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? 

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!

In my third and final PHR/SPHR webinar with the fine folks at Dovetail Software, I wanted to offer something to help the 100k+ HR pros who are already certified. I, and many others, often talk about how to pass the HR certification exams. However, the people that already have don’t have any use for that content, so I wanted to create something just for them.

25+ recertification ideas – Click here to sign up for the free webinar on Thursday, August 23rd at 12:30 Central.

The premise

If you have the time and money to pay for dozens of recertification credits for the duration of your career, more power to you. However, I did a little quick math, and the numbers surprised me at the long term cost of recertification.

What does recertification cost?

  • Average cost of one general credit (in my locality): $25
  • Average cost to recertify with 60 credits: $1500/three-year cycle
  • Average cost over a 30 year career: $15,000

What if you could get through one (or more) of those recertification periods without spending a penny (other than the HRCI fees, of course)? That’s what I’m focusing on with this week’s webinar. Let’s look at some of the traditional and not-so-traditional ways of getting credits, including how to use the recertification opportunities to grow in your career.

Join us! It will be a fun finale to a great series of helpful webinars.

A new guide

I’ve been working on a guide for this very topic for a few weeks now, and it’s finally ready to be released. I’ll be covering some of the material in the webinar, but if you are impatient (or you want additional bonus materials that the webinar participants won’t get), feel free to check it out. It’s very inexpensive (though the price will go up soon) and it could potentially save you thousands of dollars throughout the life of your career.

One of the common questions I’ve heard from people who get their HR certification is how to get free HRCI credits for recertification. I’ve been working on a new guide lately (soon to be released!)(update: the new HR recertification guide is here!), and one of the pieces of information I’m covering is continuing education credits.

In the short time that I’ve been researching, I ran across three solid resources that you can use for getting your PHR and SPHR recertification credits.

Get your hands on free credits

About the guide

The working title is “Rock Your Recertification” (yeah, not too snappy). I’m going to discuss some different topics, but the main purpose will be to provide 50+ ideas for getting recertification credits. I’m hoping to release in early August, so keep your eyes peeled for that one if you are certified and want some solid ideas to get your 60 credits.

Anyone else have ideas for getting free HRCI credits? I’d love to hear what sources you prefer!

I’m working on a new HR recertification guide to provide some unique ideas for how to get HRCI recert credits to renew your PHR, SPHR, or GPHR certification. One thing I wanted to do was ask you guys for some help.

HRCI allows professionals to use a range of activities to count toward recertification credits, including continuing education, webinars, on the job work experience, training sessions, and more. I’m looking for ideas that fit into these categories that you have used to get credits on a previous recertification application. The more unique/interesting, the better!

While you can use things like webcasts and local SHRM chapter meetings to get the bulk of your HRCI credits, most of us would like to break out of that repetitive cycle and do something new and fresh. Let’s make the recertification process more fun and valuable! The growth and continuous development aspect of certification is what makes it more valuable than even a college degree in some cases, so let’s make the most of it.

If you have taken the exam and have had to recertify previously, I would love to use some of your ideas in the new guide. Please click here and respond to this one-question survey on HR recertification (update: the survey is now closed, and the HR recertification guide is now available!). Thanks!

If you have not had to recertify yet, I think you will find this tool valuable!

Ever wonder what sort of topics are on the PHR or SPHR exams? Look no further! 

It’s that time again, and I’m getting geared up to work with Dovetail Software on our second webinar to help those who are thinking about taking the HR certification exams.

What we’ll cover

The first webinar focused on the overall body of knowledge and a few solid tips from those who have taken, and passed, the exams. This time we’ll break down each area of the exam, look at how to target each one, and go over some practice questions to help you get a feel for what the exam will cover. It’s a great opportunity to start preparing yourself for the exam!

Register now

Click here to register for the webinar on Thursday, July 19th 12:30-1:00pm Central

If you can’t make the event, please register anyway, because you can get the recording for free after the webinar is archived on the Dovetail site.

Cool prizes

We’re giving away over $300 in study preparation tools from our friends at HRCP to a lucky winner, so please join us and you could win!

Because I talk fairly often about the PHR and SPHR exams, my friends over at Dovetail Software decided to ask if I would work with them on a series of webinars to help people get their feet wet when it comes to the HR certification arena. Naturally I jumped at the chance!

What to expect

There will be three 30-minute webinars, spaced out from this week until August. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Thursday, June 21st, 12:30-1:00pm Central-Session 1: Preparing for the SPHR/PHR Exam 101 – For this session we’ll establish a foundation and help you determine if, and how, you can take on the exam.
  • Thursday, July 19th, 12:30-1:00pm Central-Session 2: PHR/SPHR Study Guide Cliff Notes – In this webinar we’ll look at some of the content areas and I’ll give you some tips on what areas to focus on with a little more fervor.
  • Thursday, August 23rd, 12:30-1:00pm Central-Session 3: 25 Recertification Ideas – This session is going to help those who are already certified, because it will provide 25+ ideas for getting your PHR/SPHR recertification.

For now, let’s focus on getting started, shall we? The first piece is going to help get you up to speed on the latest changes from the HR Certification Institute. This 30-minute session will cover the difference between each certification, FAQs, and tips and techniques for preparing for and passing the certification exam. It\’s everything you could spend hours reading but don\’t want to… and it\’s FREE.

I am excited to be working with the fine folks at Dovetail Software, and I hope you guys can join the webinar this week and get some tips and tricks for passing the exams!