The winter testing window is coming up with HRCI (the Human Resources Certification Institute, for you newbies), and you might be wondering what the difference is between the PHR and SPHR exams. With both of the exam pass rates hovering around 50% (54% PHR, 53%  SPHR), it’s critical to make sure you understand the requirements of each and develop a proper plan for preparing. Today I want to explore some of the variations I have seen as well as from some of the feedback from previous students I helped with the certification exams.

phr sphr exams differencesExam Content

The most obvious difference is the one that HRCI tells you about. The exam content for each has a slightly different focus. This is because for lower level HR roles, it’s more important to have a grasp of the laws and other legal requirements. For SPHR test takers, they are typically in higher level roles that require more planning and strategy, hence the big bump in the Business Management and Strategy content area. Here’s the breakdown:

PHR Exam Content Outline

  • Business Management and Strategy (11%)
  • Workforce Planning and Employment (24%)
  • Human Resource Development (18%)
  • Compensation and Benefits (19%)
  • Employee and Labor Relations (20%)
  • Risk Management (8%)

SPHR Exam Content Outline

  • Business Management and Strategy (30%)
  • Workforce Planning and Employment (17%)
  • Human Resource Development (19%)
  • Compensation and Benefits (13%)
  • Employee and Labor Relations (14%)
  • Risk Management (7%)

Specialized Knowledge Requirements

The content for the exams can run across a variety of topic areas. The guide supplied by HRCI is just a starting point, but it helps us to see some of the key differences in PHR and SPHR exam topics. Below is a sampling of the SPHR-only topics that PHR test taker should not have to worry about. That’s not to say they aren’t important, but when you’re prioritizing PHR study time and might not have enough to focus on every topic, skip these. If you’re going for the SPHR, prioritize these.

  • Participate as a contributing partner in the organization’s strategic planning process (for example: provide and lead workforce planning discussion with management, develop and present long-term forecast of human capital needs at the organizational level).
  • Develop and utilize business metrics to measure achievement of the organization’s strategic goals and objectives (for example: key performance indicators, balanced scorecard).
  • Perform cost/benefit analyses on proposed projects.
  • Develop policies and procedures to support corporate governance initiatives (for example: whistle-blower protection, code of ethics).
  • Identify and evaluate alternatives and recommend strategies for vendor selection and/or outsourcing.
  • Oversee or lead the transition and/or implementation of new systems, service centers, and outsourcing.
  • Determine the strategic application of integrated technical tools and systems (for example: new enterprise software, performance management tools, self-service technologies).
  • Develop, implement and evaluate the succession planning process.
  • Evaluate effectiveness of employee training programs through the use of metrics (for example: participant surveys, pre- and post-testing).

Again, this is just a selection of the SPHR-specific content that shows up on the exam, but it is critical to make sure you understand these not only in theory, but in application as well. Just looking at this list, it’s easy to see how “Knowledge of FMLA requirements” is a little different than “evaluate effectiveness of training programs with metrics.” One of them requires a broader knowledge base, skill set, and point of view. That’s not to say the PHR is easy or simple, but there’s a reason there are two separate exams.

Application vs Synthesis Thinking

I alluded to this, but it’s one of the most critical pieces that I always try to explain when people come to me for advice. The way you approach the exam preparation, and the way you develop your mindset/framework for evaluating test questions and answers, is going to depend on the exam. I’ve tried to lay it out below in terms that reflect my own experience as well as the dozens of students I have supported over the years.

The PHR is more about learning terms, concepts, and ideas and then remembering them for the exam. Simple memorization might not work, because you still need to know the “best answer” in some cases, and that requires some critical thinking. However, getting a good set of testing materials and studying well will go a long way towards success on the PHR.

sphr study courseThe SPHR is more about blending knowledge from a variety of areas into a cohesive strategy. In fact, “strategy” is the number one way I explain to students that the SPHR is different when they are preparing for the exam. Not only is the first module around strategy and business the largest piece of the exam content–it is also woven throughout the entire question set, forcing test takers to evaluate multiple courses and select the best one. As I wrote in my previous piece on how to pass the SPHR exam:

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:

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.

Know how HR activities tie into the business objectives, and look for opportunities to highlight that in an answer everywhere possible

“Strategy,” “company objectives,” and “business needs” are usually the answers when they are options.

It is important to measure, assess, analyze, etc. before actually taking action.

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.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, the exams vary in multiple ways. The most important thing to do is pick the one that is a right fit for you and then develop a study plan that prepares you adequately for the test. Your preparation isn’t meant to come simply from a book–your experiences and interactions with other HR professionals both help to drive your certification preparation.

For those of you that have taken both, what differences have you noticed with the PHR and SPHR exams? If you’ve taken just one, did what I shared above line up with your experience? 

*Updated with additional info from several anonymous sources

I’m going to preface today’s discussion a bit. I have been a SHRM volunteer leader since 2009. I’ve been a long-time supporter of SHRM. I also have been a supporter of HRCI since 2009 when I became certified. I’ve watched the battle rage between these two organizations over the past two years and have refrained from commenting publicly. This is my opinion (as usual) and doesn’t mean I have stopped supporting either of these valuable organizations. My goal is to make HR better, and I think that each of these groups is trying to do the same in their own respective ways. 

Many of you may know me as the person who talks about HR certification more than anyone else on the Internet. Why do I do it? Because I believe in the value. No, not the value in the certification, but in the value of the commitment to long-term improvement.

SHRM vs HRCI Certification

PHR SPHR SHRM-SCP SHRM-CPI just answered a few questions last week and I wanted to cover the topic here because it’s a theme that I am seeing more and more often.

I am considering certification because I think I would like to move somewhat more toward the HR field.

I am wondering which certification is best (PHR or SHRM) and whether you think it would be beneficial to me in my quest toward a more focused HR career.

Also, this one:

I will be taking the SPHR in June 2016 : please answer my below questions

1. What all material I need to buy
2. i am confused – how could we use SHRM Study Material for SPHR certification – aren’t these two different institutions

For those of you who have been under a rock, SHRM stopped supporting the HRCI credentials (SPHR and PHR) back in 2014. Here’s what I wrote on the topic back then:

HRCI is not planning to discontinue providing PHR, SPHR, and GPHR exams to allow HR professionals to be certified. With SHRM moving away from those exams, it remains to be seen what the overall impact will be on the marketability over time for those of us with one of the “traditional” HR certifications.

My predictions offline at the time were fairly simple. I believed that HRCI was going to win in the short term and SHRM would win in the long term for a few reasons.

  • HRCI has an existing list of more than 100,000 certified HR pros it can market to and try to keep them recertifying.
  • SHRM is trying to turn a cruise ship, and that doesn’t happen overnight. I am still hearing, two years later, SHRM representatives talking about their certification’s value in an attempt to drive interest.
  • My key prediction at the time: SHRM’s influence at the chapter level would eventually turn the tide due to recertification credits and its stranglehold on the requirements for chapter leaders (requiring SHRM-CP/SCP training, for instance).

For those of you that didn’t know, SHRM pays its chapters for any SHRM members and SHRM-CP/SCP certified individuals. Those dollars, more than any marketing that HRCI can put out, will turn the tide in SHRM’s favor over time.

The Ongoing Battle

I think HRCI needs a bigger list to market to and must stop attacking SHRM at every opportunity. They also need to get their recertification people working harder/faster/smarter because from the feedback I’m hearing at different chapters around the country, SHRM is doing a better job at this.

HRCI has recently piloted its aPHR, which is for early career pros as a way to get more of them into the fold (building that list, as I mentioned). This is a close approximation to SHRM’s Assurance of Learning Certificate which has been around for quite a while and is close to being a standard for colleges across the US.

What I think is very strange is that in the past, HRCI didn’t officially “endorse” SHRM as its only learning/prep tool for the exam, but they did a good job of highlighting it on their website. People often thought that SHRM’s Learning System was the official study tool for the PHR and SPHR exams, which is false. Now that the marriage between the two is broken up, HRCI has promoted other study tools, which means my friends at HRCP have been as busy as can be in the fallout (good for them).

It feels like a race to the middle with each of them trying to outdo the other and the rest of us being caught in the middle, unsure of which direction to take. Don’t believe me? I’ve received a version of that question that started this post more than 30 times in the past year. Experience has shown me that if I receive a question a handful of times, there are more than 100 people interested in the same topic. This means there are thousands wondering the same thing.

What Does This Mean for HR Pros?

Last year SHRM used its “pathway” to allow those of us with current certifications to simply click a few buttons and get our SHRM certification. That was partly so SHRM could have some numbers to help it market its certification as the next big thing to HR pros and companies (update: SHRM announced early in December that it had 65,000 pathway participants, with more still completing the process in the final weeks). In a few years those of us with a SHRM cert will have to decide how we will continue. At the same time, we will have to do the same with our HRCI certifications and make the call if we continue or let it lapse.

For those of you making the decision to get certified, consider what I’ve written here. For what it’s worth, here is what I’ve been telling people for the past year:

For now I would continue to pursue the PHR/SPHR. It is recognized as a standard and could even net you more money. SHRM’s certification doesn’t yet hold enough value in the workplace for companies and HR pros to put much stock in it. That may very well change but for now it is unproven and untested. I’ve passed both the PHR and SPHR and the knowledge gained helped me to be better at what I do. I took the SHRM pathway in half an hour and got my SHRM-SCP with about as much effort as you’d put forth pulling the prize from the cereal box.

I received an anonymous comment from someone that is intimately familiar with the HR certification industry and the person had this to say:

One thing you might want to keep in mind regarding these two certifications, is that HRCI certifications are accredited and SHRM’s are not. From what I understand, SHRM is trying to get theirs accredited, but because they also develop the prep materials for the exams, they may not qualify.

Just another piece of the puzzle to consider.

A Few SHRM Positives

One of my friends is a SHRM volunteer leader and explained a few key points to me:

  • The accreditation process isn’t an overnight thing. It can take several years to get the initial stamp of approval. That’s good to know.
  • In addition, he took the SHRM exam since he is an instructor and has to teach classes on exam content. He said that it was much more reflective of the HR role of today than what he recalled the HRCI exam being several years back.
  • He also said that his state, and many others, will continue to offer SHRM and HRCI credits simultaneously for programs. This is good news for those of us holding dual certifications.

I’d love to hear from some of you about how you see this shift affecting you and the rest of the HR community. 

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:


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!


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.


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.


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)


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
  • quality initiatives
  • company growth stages and HR needs
  • individual vs task vs organizational assessments
  • bloom’s taxonomy, uses
  • compensable factors
  • instructional design models

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!


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.


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. 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?


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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, 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? 

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!

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading