the answers and then the two remaining answers were worded in such a way that I just guessed which one was right. How disappointing! I will not retake the exam because no amount of additional studying will prepare me to be successful for this type of examination. If I had not stumbled across your website, I would probably still be trying to figure out who administers the exam, who has the official study materials, etc.

So while this was an expensive overall endeavor, it brought me into the 21st century! I did feel like this whole experience really updated by HR knowledge. My undergraduate is in HR Management and my masters is in HR Development (Adult Education), but those were completed in the ’90s. I haven’t worked specifically in HR since 2000, but my HR background has come in handy in every job I’ve had. I’m currently a trainer and really hope to circle back to HR in the near future although many current job postings are specifically looking for the PHR/SPHR certification. It’s deflating to know that I’m eliminated from consideration because I don’t have the certification…..and 6 years of HR higher education takes a back seat :-)

Enough of my moaning and groaning. So, thanks for your advice, and I wish you continued success in your future endeavors. If I had my own business I’d trying to recruit you!

Jack

I took the PHR exam in 2010 and failed. I attended a university specifically to study for this exam; I had outlines and studied extensively and I agree with Mary, most of the test questions were so unfamiliar and panicked when I realized this was not covered in class and could not recall the information being on the outlines and notes I had. I had shown up to the test site confident as I had spent hours and hours studying and was very disappointed that I didn’t succeed. I have been avoiding taking this test but will be signing up to take it again in December 2012. I hope to get a better test this time.

Mary

3 of us took the 2010 PHR today June 29, 2010 and June 28. Both the lady with 20 years HR experience and I said after the test –70 percent of the test was NOT even covered in the SHRM guides that cost $800 dollars. I passed she failed. She also did Ann B’s book and HRCI. I did SHRM and HRCI. But almost nothing from those sources was on the test. I am not even happy about passing because it was just due to guess work not all the MONTHS of serious study I put in and she even put in more figuring out how to study for the SPHR exam. The questions are vague and the answers are nothing you read in your books, or nothing like your practice exams. Experience dosn’t count because she had 20 years experience. The only way I passed was to put my HR knowledge aside and think like a business owner. At question 60 I wanted to go ask if they had loaded the right test.

Mariona

I was so mad, I didn’t pass and I had never studied so hard and felt to prepare, and I didn’t pass ( I went for SPHR)

Melissa

The rest of the group took it today. Very nervous because none of the group passed they said that the test was nothing like the practice test on the learning system.

Preparing for the SPHR

Can you tell me how to prepare for the SPHR exam?

Up until now you just had to pick out a study tool and try to guess how the SPHR content was different from the PHR content. In reality most of us don’t read deeply into the content and make connections with real world examples, so this is difficult to do. Up until today, there was no specific SPHR study tool on the market. I have launched my own SPHR Study Guide to meet that need. I’m excited about helping the next generation of SPHR test takers with the exam.

How long does it take to prepare for the SPHR?

It can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. It’s very dependent on your study habits, testing ability, experience level (depth), education level, and breadth of exposure to HR. For instance, a recruiter will have a harder time preparing than a generalist, because their work is not focused on a wide variety of HR practices.

Cramming for the SPHR exam

Can you tell me how to cram for the PHR or SPHR exam?

I’d highly suggest that you not attempt to cram for the SPHR. There are just too many pieces of the body of knowledge that you aren’t exposed to every day (for example: visas, talent management planning, budgeting, managing risk, developing employee branding campaigns, etc.) I’d recommend taking time to do this over several weeks, and preferably several months. If you are stuck and have to “cram,” there’s one thing that will help you (assuming you have a basic HR knowledge foundation): take as many practice tests as you can get your hands on.

Public Service Announcement: Again, I will recommend that if you’re trying to figure out how to study for the SPHR exam, you should not cram.

Being “test smart” will go a long way toward helping you prepare, but if you don’t know the basic HR information than all the practice questions in the world won’t help you. This is not to teach you to memorize questions and answers, but more to seek out the “best” or “most likely” or “most efficient” answers by honing your judgment.

How to study for the SPHR exam: Sample SPHR study session

How should I study for the SPHR?

One of the things I started doing in the final weeks of preparation was to take a practice exam and copy the question/answers for anything that didn’t look familiar to me and paste it into a notepad. Then after the practice test I would Google each term to get a better understanding of the concepts I was weak in.

I’d also try to find an article or description of the idea in practice, when it would be used, and when it wouldn’t. That’s the key–knowing the term is only half the battle. Knowing how, when, and where to use it is the critical portion the SPHR tests on. Here’s a sample set of information after one of my practice runs. I’d research each term after the practice test or put it on my calendar to research during my next block of study time.

  • Sample post test research, pre and post testing methods
  • action teams vs task force vs others
  • Product leadership, other strategies
  • nominal technique vs delphi vs others
  • union deauthorization/decert timelines
  • balanced scorecard elements, uses, pros/cons
  • scatter, histogram, gantt, pareto, other chart types and purposes
  • leadership models
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Sigma
  • http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/total-quality-management/overview/deming-points.html
  • quality initiatives
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PEST_analysis
  • company growth stages and HR needs
  • individual vs task vs organizational assessments
  • bloom’s taxonomy, uses
  • http://www.eeotraining.eeoc.gov/images/content/EXCELHandouts/2G%20Mock_Deposition_Practice.pdf
  • compensable factors
  • instructional design models
  • http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/kirkpatrick.htm

SPHR study course

how to study for the sphr examAs I mentioned above, I am launching a new SPHR study course. This is a bonus module added to the standard SPHR/PHR Self Study Course that has helped dozens of students pass the exam over the past few years. I highly encourage you to check it out if you are planning to take the SPHR this year. The price is for the basic model and will be increasing as I add additional case studies, questions, and video discussions. More info here.

Other comments from SPHR candidates

I didn’t want to put all of these up front, because it is a pretty long summary. However, I think the comments are worthwhile and wanted to include them so you could review as you decide how to study for the SPHR exam in your own unique way. This is not something to take lightly!

Anonymous

I used this book alone to study for the December 2007 SPHR exam. This book was no help! The practice test and CD were nothing like the actual test. The actual test was more subjective, asking questions like ‘What is the BEST way to handle this situation?’. I don’t know how you would study for that. That leaves too much room for personal opinion, barring any legalities. I was extremely disappointed when I did not pass the exam after studying this book alot. I would not recommend using this book to study by. Many subjects in the book were not even on the test, such as many court cases it told you to remember. This was not a good way to figure out how to study for the SPHR exam.

Susan

3 of us took the 2010 PHR today June 29, 2010 and June 28. Both the lady with 20 years HR experience and I said after the test –70 percent of the test was NOT even covered in the SHRM guides that cost $800 dollars. I passed she failed. She also did Ann B’s book and HRCI. I did SHRM and HRCI. But almost nothing from those sources was on the test. I am not even happy about passing because it was just due to guess work not all the MONTHS of serious study I put in and she even put in more. The questions are vague and the answers are nothing you read in your books, or nothing like your practice exams. Experience dosn’t count because she had 20 years experience. The only way I passed was to put my HR knowledge aside and think like a business owner. At question 60 I wanted to go ask if they had loaded the right test.

Workforce.com Article about a test taker

Tashana Sims-Hudspeth, HR manager at Pearson Education Inc. in Columbus, Ohio, certainly hoped so. She had tried unsuccessfully to pass twice using other study materials, so she finally bought the pricier SHRM Learning System figuring it was her best chance for success. But she took the test in January 2010 and failed again.

“I had flashcards, I studied at lunch after work, on my breaks,” says Sims-Hudspeth, who also enrolled in an online study course and joined a weekly study group. “I had my 11-year-old son flashing me questions while he watched TV. I drove my family crazy.”

She still is a strong supporter of HR certification and plans to take the test a fourth time next spring. But she feels frustrated by the process. “I only saw a few questions that were remotely similar to the SHRM system,” she says. “I thought, ‘What is this?’ It was nothing like what I had been studying. What’s the purpose of buying the SHRM learning materials if they don’t match up to the test?

CC

In preparation for the SPHR exam, 3 co-workers and myself held study groups using the SHRM LS for 6 months prior to testing. The closer it got to the test date, the more nervous I got. I ended up purchasing this book about a month before the test and I am so glad that I did! This helps explain the HR processes through case study and the practice questions in this book are much closer to the actual test than SHRM LS. However, I still found myself feeling unprepared for the test. The actual test questions are nothing like anything we practiced in the SHRM LS (for 6 months nonetheless) and I felt sure that I had failed.

How to study for the SPHR? My studies were long and varied. I used multiple study resources (mainly HRCP) and covered thousands of practice questions, read hundreds of pages, and spent more than 100 hours over the course of four months preparing for the SPHR test. I am not sure how to study for the SPHR exam other than how I did it.

Tim

I took and failed the PHR on Saturday, Jan 31, 2009 and feel the SHRM Prep Course DID NOT reflect the exam at all. In my opinion, SHRM misrepresents the course and how to study for the SPHR exam. The test questions from the study course did not come close to the exam questions. I am very disappointed in SHRM and how they present the material. I spent money, time and energy preparing for the exam and feel blind sided with the test. After about 15 min into the exam, I got up and asked the administrator to check and make sure I was given the correct test. As the test questions were not at all what SHRM had in the Modules or study guides.

Tracy

I took and failed the exam today. I spent an abudnance of time and money on the SHRM course and it was a complete waste of both. The actual test questions were nothing like the practice questions. SHRM Learning System is a misrepresentation of proper preparation for the exam. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Shweta

The exam had very difficult & complicated questions . Some concepts are not covered in the syllabus – checked upon return from the exam …

John

Took the PHR exam today 6/1/09 after teacher had encouraged me to take SPHR exam due to my excelling in the class and exams in the SHRM Prep Course. Quickly within the first bit of the exam, it was clear to me the question format was not simliar in any regard to the question format presented during the class.

Regarding subject matter, I would estimate only 60% was covered in the prep material/class. The remaining 40% was material not covered during the prep course or in the SHRM material.

Regarding question format, I often recognized the concept/application in the question, but when reviewing answer choices, I often felt I could only eliminate one or two max and words were used that are not commonly used to assist in choosing the correct answer.

My only expectation is to be tested solely on the knowledge set and for the certification test not to use question format to thwart a successful pass. I do beleive a true partnership should exist with Prep classes and question formats should be similar. How else could I answer 1,240 multiple choice questions over 60 some odd practice exams and consistely score in the 80% range. I dont get it and strongly feel a misrepresentation exists.

Angel

I took the PHR this past Saturday and failed. Like the gentleman Tim posted, I too took a 14 week SHRM preparatory class at my own expense and felt totally blind sided by the test. Unfortunately, most of my experience in HR is related to recruitment, selection process and test administration. In effort to expand my knowledge and further myself professionally I wanted to obtain my PHR Certification. I’m just sadden to realize that the SHRM option available. As the another person posted, it would have been helpful to know that application was vital for passing the exam.

Rachel

Ditto to what Tracy says. The SHRM Learning System is a misrepresentation—nothing like the test, and all topics were NOT covered.

Dee

Failed the PHR exam for a second time on Saturday. I have been studying on average 4-6 hours a day for three months and took the college prep course that used SHRM. I even tested out on the SHRM assessment tests in the 80-90 percent range. WTH! I really, really studied and I even knew what to expect. I agree with some of the posts that a couple of the questions on the PHR exam appeared more appropriate on the SHRM exam. I just purchased the Anne Bogardus prep book on amazon.com, and will combine resources. I hope to take the test a third time in the Spring.

Two of my fellow HR bloggers have shared their insights on how to study for the SPHR exam as well:

Have you taken the SPHR exam? What was your impression? Did you pass? If not, what questions do you have about how to study for the SPHR exam? 

how to pass the sphr examAKA how to pass the SPHR exam and keep your sanity

If the title doesn’t give it away, I don’t know what will. Recently I took, and passed, the SPHR exam. Today I’m going to talk about the actual testing process and offer some guidance for those taking the exam in the next few weeks. Soon, I plan to write about the actual study process and offer some resources to support those of you who might be interested in pursuing the SPHR at some point. Update: Here’s the link: how to study for the SPHR exam

How hard is the SPHR exam?

Pretty darn hard. :-) More on that below.

How hard is it to pass the SPHR?

Several people I coached for this winter test window had taken it one or more times unsuccessfully in the past. It has a 56% pass rate (based on mid-2014 figures). If you want to visualize that, imagine that you and nine other people walk into the room to test at the same time. At the end of the test period, four or five of the people in that group will walk out with a “fail” printout. That said, most of you already realize how hard the SPHR exam is.

The critical thing for me, Captain Short Attention Span, is focusing on the questions and what they are actually asking. I’m a fast reader, so I am really bad about reading the question, finding an answer, and moving on without reading the others. I had to make myself slow down and read each answer, strike out one or two, and then make a decision. I also marked about 30 questions for review to go back and double check at the end. I ended up changing about 25% of those answers after having a fresh look.

That’s one thing that I definitely recommend. Marking for review just means you plug in a guess and come back later to re-read the question. I’m amazed how many times I have a brain “log jam” when I’m reading it the first time, but puzzling through another question afterward actually shakes loose the concept or idea I’m need to answer the previous question.

Another useful feature: strikeout. Striking out obviously wrong answers helps to narrow your focus and get your attention on the real possibilities. There are often two, but sometimes as many as three, good/possible answers. It’s all about picking the best one.

How to answer SPHR questions

sphr exam test prepI have to inject some humor here. My friend and I met last weekend to do some last minute studying, and we kept seeing a pattern in the practice questions. Virtually every time you were presented with an action or an opportunity to survey, analyze, or plan, the answer was always to NOT act. So I put this little graphic on The Four A’s of SPHR Exam Prep together to remind you of that. :-)

Seriously, though, there is a strategy to answering questions on the exam. This is critical if you are trying to figure out how to pass the SPHR exam. Here are five keys I used:

  1. This is strategic in nature, meaning that it’s about how HR ties in, and drives, business activities and measures. Write that on your scratch paper when you sit down and every time you read a question glance at that little phrase.
  2. Know how HR activities tie into the business objectives, and look for opportunities to highlight that in an answer everywhere possible
  3. “Strategy,” “company objectives,” and “business needs” are usually the answers when they are options.
  4. Despite my joking about the graphic, it is important to measure, assess, analyze, etc. before actually taking action.
  5. Imagine that you’re not in HR, but that you’re the CEO, especially when the question is focusing on marketing, operations, or another aspect of the business. Answering from that mindset will help to ensure that you’re giving the broad, strategic perspective the test warrants.

How to pass the SPHR exam the first time

passing the sphr examAs I said, I wrote a full-blown article follow up just about how to study, because there are so many tools, methods, tips, and other ideas that I just can’t capture here. However, just to give you an idea:

  • I used a 2014 HRCP study guide, read every book cover to cover, read every flashcard, and took the comprehensive practice questions
  • I used a 2007 SHRM Learning System just for the practice questions, never cracked a book
  • I used my 2007 Anne Bogardus book to do practice questions and did a simple chapter summary review in the last week
  • I used various other online resources (all free) to practice my questions and do research on concepts I didn’t know (I’ll discuss my process for this in the second post in this series)
  • I studied over 115 hours from September to January
  • I took over 2,000 practice questions to get ready–this is always my number one tip for how to pass the SPHR exam, especially in the final days of studying

One concept that I have relied on for quite some time is specificity. I use it to train for races that I run, and it applies pretty much everywhere else in life as well in terms of preparation. The goal is to make training as much like the actual event as possible.

In running, that means I should run the pace, distance, course, etc. just like I would on race day.

In testing, I need to take practice exams that force my mind and body into the same mode I’ll need when taking the actual test: quiet environment, long periods of focus, no Googling answers, no cell phone, etc.

sphr study course detailsRemember, this is just the first half of the series on how to pass the SPHR exam. Here is part two on how to study for the SPHR. It’s going to be pretty awesome. Also, I’m almost finished developing a specific SPHR study module based on everything I have learned (and taught) over these past few months.

Anyone else taking the SPHR this window? What are your thoughts? Any questions? 

Wow.

sphr phr self study courseI just realized that it has been two years since I published my first PHR/SPHR prep course. Time flies! Over that time I have had dozens of students use the course to help them prepare for, and pass, the certification exam.

If you are considering the PHR/SPHR and are having trouble staying motivated, keeping on track, and juggling all the terms and theories, then this could be the answer you’re looking for. I provide lessons via email and help you to stay on top of your studies with regular updates and helpful content to tie your learning back into your day job. Because in the end, it’s not just about getting certified, it’s about being a better HR pro.

If you’re interested in getting this for yourself or someone else, I have a discount running until Friday night for 20+% off. Coupon code is “GIVETHANKS” for those who want to take advantage of this. Here’s the link to the course

If you are less than 12 weeks from your exam date, please email me and we can speed up the materials to give you time to finish.

Thanks, everyone, for your support! I’ll be sharing more fun HR/recruiting content very soon. Enjoy your holiday!

I often hear from people asking “What’s the best PHR study guide?” or “What PHR study guide is the best for preparing for the exams?” Today I’m going to help answer that question for those of you who might be interested in taking the exam (or maybe you know someone who is preparing who could use this info!).

If you’re not planning to take the exam any time soon, feel free to skip this post. Thanks! :-)

I’ve been using and recommending study tools for over five years now. The industry has made some improvements over the past few years, but there are also opportunities for improving the existing tools out there to better serve the needs of the consumer.

The exams

When we talk about interviewing people, we discuss the importance of making the interview questions and experience as similar to the job as possible; that similarity helps us to determine if the person will be a good fit for the position. The exams are no different.

I tell people they need to simulate the exam experience as much as possible at various times throughout their studies in order to improve their chances of success when actually sitting for the exam. In order to do that, let’s look at how the exams actually work:

Test environment, number of questions, topics, how questions formulated, etc.

The official PHR study guide

It surprises me, because so many people don’t realize it; however, there is no official tool recommended by the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) for test takers to use. Think about it. If I created the “Best HR Pro” test to certify people and then started selling study materials of my own design, that would be suspicious and diminish the objectivity of the certification.

In order to be objective and not open themselves up the possibility of “teaching to the test,” HRCI can not and should not recommend any specific test prep tool. That makes sense, correct? They wouldn’t want to raise any red flags by suggesting one provider over another.

The SHRM Learning System has the largest section of the test prep market, but I think that’s more due to the fact that they have a captive audience than that them having the best offering. There are other providers out there, SHRM Learning System alternatives, and their tools cover the same body of knowledge as the SHRM products. With the eyes-bulging-out-of-my-head price that SHRM charges for test prep, that’s why I have pointed my readers to other test prep tools on the market.

Why HRCP is the best PHR study guide

They don’t have anything to go on but their good name and customer success. Nobody is promoting them to the potential student as a pseudo-official option for passing the test. Check out the video review below where I open a box of the HRCP tools and share some thoughts about them. (subscribers click through to view)

With HRCP, it’s about price, features, and responsiveness. If you’re interested in using the HRCP materials, you can get a discount. More info on that here.

With the back and forth in the HR certification world in the past few weeks, it’s been quite a strain on the certified HR professionals trying to determine what will happen to their hard-earned certifications in the coming months and years. Bottom line: we’re worried about what is going to happen to the credentials that we have built over the course of our HR careers.

Last night I attended the HRCI Connect event where the leadership of the HR Certification Institute stood up and shared their side of the story and their vision for the future. They also had an “open mic” portion to allow participants to ask questions about the path ahead. Below are some of my comments from the event.

What was the theme of the night?

What is HRCI’s angle on this whole SHRM/HRCI battle?

The biggest question on everyone’s lips

Are HRCI exams competency based?

What’s going to happen to my PHR/SPHR?

Will HRCI give credits for SHRM events?

I’ll be in touch with the HRCI folks going forward, so if there are any other questions I can help to answer, please let me know! I’m in this with you guys as well, so I definitely want to know the answers!

So if you’re a SHRM member and/or volunteer leader, you probably saw the news yesterday that SHRM is no longer supporting the PHR and SPHR exams after 2014. Read on for how this impacts you, and for those considering a SHRM Learning System alternative, I have a recommendation for that as well at the end. Here’s the note that many of us received earlier this week:

Dear Volunteer Leaders,

As an important and valued member of the SHRM community, I am pleased to share some exciting news with you.  The Board of Directors of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has approved a plan to create a competency-based certification program for human resource professionals.

The new HR certification is based on the SHRM HR Competency Model, which consists of nine primary competency domains defined with behavioral proficiency standards across four professional levels — entry, middle, senior and executive.  The new certification will be the first of its kind focused on teaching and the testing of this practical, real-life information that HR professionals need to excel in their careers.

“The differentiator for HR professionals will not be what you know, but what you can do with what you know,” said SHRM Board Chair Bette Francis.  “SHRM has a responsibility to lead the profession towards a certification process that proves competencies.  That will benefit the individual, the profession and employers by aligning HR with the changing demands of business.”

Over the last three years, SHRM had conducted and validated research on behavioral competencies and has developed its own competency model to serve as a foundational resource for all HR professionals.  SHRM is currently working on a certification program that will create a testing regime and governance model to provide integrity to the exam process.

SHRM plans to offer the first exam for the new competency-based certification in mid-2015.  However, to ensure that no applicants are disadvantaged by this transition, SHRM will continue to support the PHR and SPHR certifications programs through the December 2014 – January 2015 test window.  Other exams will be supported through their last test window in 2014.

“We have been working towards this for several years and are taking steps to ensure a smooth transition for SHRM members and HR professionals,” said SHRM CEO and President Henry G. (Hank) Jackson.  “We are creating a clear pathway for HR professionals who are already certified under knowledge-based credentials so they can move to the new SHRM competency-based certification.  This certification will be relevant to all career levels, across all industries, and organizations around the world.”

I know you are as excited as I am about SHRM’s focus on competency-based certification and SHRM will be sharing updates with you about the new program in the coming weeks and at the Annual Conference.

Warmest regards,

Elissa C. O’Brien, SPHR
Vice President, Membership
SHRM

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