The Marathon is Over! Tips for the SPHR Exam

After months of books and tests and books and tests (and tests) I finally took the SPHR exam and passed it.  Seriously... there's nothing like the feeling I got when I read the word "pass" on the screen.  It was an exhausting process - but all in all, I feel it was worthwhile. Mostly I learned so much and learning is never wasted. I'm also proud to join other colleagues who also completed their SPHR. We'll make our profession stronger as we take our certification requirements seriously.


While I have the experiences "fresh" in my mind I thought I would jot them down. These experiences could help someone else - I know how eager I was for information and tips before I took the test! I will divide my tips into four categories: "Experience," "Resources," "Preparation," and "The Big Day." 




The HRCI has changed the experience / education requirements for the test for the 2011 windows (click here to visit the HRCI page). Now a candidate for the PHR needs at least 2 years of exempt experience (with a Bachelor's degree) and a candidate for the SPHR needs at least 5 years of exempt experience (with a Bachelor's degree).  The experience requirements take into consideration education level - for instance, a candidate for the SPHR who has a master's degree needs only demonstrate 4 years of experience.


With that said, of course experience matters - particularly generalist experiences.  While specialists are allowed to sit for the exam (click here for an approved position list) the road towards certification is much tougher for specialists. I know. I was there.  My specialty area is Training and Development.  Thus, I prepared for the Human Resource Development module quite easily... yes, I still needed to brush up on some motivation or leadership theories but nothing major.  However, modules on Compensation and Benefits and Labor Relations absolutely baffled me.  I had to start from scratch - and bring it all together without having been there.  I can't tell you how hard that was.


With that said - it's doable... just much harder.  Basically, if you're a specialist you can expect to spend more time reading, talking to people, and asking real world questions. 


One tip as you consider taking the exam - register early right when your "window" for registration opens.  The slots in the testing centers close fast, and you may be forced to take the exam earlier than you'd like or (as was my case) in a different town!




The SHRM Learning System is probably the best preparation tool you can find.  It's pricey - but well worth the price. One particular strong feature of the SHRM Learning System is the access to the Learning System's Website.  The Website includes flash cards, over 1000 questions, a pre and a post-test, a great Case Study and other super valuable resources.


Even though I strongly recommend the Learning System, however, I hardly recommend that you stick only to it.  Most people will tell you that expanding your circle of materials may improve your chances - not only because of the content of various books but also because of the comments, cases, exercises, etc.  Here are some of the materials I particularly liked:


Anne Bogardus - SPHR / PHR Certification Study

Larry Phillips - SPHR Exam Prep

Lisa Guerin and Amy DelPo - The Essential Guide to Federal Employment Law


I also checked out several government websites including






Each of these sites includes fact sheets, faqs and other great resources.  Finally, one of my favorite resources for Supreme Court cases was the Oyez site, put together by the IIT Chicago Kent College of Law.  You can search any Supreme Court case and see basic information - hugely helpful. 




A lot of colleagues choose to join one of the SHRM Preparation Courses or a course offered by a local university or college. I haven't done that, but folks who have told me that it was worthwhile. Taking a class may allow you to discuss "real life" issues with colleagues (and those "real life" applications are likely to REALLY help you come exam day!)


I did have the opportunity to participate in the preparation course offered by my friend and colleague Tom Mobley (thank you Tom!).  Tom's course "got me started" (I participated in it early in the game) and gave me a great "road map." Tom's tips and bonus tests were also very helpful. If you live near Cincinnati, OH, you may want to check Tom's program out.


Here is something I did that made the difference between passing and not passing: I found a WONDERFUL "study buddy," Jim Foord.  While Jim lives in California and I live in Des Moines, IA, we still managed to meet weekly for several months.  We used mostly used skype and Go to Meeting to connect.  


Working with Jim helped me immensely for several reasons.  First, Jim did a fabulous job of putting together a study plan. Since someone else was counting on me, I knew I had to stick to the plan.  Second, discussing the study questions with someone really made it real.  Third, Jim and I supported one another as the "goings got rough" - when we got tired or frustrated or thought we wouldn't make it.  Even if you are fortunate enough to take a class or participate in a more formal training, I strongly recommend finding a "study buddy." 


A few tips as you prepare for the test:

  • The SPHR is very practical (I haven't taken the PHR, so I can't speak much of it - I'm hoping other people will comment below and give their feedback).  The questions are more likely to be "application based" and require a higher level of understanding.  You need to be ready to combine the information from several modules. This means that no set of books or tests will "completely" do the trick (that's why I used several!)
  • How can you prepare for the "practical" side of the SPHR? Of course experience will help you the most - but say you're a specialist like me, with a lot of experience in one area but not in all? Well, then you'll have to substitute that actual experience by a LOT of insight into OTHER PEOPLE'S experience.  How did I do that? I talked to people. I asked lots of questions. I focused on the "non-factual" areas of the books I read (case study discussions, real life examples, author's commentaries, etc.).  
  • One thing that really helped me was to complete the non-multiple choice exercises in Larry Phillip's book (the book included some application exercises at the end of each chapter).  Answering non-multiple choice questions forced me to think more deeply.  If you work from the SHRM Learning System do not neglect the "Case Study" included in the Online Resources.  It's great, and does bring it all together.
  • The SHRM Learning System questions and practice tests do help - but they are not enough. Frankly, the real exam is harder than the SHRM Learning System practice exams (also more practical).  I completed several other exams including the tests included in the Bogardus and the Phillip's books.  However, the one exam that came closest to the "real thing" was the exam offered at the HRCI site. You can complete 10 "free" questions or purchase a set of two exams. It's a little pricey but I felt it helped me.
  • Success in this exam depends not only on experience and knowledge but also on test taking skills.  The options are tricky - you're expected to find the "best" answer, and the "best" answer is hardly obvious.  If you're not the greatest test taker, practice answering as many exam questions as you can. In particular, you need to time yourself - it will make you feel far calmer if you know that you can complete 225 questions in 4 hours without a problem (actually, you should try to be able to complete 225 questions in 2 hours - why? because you'll want to review the questions you marked - and that by itself will take a couple of hours!). 
  • With that said, stop taking exams at least a couple of days prior to the test. Otherwise, you'll worry yourself sick.  Remember that no practice exam is exactly the same as the exam you'll take - so completing a thousand of them the day before the exam is not helpful.  
  • The day before the exam have some R&R. Do something fun. Go to bed early. The exam is pretty cerebral and takes a lot of "thinking" power.  The worst thing you can do is go to it tired.




So now you've studied (hopefully with a study buddy), completed lots of practice exams and are ready for "the big day." Here are some last "words of wisdom."

  • Visit the site beforehand - know where to park, and if possible go inside and ask a couple of questions. For instance, I found it super helpful to know details such as what I would and would not be able to have with me (tip: you can have nothing, not even your own watch or a box of tissues!), where I would store my purse, whether the site provided tissues, etc. 
  • Unless you live very close to the site, consider staying at a nearby hotel. I loved that I was only 3 minutes away and didn't have to worry about traffic. You don't need the extra stress.
  • One of my BEST ideas was to take a pair of disposable ear plugs (about the only thing they let you take inside).  The environment can be a little noisy and distracting. There could be someone next to you coughing, typing away, and the exam administrators come in and out fairly frequently. Having ear plugs available really made a difference to me. 
  • The computerized exam system is awesome - for starters, you're able to "mark" questions for later review and "cross out" options that are clearly wrong. I used both options extensively! The system allows you 15 minutes for a tutorial - go ahead and take it! Not only it will help you understand the system better, it will also calm your nerves.
  • The first time I went through the exam I tried not to "overthink" or spend too much time on each question. If I got a little stumped I answered with my "gut" and marked the question for further review. 
  • I marked many questions - some because I wasn't 100% sure and wanted a second look, some because I really didn't know. The only questions left "unmarked" were the gimmies - the ones I found really easy (no, there weren't too many of those).
  • I finished my first "try" at all questions within the first couple of hours. At that point I got up, got out of the room (you have to sign out, but you are able to take a little break), even drank half a cup of coffee.  I stretched and got back in. Yes, the clock kept "ticking" while I was on break - but those ten minutes really helped reenergize me for the final push.
  • During my "second round" I went through all the questions I had marked. I used the "cross out" option very extensively - sometimes I managed to cross out all options and find an answer by elimination! Often, however, there were at least two answers that seemed equally reasonable.  That's when you have to stop and ask yourself what the question is really testing. Sometimes I closed my eyes and willed myself to "think as a business woman" (many questions are strategic in nature or combine an HR specialty with the need to think strategically).
  • When you're done reviewing a "marked" question, make sure you "unmark it" - this will tell you that question is "really" done.  I still went back one more time to a few questions I still had marked. 

Now comes the scariest time of all - once you "unmark" and answer all questions, you'll need to "finish"! I can't remember the name of the button - but there's a button you click when you're finally "ready." To make things worse, the system then starts asking you a bunch of survey questions on your experience (yikes).  By then my heart was beating fast and the last thing I wanted to do was to answer any questions! 


At the end of it all, the system will quickly calculate whether you passed or not.  You won't know "how well" you passed (or how close were you to passing if you didn't pass) until several weeks later.  Seeing the "pass" word is something else - I had to sit back and smile for a few minutes just to sink it all in.  If you don't pass, however, know that you can complete it again (there are no limits to how many times you can repeat the process). 


I hope these explanations and tips help you! Do you have any comments? Would anyone care to expand on what I said? Do you agree or disagree with anything?










Write a comment

Comments: 83

  • #1

    Kim Karcher (Monday, 17 January 2011 10:18)

    Cris, I also sat for the SPHR this past weekend and agree with just about all of your comments. It would be a mistake for anyone to expect that the questions in the SHRM Learning System, for example, exactly represent what's on the actual test. Being able to synthesize knowledge and think strategically is the key.

  • #2

    Susan Jones (Monday, 17 January 2011 10:24)

    Thank you for this helpful information, Cris. I am taking the PHR exam one week from today. I will check back to see if anyone gives pointers to this test, in particular, as opposed to the SPHR. I especially like that I can take ear plugs; I am so easily distracted.
    ~Susan Jones, Recruiter

  • #3

    Bonnie Webber (Monday, 17 January 2011 10:42)

    Hi Cris - Congratulations! I absolutely agree with all of your comments. I took the test for the 2nd time exactly 1 year ago (PASSED) and it was one of the hardest exams I have ever taken. I used the SHRM Learning System and found it to be the most helpful resource. On a side note, my exam site provided headphones. You definitely need them or earplugs to help you stay focused. For those who pass and don't want to have to take the exam again to re certify, I suggest starting right away with obtaining your re certification credits. I am over a third of the way there and have found many free seminars, webinars, etc...that offer the SPHR re certification credits.

    Bonnie Webber, SPHR, Sr. HR Generalist

  • #4

    Judy Seybert (Monday, 17 January 2011 10:42)

    Thank you for such helpful and insightful information.
    I plan to register for the first available course through
    a local university for the SPHR.

  • #5

    yemi (Monday, 17 January 2011 10:49)

    Thanks Cris, your article was super helpful though i had a panic attack when i 1st read through it. I'm sitting for the PHR next week and will really love pointers from anyone who has taken the exam. Unfortunately, i do not have a 'study buddy' but since its not too late, if there's anyone taking the exam and won't mind rubbing minds together, do get in touch

  • #6

    Pam Sisson (Monday, 17 January 2011 10:51)

    Congrats Cris - just took mine SPHR certification for the 2nd time (December 31) and it wasn't any easier than the first time. While I passed both times using only the SHRM Learning System, I would definitely suggest utilizing other resources, particularly the HRCI tests to study. It is absolutely one of the most stressful moments ever when you hit that button to finish up (can't remember what it's designated either). But it IS so great when you see that "Passed" on there and realize all the hard work was worth it. That being said - I'm already worrying about recertification credits so I don't have to EVER take it again!

  • #7

    adina (Monday, 17 January 2011 10:53)

    Great information. Thank you! I had my first PHR in 2002 in a restaurant ballroom with 250 other applicants - really bad experience. I'm happy to see they offer computer based tests.
    I'll have my SPHR on the 29th. I'm worried about the Supreme Court cases and case studies. Can anyone give me an estimate on the number of related questions that would appear on the test. I'm assuming about 36 questions, based on the percentages shown on the SHRM materials. Thanks!

  • #8

    Marion (Monday, 17 January 2011 10:59)

    I am scheduled to take the PHR in May. I'd like to hear about tips from Susan Jones on taking the PHR, once she has taken. Good Luck!

  • #9

    Susan Jones (Monday, 17 January 2011 11:01)

    Forgive me for not saying CONGRATULATIONS! (when I posted earlier).

  • #10

    Donna Caroleo (Monday, 17 January 2011 11:13)

    Hi Cris,
    Thank you for your wonderful insights and tips! I am registering for the SPHR course as we speak with the hopes of taking the exam in the May/June timeframe. I've been a Generalist throughout my work history, but, like you, I have specialized in one area - Recruiting - for the past several years. I find myself becoming particularly anxious about the other functional areas of HR therefore appreciate you listing other prep materials and websites.

    - Donna Caroleo
    Corporate Staffing

  • #11

    Elena Mason (Monday, 17 January 2011 11:13)

    Chris, thank you for the tips.

  • #12

    Pat M (Monday, 17 January 2011 12:02)

    I took it this past Friday and passed also - such a relief - congrats to all who passed. I feel I ended up studying the laws and case studies too much. The # can be overwhelming but not that many questions on the name of the laws/cases. Know what they mean. Be sure to load the SHRM app on your phone to practice the terms. I found when I had a few minutes - I'd go through a few. There are over 700 on the app.

  • #13

    Kelley Stoneburner (Monday, 17 January 2011 12:03)

    Chris- I agree the HRCI and SHRM's case studies were also most helpful to me in passing the SPHR exam. I wasted time memorizing far too many laws, learning systems, etc. Re-taking the SHRM on-line exams is not very helpful as the SPHR is not a fact nit-picky test. Using multiple resources for a deeper meaning is good advice.

  • #14

    Amir Abbas (Monday, 17 January 2011 12:07)

    Dear Cris,
    I am also planning to appear first time in PHR exams in coming May. Kindly, advise me with some fruitful tips..plzzzz!
    Thanks & regards,
    Amir Abbas

  • #15

    Deb G. (Monday, 17 January 2011 12:53)

    Chris, I took and passed the exam on December 10th. I had completed the SHRM class on 11/22 and had been urged to sit for the exam as soon as possible thereafter. It was scarey, but I strongly agree with that plan. The longer you wait, the more you forget. I did not think the exam room would be a distraction but it was. I ended up using the headsets provided by the center, although, had I known just how loud someone could be while typing non-stop on a keyboard several cubicles away could be, I would have brought my own!

    Chris, you mentioned the prep courses. Mine was very valuable but I must strongly add that there are two additional online timed pre-tests that you should purchase as a set. I believe it was an added 72.00 for both, but they allow you a very realistic prep for the actula exam. Some people in my class did not want to spend the extra money but I feel strongly that, had I not done that, I would not have passed. Those extra timed tests allow to use the "mark" and "strike out" and "calculator" functions that the actual exam has. It also provides the same summary list of questions so you can confirm that you have not missed any.

    Again, understand the theory behind each court case morso than the actual parties involved. I also only had two questions that required any calculations at all. The Total Rewards section was very challenging within "benefits". Every section is all about the actual application of what you learn in class or online. The test takes a long time because you need to think through various applications to determine the correct one of the 2 best answers. I almost always could narrow my choices to the two best. then, as Chris says, go back to the actual wording of the will be surprised at how many times a lightbulb will go off on a "stem" word in the question.

    Be positive and tell yourself you will pass. Study some each day, then review the previous day's before moving on to the next topic on your study list.

    Best of luck to all on joining the "Certified" ranks and getting those letters after your name! You can d it!

  • #16

    Nila Lad (Monday, 17 January 2011 12:53)

    Congratulations Cris. I am scheduled to take my SPHR exam on January 24th. Thank you for the tips and links to the other resources.

    Nila Lad

  • #17

    Sandy Milkent (Monday, 17 January 2011 12:57)

    Cris Congratulations on this very meaningful achievement. I sat for the PHR exam on December 17th and passed it. I agree that the questions were very much "application based". I used the SHRM Learning system and took a preparation class for 3 hours one night a week for 13 weeks. I will throw this out there, if you are a generalist and are serious about passing the exam be prepared for the studying to take over your life. There is an over whelming amount of information to read through and study. However, it is so worth the effort once you pass the exam. Here are some tips that were helpful for me. Know the terms. I used the flash cards. Each night before I went to bed I would go through about 40 at a time. Once I knew the term I put that card in a different pile to be reviewed again in the days before the exam. Stay on task with the reading and studying. You really don't want to fall behind. It is too hard to catch up. Because, my life at home can be very hectic I used the study rooms at my local library several times a week. I got a lot done in a few hours because it was quiet and I could focus on the material and not all the interruptions around me. Don't focus too much on the court cases just be sure to know how the law was applied to the case. My exam did not ask about court cases. Like you Cris I didn't do any studying the day before the exam. This was important for me because I didn't want to go into the exam with that added stress. I made sure to read the questions slowly picking up on the key word(s) that helped me to figure out what was being asked. Lastly, while taking the exam don't give up. A few times while taking it I felt sure that I was not going to pass. Each time I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and told myself "I can do this". Good luck to those that will be taking the exam in the future.

  • #18

    Mary Huelsman (Monday, 17 January 2011 13:15)

    Cris, congratulations and thank you! This information is very timely for me as I am investigating the best arrangement for me to pursue the SPHR this Spring. This has been so helpful. And, thank you to all of your contributors who have made comments.

  • #19

    Nicolette Lombardi, SPHR (Monday, 17 January 2011 13:38)

    Congratulations Cris! You are right on with your post. I took the SPHR December 20th and passed.

    One thing, I would definitely make known is once you see that word pass you 100% passed. The test results may make you still a little uncertain because they say they are not finalized but no worries as the testing center said there has never been a case where someone was told they passed and did not. Then you have to be patient because you hear nothing for about 3 weeks and then your certificate arrives in the mail.

    I personally was just as excited to receive my certificate as the day I saw the word pass on my exam results at the testing center.

  • #20

    Cindy D (Monday, 17 January 2011 14:09)

    I am taking the PHR exam in May and begin my review course February 1st. I am an HR Generalist with 20+ years of experience. I am easily distracted and I tend to over organize to the point of becoming overwhelmed and totally disorganized. Assuming I have a small amount of experience or current knowledge of human resources, please provide me with answers to the following questions:
    How many months do I need to prepare for the exam?
    How many hours should I expect to spend studying each day?
    Does the SHRM Learning System provide a study plan?
    Should I combine studing materials from the SHRM Learning System and my PHR Review Course?
    Should I focus on one area at a time ororganize my study time differently?
    How do I schedule my time between February and May to be certain I cover all necessary areas and not run short on study time?
    Is it practical to study with someone online or should I seek out someone in my PHR Review class?

    I am very scared that I will not use my time wisely and don't have much confidence in my study or time management skills. It has been a long time since I got my business degree.

    I am desperate for any and all advise and/or materials I can get.

    Cris, congratulations and thank you for providing your comments! I hope and pray that in May I will be successful and pass the PHR Certification Exam!

  • #21

    B.Knight (Monday, 17 January 2011)

    I am one of the few with more OJT than schooling. (I did not graduate from college, but have decided to go back to school & finish my degree. I am currently a part-time student & full-time employee.) With that said, the Anne Bogardus book, as well as my 20+ years in Human Resources (back then, we called it "Personnel") did help me pass the PHR exam 2 years ago. I did not have a study buddy, but have since assisted others in their studies for the PHR test. I agree that test-taking skills need to be good. It was the hardest test I have ever taken. There are questions on the test which appear to have multiple correct answers - you must choose the BEST correct answer. That was a challenge. I feel that the practice tests are VERY important for the look and "feel" of the testing format. Good luck to all and congratulations to Cris!

  • #22

    Brit Peek (Monday, 17 January 2011 18:38)

    Congratulations Cris!

    I am studying and wonder if you or anyone that has read your blog might have their SHRM Learning system for sale or lease? If so, please e-mail me back at:

    Thank you for taking the time to share your story!

  • #23

    Frank Cania, SPHR (Monday, 17 January 2011 21:20)

    Congratulations Cris, and everyone else who recently passed the PHR & SPHR exams!

    I passed the SPHR 5 years ago and have been helping others prepare for the PHR & SPHR exams ever since. I believe strongly in the value certification brings to the individual and to the profession.

    Your comments are right on the money from the feedback I've received from former students. Especially about getting some R&R the night before the test and going in fresh and ready.

    If anyone is interested in information regarding an on-line PHR/SPHR exam prep workshop beginning Feb 17th, please contact me at

  • #24

    Fawzia (Tuesday, 18 January 2011 03:25)

    Thank you Cris & Congratulations :)

  • #25

    Kirstin Dahl (Tuesday, 18 January 2011 08:19)

    Cris, I took the SPHR exam last Friday and also passed. I have a senior generalist background in all HR disciplines with the exception of benefits. I did not purchase the HRCI materials however, I did use the two books you mentioned above. I also purchased the two HRCI practice tests online. None of the tests or books prepared me for the actual "test questions", instead the questions drew on practical application of the Body of Knowledge. I highly recommend test applicants learn the Body of Knowledge material and then be able to apply their knowledge in all areas. I also brought ear plugs but instead used the headphones the testing site provided. Even with the headphones, I thought the test site was distracting and noisy.

  • #26

    Colleen (Tuesday, 18 January 2011 10:19)


    Congratulations on your passing the SPHR! Unfortunately, I had taken the test twice previously (couple years ago) and I missed passing by about 5 points each time (after I received my paperwork). Your tips are extremely helpful.

    The situation was very frustrating to me as I passed all the pre-test questions and I have been in HR for approximately 15 years. To this day, I am a horrible test taker. I sat down to take the test and I had a panic attack both times! I had could not recall anything from the classes I took or the SHRM Learning System.

    My test taking skills have always been a problem since grade school due to anxiety. It is very frustrating for me since I could probably write a paper on each question....but to choose that "best" answer is impossible for me while I am full of anxiety.

    Is there anyone that can provide words of wisdom? I have tried extra sleep, no caffeine, breathing exercises, etc...

    Thank you and again congratulations!!

  • #27

    les (Tuesday, 18 January 2011 15:20)

    Thanks, I take my exam in 10 days and really feel unprepared. The tips will help.

    Thank you for taking the time to share.

  • #28

    Max (Wednesday, 19 January 2011 12:08)


    Congratulations! Your message definitely conveys that incredible sense of happiness and relief that comes after a lot of work and study. I passed the SPHR yesterday after taking a university class and studying for over 80 hours prior to the test, including re-reading the SHRM Learning System and taking all of the test questions I could on the Learn HRM site.

    I felt that the test questions were extremely worthwhile because they give you the sense of the test environment in a more risk-free situation. I was able to print most of my incorrect answers from the site and study them prior to the test. That helped. I also went through all of my flash cards 3 times.

    Four years ago, I passed the PHR test. In comparing the two tests, I would say that the PHR test has a lot more of the questions where memorization is the key to succeeding on the test. For the SPHR, I memorized a lot of legal case information, case law information, and the like. There was a lot more of that type of material included on the PHR test. The SPHR test feels like every question is definitely, as you put it, at the Synthesis level of learning and not something you could just pull out of the book. It took an immense amount of concentration and focus to pull out the right answers, even knowing the material very well. I hope this comparison is helpful to individuals who may be facing either test in the future.

    It is a good idea to have a forum to share this information, so thank you for introducing the topic, Cris. Congratulations to all who passed and to those who didn't, I hope you will succeed in the future because that is what I would do, keep trying. Thanks to all for the helpful and insightful comments.

  • #29

    Shari (Wednesday, 19 January 2011 14:06)

    These comments & suggestions are so helpful! Thank you! I am studying out of the SHRM Learning System as well and I have my test in a week. I'm a bit apprehensive and nervous. It's a lot of material!

    Executive Administrator

  • #30

    T. Sims (Thursday, 20 January 2011 18:15)

    This has been immensely helpful. I'm scheduled to take the SPHR, AGAIN, for a 3rd time on the 31st and I'm as nervous - if not more - than I was the first two times. I feel like the pressure is on and I'm still not getting consistent passing scores on the practice tests. I am a visual learner so the oyez site will help me out a grave deal. I did take the prep course and it's good to read advice from others who have recently passed say the same things. Thank you. These last two weeks are my crunch time and I plan to spend this entire weekend crouched with my laptop, in a little room, with my headphones on absorbing everything I can about paper companies, testing laws, and motivational theories (which I keep mixing up). I'm a generalist so I feel pretty confident about my breadth and depth of knowledge. The most challenging part is undoing what I know from an application standpoint and thinking from a 'body of knowledge' point of view. Thanks again.

  • #31

    Renuka Adnani, PHR (Thursday, 20 January 2011 18:38)


    Congratulations to all who passed!!! and Good Luck!! for the rest.

    I gave my PHR test yesterday and PASSED. Everybody here has given great tips. However, something happened to me at the test center nobody had mentioned earlier, so thought to share.

    In the last 5 mins a small reminder screen popped up saying only 5 mins left. When I clicked ok, the buttons for previous or next froze and I could do nothing, but the timer kept ticking. Do not freak out and just stay calm and immediately call the attendants/representatives. They will reboot the system, and your timer will start at the same time where you were before the reboot happened.


  • #32

    Elena (Thursday, 20 January 2011 18:59)

    Cris and all others who have passed - CONGRATULATIONS - A WELL DESERVED SIGH OF RELIEF! This information is invaluable to me as I prepare to sit for my SPHR next week January 27. I have over 15 years experience as a generalist and this course has challenged me to lengths I have never been challenged!

    In the last two weeks, other than the SHRM learning system, the Lewis SPHR exam prep book, and HRCI (I am purchasing the practice tests today after reading everyone's insights), I have been searching other methods and systems to solidify my learning this exam. To be able to resource various "strategies and insights" has been helpful. I can share additional resources which I find to be helpful:

    Aset of 7 CD's which are available for PHR SPHR Exam Study through ATI Consulting & Publishing ($199) at It states that it is an essential "need to know" information that will be on the exam. The Seventh CD is 12 full length 225 question exams in a test simulator. This series helps those of us that are both visual and audio learners.
    - Also -

    (SPHR2) SPHR Exam Secrets (ebook download) $59.99
    Mometrix Media LLC Support

    Mometrix Media LLC

    3827 Phelan #179
    Beaumont, TX

    My adjusted study strategy with only one week left before my exam is:

    I'm taking the practice tests, then I have the electronic versions of both the Lewis SPHR exam guide (CD included with purchase) and the Exam Hints open in my computer so I can use the "search format" and input the key term of the area I missed and need to re-study; as an example: "Lewin theory"; this gives me two reference points to better understand the material. Then I reinforce by making a tape of the answer (since I'm both a visual and audio learner).

    I pray to join my colleagues in this profession who have passed, and to those who have test anxiety (like I), breathing and self-hypnosis helps !!! Keep repeating the mantra "I will pass, I will pass, I will pass !!" and Good Luck !

  • #33

    Brian (Thursday, 20 January 2011 20:33)

    Thanks Cris,
    I am taking the PHR next Saturday (29th). You provided some great advice!

  • #34

    Shelley (Friday, 21 January 2011 07:37)

    First of all, Congratulations! I sat for the SPHR test in the December for the 3rd time and PASSED! Preparing for this test just about takes over your life for months but it was worth it. I used Anne Bogardus - SPHR / PHR Certification Study, Larry Phillips - SPHR Exam Prep and the SHRM Learning System. When people ask about the test it is hard to describe, but I feel that you nailed it. I have a colleague who will be sitting for the exam this spring and I am going to share this information with her.

  • #35

    Larry Westfall (Friday, 21 January 2011 10:50)

    Cris: Congratulations on attaining your SPHR. I too just passed the exam in early January and am thankful to have it behind me but also thankful for the opportunity to test my knowledge of a field that I am extremely passionate about. Agree that synthesis is the key not just rote memorization of terms. Having a generalist background lended itself much better. While each individual's study style will be different, I found the university prep course to be most helpful for me as I had definitive deadlines for readings, discussions and module exams. These milestones kept me on task. I know of others who have done the online self-study and have fared equally well. A matter of personal perference and learning style. I would also agree that multiple sources of questions and lines of inquiry is helpful. Continuing to review the same set of online questions while helpful may not be giving you the value of true learning and applying the knowledge. Would suggest any type of case studies to help solidify the concepts. My final piece of advise is to celebrate your accomplishment. Too often we move on to the next goal or objective without truly acknowledging the effort that went into a significant outcome.

  • #36

    J Clayton (Friday, 21 January 2011 13:06)

    Congratulations on passing the exam. I have not made it a priority and plan to do so this year. Thanks for taking the time to share your pointers- I found the inforamtion very valuable. Here's to much success for you in the years ahead in the HR profession!

  • #37

    Sheryl SPHR (Friday, 21 January 2011 18:45)

    I would agree with the comments to this point. One
    resource isn't enough. A few additional pointers...

    Another valuable resource that had videos and CDs you
    could listen to was www.distinctive I would also
    suggest avoiding cramming (knew a few who tried it and
    failed). Take as many tests as possible. It's starts
    you thinking in "test" mode. Stop studying a few days
    prior to avoid brainfreeze. Exceptions to items were
    also covered quite a bit. Good luck!

  • #38

    Dan (Monday, 24 January 2011 15:22)

    Congrats on passing the SPHR! I have a question for you and the group. I became a PHR 5 years ago and would now like to prepare for the SPHR exam. I went through a 12 week prep class which used the SHRM Learning System. It was excellent and aided greatly in my passing the test. As I recall, both PHR and SPHR candidates were enrolled, as much of the info was exactly the same for both, it's just that test questions were weighted differently with more questions devoted to Strategic Management on the SPHR exam.

    I'm wondering if anyone has any tips on going from PHR to SPHR? What's involved? Another exam, I assume? I'm not due to recertify my PHR until 12/31 of this year and I have enough recertification credits to do so now if chose to. I'm just trying to think about what makes the most sense to do in trying to upgrade my certification. Would appreciate your advice! Thanks!

  • #39

    Sandy (Tuesday, 25 January 2011 10:51)

    Cris, gaining the certification is one thing and keeping it current is all together another thing. I am in need of re-certification credits. It would be great to use this type of forum to share resources with the group on some good options. I work for a small company and have a relatively low budget for continuing education. I have purchased several of the e-learning courses from SHRM, but I am still short on credits. I generally look for whatever free options that I find available. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  • #40

    Diane (Tuesday, 25 January 2011 20:54)

    Thank you so much Cris and Jim for sharing so much about your journey along the way to getting your SPHR. I feel so much better starting the process and knowing that I can refer to your "tips" and be better prepared going in. Still nervous about it but I still feel better in a different way. Congratulations on such an amazing accomplishment.

  • #41

    Freddie (Thursday, 27 January 2011 15:53)

    Chris, thanks for the helpful tips and suggestions. Although, I am not registered yet, I am planning on taking the SPHR exam this spring.

  • #42

    Sheryl (Saturday, 29 January 2011 14:53)

    Congrats Cris, and all those who have passed their tests! I am in the final stages of studying too. In reply to Sandy's question above, my company offers a low-cost e-Learnng package for HRCI recertification credits that meets all requirements for PHR and SPHR recertification. The link is . Hope this helps.

  • #43

    Michelle P (Sunday, 27 February 2011 06:07)

    I too just took the test and passed - took it 1/27. It was hard!! I took the bar exam 20 years ago and although it was much harder overall, (2 1/2 days long, for ex.) - the SPHR test was more grueling/frustrating because many of the answers are just someone else's opinion of what they think is the "best" answer. You can't use logic on the test!! This test will be especially hard for lawyer who know the law - as the test at times has all wrong answers on those questions and it will kill you to have to pick the "best" wrong answer which you know, personally, might still hurt your client to do. Nonetheless, here is what I used to study: Villanova's HR Master's Certificate Human Resource Management class (it includes the SHRM materials so it forces you through them - and has great exams which you can use to study as well.) You get access to the SHRM study site too (it's worth the money because if you do the entire Certificate program, you also then get a Master's certificate, and if you time it like I did, the 2nd two courses will appply toward your recertification credits! Woot!) But what I think really cinched me passing was a program called Certgear. THAT is an awesome study program - I got a discount promo code (I think the website always offers them but be sure to type it in!) - and got 5 practice tests for $67....they were incredible because each question tells you (if you miss it) - why you missed it and why each answer is rigth or wrong. It is worth just going through and getting each question wrong for the study benefit! (I did that after taking each test.) Don't completely freak out if you do horribly on these at first - #1 - they are way harder than the real test and #2 - it gets mind-tricky when you see how many questions you've missed as you go through and then I think you start to psych yourself out. You can't do that on the real test....and it trains you to get over your test anxiety...actually makes the real test seem better!

    Congrats and good luck!

  • #44

    Jice Stokes (Sunday, 18 December 2011 05:13)

    I think your advice is spot-on for the SPHR test takers. I took that exam 3.5 years ago and passed the first time utilizing the SHRM Learning System materials and doing the 3 day review course. I read all of the SHRM Learning Sstem Books and drilled myself by taking all of the practice exam questions. Being a HR Generalist certainly helped me apply the concepts during the actual exam. I also agree that the actual exam is much more application oriented while the practice tests were more fact based. A person really needs to know how to apply the concepts learned.

    Now to the more current test I sat for....yesterday I took the GPHR. I pretty much followed the same study regimen above but I had to read more in-depth and spend amlit mire time studying this time since I generally only work with ER issues in 2-3 countries in my current role and do not focus on any of the other areas at work. As such, I studied quite a bit on my own and was not confident I would pass based upon all the new material I had to absorb in 2.5 months. I agree that you really need to understand test taking tips. For example, during practice exams, I noticed that when eliminating choices for answers, if the answer mentioned some tie to strategy, 75% of the time, that was the correct answer. Thanks be to God tha I passed the exam yesterday!

    I will day that when I pressed the button to score the exam, I was not sure I passed...however, I did. Good luck to those of you who decide to pursue your HR Certifications in 2012 and beyond!

  • #45

    Sandy (Saturday, 04 February 2012 13:22)

    A very informative post. Thank you for that.

  • #46

    Heidi (Friday, 27 April 2012 10:49)

    Wow, I do not need to research further on how to prep for the SPHR. Thank you for the information. :)

  • #47

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  • #48

    Ray Ban Sunglasses (Tuesday, 22 May 2012 20:27)

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  • #49

    Neil (Sunday, 03 June 2012 14:38)

    I recently took the SPHR and passed. total of 175 questions and I was at #22 before I saw anything remotely familiar. I was at #35 when I saw something I really knew. By #54 I felt I had no chance of passing. Why? - No law cases were asked, nothing about NLRB, unions, EEOC, insurance programs, compensation, immigration, healthcare programs, etc. I used bogardus' book and another book of prep questions by Aaron *****, forget his last name. I also bought online practice tests. I studied hard for a few months and felt when taking the test that I totally wasted my time. Recently got my official results in the mail which showed I passed by a very narrow margin.
    So, how did I pass? well, 2 of the 4 answers choices appeared totally wrong. so, then I had a 50-50 chance. took my time, thought it out, and went for it. the study time was wasted time for me so I went with common sense.
    So, I got lucky, maybe. consequently I would recommend not doing what I a couple of books, do a few practice tests online and hope for the best. Do one of these expensive learning programs out there. Do the test once, and pass it. it will be worth it.

  • #50

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  • #52

    Cheri (Tuesday, 11 September 2012 10:39)

    Thanks for the info. I am taking the SPHR exam in December and this has convinced me to invest in the SHRM learning system. Thanks for the advice and tips, to you and all who commented!!

  • #53

    Kim (Tuesday, 18 September 2012 21:23)

    Scheduled to take it Jan 12th- if anyone wants a study buddy, let me know. Your information was extremely helpful. I have ordered the books and will order the learning system.

  • #54

    npte practice questions (Thursday, 18 October 2012 06:00)

    Thanks, your article was very helpful. I'm sitting for the PHR next time and will really like to get somesuggestions from anyone who has taken the exam.

  • #55

    Chris (Saturday, 08 December 2012 09:54)

    Read the entire SHRM learning system in 2 weeks, sat for the test, thought I failed but passed. No practice exams or CDs, the test is really about applying best HR judgement and hoping for the best. 5 years generalist experience 2 years comp.

  • #56

    Maria (Sunday, 09 December 2012 20:17)

    This article is extremely helpful. I had planned on taking the SPHR in May of 2013, but was offered a job and they require me be certified within 6 months. I scheduled the exam in January 2013. Does anyone have a 2012 Learning System I can buy?

  • #57

    Julie JRD (Friday, 28 December 2012 14:23)

    Just completed SPHR. Did not pass. Was surprised I didn't pass honestly. I focused mostly on SHRM materials and did well on all tests. Also purchased the HRCI practic exams and passed both. I felt very prepared and well studied. I have 15 years of Generalist experience. Clearly not enough stategy though. Last click is 'end exam'.

  • #58

    Arun Kaimal (Saturday, 29 December 2012 12:13)

    Dear Cris ,

    Thanks a lot for sharing such detailed inputs . Much appreciate the same.
    Wish you the very best for a great career ahead in HR .

    Many Thanks

  • #59

    Belinda (Sunday, 30 December 2012 18:12)

    I am doing SPHR on Jan 19 th 2013. I might be interested in study buddy Kim, but I'm not sure how to contact you. Drop me am email with SPHR in subject line to


  • #60

    Praneet (Wednesday, 02 January 2013 03:43)

    I gave my SPHR exam recently (Dec 2012)...used Anne Bogardus and 2007 SHRM Learning System. unfortunately...did not clear. I already have a PHR certification (which was expiring at the end of 2012) and was going for SPHR instead of renewing PHR (which could have happened easily as I have enough learning credits to my name). Hence thought of using the old version of the SHRM Learning System that I already had with me. Not sure if that decision cost me my certification. Would anyone of you be aware as to how different the updated version of SHRM Learning system is compared to 2007?
    Plan to retake the test in the next window. In case anyone is interested in selling the updated SHRM Learning System, please contact me at
    (buying a new updated SHRM Learning System would be a huge cost and would prefer to get it second hand!)

  • #61

    Ana Houston (Sunday, 20 January 2013 23:23)

    Congrats on passing your SPHR Belinda!

  • #62

    Kathi Buescher (Monday, 21 January 2013 10:08)

    Congratulations, Cris! I, too, am a "specialist" and it was the hardest exam I've ever taken. I have one more thing to add to your wonderful tips - trust your "gut feeling." As you said, they're looking for the "best" answer.

    I took a prep course through our local AAIM chapter and our instructor gave us that tip. On questions I wasn't sure about, I went with the first one that seemed right and I passed the first time. I was later surprised to learn that I actually received a pretty decent score.

    I'm working on my recertification now because I don't EVER want to sit through that exam again!

  • #63

    Abby Lee (Friday, 22 February 2013 02:01)

    One quick question. You might have already answered but at the end you said you can repeat the process without limits. Does that mean you can retake the test within that 4 hr- period or repeat at later time. Thanks!

  • #64

    Alisha Leigh (Sunday, 24 February 2013 20:20)

    Thanks You for all of the information. I plan on taking the PHR in May of 2013. Does anyone have a 2011 or 2012 Learning System I can buy?

  • #65

    ELM327 (Friday, 08 March 2013 21:39)

    In fact, it is a fascinating source of information in the network above, I am very happy to read that article! The article left me a deep impression, so I'm interested! The great task

  • #66

    Annie (Thursday, 14 March 2013 20:40)

    The information I received was very helpful Thank you Cris and all contributors but I am really scared now I am taking the exam in May 2013. I have the prep book by Phillips which I am using. If anybody is looking for a study buddy contact me

  • #67

    Christine (Wednesday, 27 March 2013 15:04)

    This was a great wealth of information. Thank you so much for putting it out there. I want to register for the SPHR and now have a greater understanding of what it will entail. I appreciate the depth that you provided. I am looking for a study buddy that is beginning at ground zero. If interested please contact me

  • #68

    BHavs (Friday, 03 May 2013 07:03)

    I wrote it a while back. If you know the topic , it should be a cake walk. Questions were no where near stressful or tough or complicated and i knew almost all the answers RIGHT. But still I FAILED.It is a trick to pass only a percentage of people to camouflage that is is a tough and serious exam. I dont think i will fall for this trick next time.

  • #69

    testt aker (Sunday, 05 May 2013 16:56)

    I am scheduled to take test in June 2013. Did not pass first time back in December 2012. Very upsetting as I completed a 12-week study course, read the SHRM materials, took as many on-line tests as I could find, etc. Found the test to be nothing like the SHRM prep materials/practice tests. Can anyone suggest most relevant practice tests? Thank you and wish me luck!

  • #70

    teadorsey (Monday, 06 May 2013 15:11)

    I'm preparing to take test this year in December 2013, if anyone has the SHRM learning system for a discounted price I'd definitely be interested. Was planning to take a prep course also at one of the local colleges but I guess you can't get enough preparation after reading these comments. Anyone looking for a study buddy let me know, I'm in the Atlanta area, email is

  • #71

    Diane (Tuesday, 07 May 2013 14:57)

    I took the SPHR in May 2013 in Minneapolis (lots of HR competition here). I took a 12 week university class, studied all the SHRM learning system questions, practiced, practied, and still I did not pass. I thankfully am current through 2015 with my PHR that I've held over 12 years. The article correctly describes how it went, and looking back the questions on the test were much harder and so disimilar to what the practice questions. Once I get my score, I'll decide if I'm sitting again in Dec 2013. Makes it easier to be considered for a job...

  • #72

    PT (Sunday, 19 May 2013 10:57)

    Hi Diane,

    Can you share some test questions for sphr 2013?. thanks!

  • #73

    Jmarie (Friday, 07 June 2013 13:03)

    I took the SPHR last month. I was thrilled when I passed. I studied for 7 months, 2-3 hours per day, every day. I participated in a 12-week college course, used the SHRM Learning System (books and online), read and used the tests for every book mentioned here. I took pages and pages of notes. I did not try to memorize the material; there's too much. I just kept going over and over it in every format I could find. I did not use a study buddy. The last month I did nothing but practice tests, taking note of everything I was getting wrong and weak areas. I did not feel confident going into the test and I did not feel confident while I was taking the test, but I passed. Most things do not come as easily for me as others, so I knew I had to make a major time commitment to prepare for this exam.

  • #74

    Lorraine (Friday, 25 October 2013 11:56)

    Hi Everyone
    Wow, finally found a blog that speaks about the SPHR exam and tips. Wonderful! Thank you all for the tips on this rigorous exam preparation. I will sit this exam next May/June 2014 and have already started the journey of studying. I am so scared at times when I heard that some persons fail this exam, there are so many materials to cover. I've enrolled in a school which will finish in January 2014 and currently using the Sandra Reed and Anne Bogardus Study Guide. Cris your tips/explanation re the exam were very informative to me. Thanks for sharing and others who shared tips as well. Now my challenge is to start studying seriously although exam is 7-8 months away. As you quint it is exam time (LOL). Are there any persons out there who will sit the exam May/June 2014 and would love for us to team up as study partners and study real hard for this exam. We will conquer it this way. Please drop me a line @ and we will discuss further from there. I've looked at The SHRM Learning System online and it is indeed pricey. Can anyone suggest most relevant practice tests or if anyone has the SHRM UPDATED learning system for a discounted price I'd definitely be interested? Thank you and wish me luck!

  • #75

    DAVINA (Tuesday, 31 December 2013 10:16)

    This was very helpful. I failed the SPHR in June 2013 and will sit again in 2014. I did not prepare enough the first time, but I will indeed this time. If anyone would like to start a study group/skype group, feel free to email me at I have also set up a group on Linkedin

  • #76

    Ivy (Friday, 31 January 2014 18:16)

    I sat for the exam today and passed! This was my second try. I did not study thoroughly the first time. This test is not to be underestimated. It is very difficult. The study partner is a very good idea. I believe that helped me. I also purchased a used HR text book to dig deeper into areas that I did not have deep knowledge in. I think it was helpful. I think the comment about using various resources is important. Practical application and a strategic perspective in reading each question is important. My study partner did not pass but I'm going to refer her to this site and perhaps she can join a study group.

  • #77

    ND (Monday, 03 February 2014 15:06)

    I took the SPHR on 1/30/14 and passed. I would like to share my experience in the hopes that it would be helpful to others. I highly recommend the SHRM Learning System. I used it to study for my PHR in 1999 and SPHR 2014 and passed both times. The Modules are well written, easy to understand, has lots of examples throughout the books – make sure you spend time learning those examples. In addition, there are questions at the end of each section, Online tools – 3000 test questions, Pre-Tests, Post- Tests, Bonus Tests, Case Studies, Articles, Flash Cards. The tests are simulated like the exam with the strike through feature to eliminate the wrong answers, timed clock on top right hand side, and a feature to mark questions so you can go back and review those. In addition, I used Ann Bogardus tests in her book and mainly her CD. The test questions on her CD seemed to be more closely matched to the questions on the SPHR exam. I heard that sells some inexpensive tests which are more like the SPHR exam. I didn’t use this. However, it may be worth investing in this as an additional supplement as well. . Based upon your test scores, you can put a study plan together with the information for the SHRM Learning System. I don’t recommend investing in any other materials to avoid overwhelming yourselves. Begin studying at least 6 months prior to the exam. You could do it in 4 months but it will definitely be hectic. I recommend taking a class. I didn’t for my SPHR. If you get copies of the PowerPoints of each of the 6 Modules, use it to take additional notes. This was extremely helpful for me. First 2 months, read and take notes. Then, read and reread your notes to reinforce the information and review the Flash Cards to remember any terminology you don’t already know. Ensure you understand and can synthesize the information. This worked better for me because memorizing everything became overwhelming. Take tests throughout your studying. I took off from work the last 2 weeks and studied for many hours continuously and also took some tests. By then I was reviewing and studying the information I didn’t know and reinforcing the information I already knew. Spend the amount of time on each Module based upon the number of questions that will be on the exam. The SHRM Learning System and their website along with HRCI provides this information. If you follow this plan, you should not fail. Believe in yourselves and study hard. Get plenty of rest the night before, watch a movie, be early for the exam so you can be relaxed and not stressed. Good Luck!

  • #78

    ND (Monday, 03 February 2014 15:16)

    Just to clarify my post above, besides the 3 resources - SHRM Learning System, Ann Bogardus CD with practice test questions and her book for the practice test questions, and practice tests, I don't recommend spending additional money on any other resources. With the plan above and studying hard, you can pass.

  • #79

    Marcia Wells (Saturday, 10 May 2014 01:15)

    I passed the PHR today. (Really, it was yesterday but I let some friends talk me into going out to celebrate)
    Let me start by saying, I was ALWAYS a good student!! But, for THIS test, I had to start over in learning how to study. Was it difficult? Of course!! It wouldn't mean as much to us & the organization if anyone could pass. Was it unpassable? (Unpassable is a KNOWN grammar error. Get over it)) yes, the PHR is passable!!
    My study plan: join my local (Ft Worth, TX) HR chapter & do the study program through them. It was cheaper than the college program but did require a little more "self-study". We used the SHRM Learning System. Very helpful. I printed out the flashcards from SHRM, paid to get the flashcards from HRCP, and created MANY of own that weren't covered in the previously mentioned systems. I studied, HARD, for 4 months. I paid $70 to take the 100 question practice exams on HRCI & I passed. I also need to add that I have a herniated disc that is CRUSHING my sciatic nerve, I can't sit or stand for more than 20 minutes at a time without crippling pain & I'm on OxyContin which sooooo muddled my brain. I also postponed back surgery so I could focus on this exam. And, following the steps I listed above, I passed. So, you can too!!
    Good luck, everyone!!

  • #80

    Nonkwan Hongthong (Sunday, 22 June 2014 14:53)

    Thank you very much Cris, I found your blog before I took the exam and it helped me a lot. So I want to drop by to say "thank you for sharing!"... I passed! SPHR June 2014... to help other HR professional friends who want to get certified either PHR or SPHR... here I've summarized the tips and techniques to pass the exam. Please visit my blog at or my website at All the best with your exam!

  • #81

    Counterbalance (Monday, 23 June 2014 00:07)

    Chris had a no-lose plan, but if you are reading this and thinking, "Uhhh... I don't have another 20 hours a week for the next several months to give to this.", I stand as an example of someone who passed the SPHR test with about 30 hours of total prep time. I read Anne Bogardus' book SPHR / PHR Certification Study, learned the laws and cases that she listed and then reviewed the book again in the two days before the test. I didn't take any practice tests, use flash cards, or have a study buddy.

    There are plenty of easy questions and many more that make almost no sense, but on every question you should be able to eliminate two answers that can't be the answer.

    I'm not encouraging a lax study regiment. Certainly, you're more likely to pass with more preparation, but don't be freaked out by the overachieving plan listed above.

    About me: I'm a specialist in compensation and HRIS. I have an MBA and a BS in engineering. I'm a fairly confident test taker.

  • #82

    Jerermy (Wednesday, 13 August 2014 05:25)

    wao what a great way to explain things I really appreciate your support :)

  • #83

    OA (Wednesday, 17 September 2014)

    SHRM learning system is too expensive for me :( i have seen used ones way cheaper like 2012 editions on i was thinking to buy that and use it. anyone know if i can still log in and use the website for used SHRM system? am i gonna miss whole alot studying 2012 system?

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