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How to Study for the SPHR Exam

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 Exam the First Time

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? 

PHR Online “Study Group”

The tool I’m discussing today isn’t so much a PHR online “study group,” but you’ll see in a minute why I’ve started referring to this group that way.

Back when I released the SPHR &PHR Self Study Course in November, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that it would be a valuable tool and that it would really help people who were looking for something to help them stay motivated and engaged with their studies. There really wasn’t anything on the market that compared to the course other than in-person study groups, and those aren’t always easy to come by.

PHR Online Study groupI’ve had over 25 students go through the course so far. I expected a more junior group of HR pros, but it’s been an amazing cross section that represents the diversity we have in the HR field. A few examples of people who have taken the course:

  • HR Administrator for a realty office in North Carolina
  • HR Manager in hospitality industry from Indiana
  • A secretary trying to break into HR at a Florida university
  • An Organizational Development expert for a hospital in the Southwestern US
  • A talent acquisition pro from Texas

And that’s just the first few names on the list. I’ve been amazed to interact with this great group of people and help them prepare for their exams, and I would love to do the same if you’re interested in taking one of the HR certification exams.

Upcoming test window

Here are the upcoming test registration windows and testing dates for the PHR/SPHR exams from the HRCI website.

  • Test Dates: May 1-June 30
  • Registration Dates: Jan. 22 – Mar. 22

While the registration dates are from January 22 to March 22, the study course runs for 12 weeks, so you’d need to sign up by the end of January to ensure adequate time to complete the course before your actual exam date. If you sign up late, you can still get the lessons (see below).

Common question

I’ve set up the course to be delivered over a 12 week period to allow participants to soak up the information and adequately prepare. However, I had a few people sign up and say they wanted to get the lessons sooner (maybe they signed up late, they changed their test date, etc.). I do have the ability to send all of the lessons at once; however, I wouldn’t encourage everyone to do that unless there’s a specific reason for deviating from the schedule.

What people are saying

I’m always pleasantly surprised when someone lets me know their thoughts. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that most people don’t share their own thoughts and ideas, so the comments have been welcome:

  • Thank you! You definitely hit the nail on the head with this, as I’ve been really dragging my feet studying for this. Thanks again for creating this! Debbie
  • I attempted the PHR in June and came up short by 20 points. Heartbreaker. I was reluctantly planning my study strategy when I received the info on your study guide. It has been most helpful. Kelly
  • I want to thank you so much for going out of your way in helping me prepare for my PHR. It is so very much appreciated. Sherrie

A special bonus

Anyone who signs up for the upcoming test window will receive a special video I’m working on where I answer the top 7 questions that I receive most often about the HR certification exams. This ranges from “how can I study without breaking the bank” to “how long should I study” and even “what should I do on exam day?” It’s a collection of the most common things people ask, and I’ll be sending that video out as a special bonus to those who join the course.

Questions? Let me know and I’m happy to help!

PHR Study Group-Your Secret Weapon

Using a PHR study group (or PHR online study group)

online phr study groupThe other day I talked about how “hard” the PHR exam is. I discussed motivation as a key component for test preparation, and I think it’s often overlooked when developing a testing strategy. If you think back to Psychology 101, there are two basic forms of motivation-internal and external. Internal motivation is all about setting goals, prioritizing them, and getting satisfaction from your accomplishments. It also requires quite a bit of mental energy, which is often in short supply with the abundance of responsibilities on your plate (work, spouse, kids, church, friends, volunteer activities, etc.). External motivators, however, can be extremely effective when you’re looking for ways to boost your internal motivation. Enter the PHR study group.

How a PHR study group works

The PHR study group can be online or in person, but the key here is having a support system of people to encourage you and help you stay on track with your studies.
Keep reading…

Is the PHR Exam Difficult?

Is the PHR exam difficult? Just how hard is the PHR exam?

how hard is the phr examBecause of my history of talking about the HR certification exams, I get a lot of questions about the difficulty level of the PHR and SPHR exams. At first glance, it’s easy to see why people ask those questions. According to the HRCI statistics, nearly half of those who take the exams fail them, which can cause anxiety for those who aren’t good test takers.

What makes the PHR exam difficult?

Maybe it’s the “timed test” factor. Maybe it’s test anxiety. Maybe it’s the difficulty level of the questions. Maybe it’s the nearly-famous ambiguity of the questions. Or maybe it’s something else.

I honestly don’t know which part of the exam presents the biggest hurdle, but based on the failure rate statistics I mentioned above, it’s obvious that there is a barrier to HR professionals successfully completing the test.
Keep reading…

How Much Money Can You Make with an HR Certification?

The value of a PHR or SPHR certification is often discussed heatedly. Some believe it’s worth the time and money invested, but others think it’s just a waste. PayScale.com has sifted through their salary data and come up with some solid answers for everyone.

Interested in taking the exam? Check out what HR certification materials I would recommend. If you’re already certified, have you seen the HR Recertification guide for how to get free recert credits?

Worth It? The Value of the PHR and SPHR

PHR vs SPHR-Which is right for you?

One of the major questions that faces HR pros considering certification: Should you take the PHR or SPHR exam? For some people, it’s fairly clear cut if you only qualify for the PHR, but if you have the experience to attempt the SPHR, which should you pursue?

Want a $20 discount on PHR/SPHR study materials? Get it here.

Here’s some guidance from HRCI on their “candidate profiles.”

PHR Candidate:

The Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification is designed for HR professionals whose primary responsibilities focus on HR program implementation, are tactical and operational in nature, and function primarily within the HR department. A PHR candidate is one who:

  • Focuses on program implementation.
  • Has tactical/logistical orientation.
  • Has accountability to another HR professional within the organization.
  • Has two to four years of exempt-level generalist HR work experience, but lacks the breadth and depth of a more senior-level generalist.
  • Has not had progressive HR work experience.
  • Holds a job that focuses on HR department responsibilities rather than on the whole organization.
  • Commands respect through gaining knowledge and using policies and guidelines to make decisions.

SPHR Candidate:

The Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification is designed for the HR professional who designs and plans rather than implements HR policies. An SPHR candidate is also one who:

  • Designs and plans rather than implements.
  • Focuses on the “big picture.”
  • Has ultimate accountability in the HR department.
  • Typically has six to eight years of progressive and increasingly complicated HR experience.
  • Has extensive HR generalist knowledge.
  • Uses judgment obtained with time and application of knowledge.
  • Has generalist role within organization.
  • Uses judgment obtained with time and application of knowledge..
  • Understands the business beyond the HR function and has influence within overall organization.
  • Commands credibility within organization, community and field by experience.

From the people I’ve talked to, it is hard to know if there’s a large difference in the difficulty level of the exams. It seems that SPHR focuses much more on strategy and the “big picture” when it comes to the actual question content.

Have you taken either (or both) exams? What did you think? Be sure to check out the PHR study guide and other materials while you’re here!

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