Passing the PHR / SPHR Exams - Answers & Tips

Wow - I'm amazed by the response to my blog on tips to the SPHR exam - and thankful for all of you who entered more ideas and testimony.  There were so many great questions that I thought it would make sense to write another blog with my answers! I'll try to group the questions by "themes":


What can you do if you're not a good test taker?


Here are some "test taking" suggestions - maybe one of them will work for you.


Tip # 1: Practice

Test taking is a skill like any other skill. Look for all and any practice tests you can find (remember that your public or local college library is likely to have lots of human resources books, each of them including test questions at the end of each chapter!). In particular, remember to time yourself and to practice answering long tests - completing 225 questions in one sitting is quite different from answering a few questions at a time.


Tip # 2: Answer the question before reading the options

Three of the four multiple choice answers provided are designed for one purpose and one purpose only: Distract you from the real answer. If you are an experienced HR professional and have prepared for the test thoroughly, you should be able to answer many of the questions before analyzing the options - and by doing so  you may reduce the chances of "falling" in any of the planned test traps.


Tip # 3: Treat the test as a puzzle

As a professor, I have seen incredibly bright and dedicated students perform very poorly in tests - especially multiple choice tests.  The word "test" conjures all sorts of memories in people and may cause considerable anxiety. It may help you to tackle the test as a problem solving exercise - a puzzle of sorts.


Tip # 4: Use the "check out" option extensively

A key to success in multiple choice tests is to rule out distractors.  Sometimes it's easier to know that something is dead wrong than it is to know that an item is "perfectly right." If you already know some options are not possible, then get rid of them - that will allow you to focus on the options that really matter.


Tip # 5: Remember to READ the question thoroughly

As I worked on practice tests I can't tell you how many times I made silly mistakes because I did not see words such as "NOT" or "EXCEPT FOR." Many of the questions ask you to identify which item IS NOT correct rather than which item IS correct.  If you go too fast you may choose the first "correct" item you see instead of finding the one "incorrect" item. 


Tip # 6: Don't assume that an item you have never seen is correct

I often recommend to my students that they "think as professors" and start creating their own tests.  This will help them see how one creates items, how one writes distractors, etc.  For instance, sometimes distractors are completely false - they refer to legislation that doesn't exist or terms that are never used.  If you don't recognize an item do not assume it is correct! In fact, if you are experienced, studied diligently, and do not recognize an item, it's more likely that it doesn't exist!


How detailed is the test? For instance, are there lots of "Supreme Court Cases" or other specific legal cases?


First, a disclaimer: No one can tell you exactly what's in the test. For starters, we all agree, as we take the test, that we will not share any of its questions.  Secondly, the questions are randomly generated - so the questions I was asked may be quite different from the questions you'll be asked.


With that said, I personally did not see too many "nit-picky" stuff in the test. It was far more strategic, practical, and application-based than I expected. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised - I thought the questions were quite interesting. I agree with what one colleague said in the comments to the blog - focus more on the impact of the Supreme Court Cases than on details (for me, however, remembering the impact of each case without context was almost impossible - it helped me to go visit the Oyez Supreme Court Case page I mentioned earlier and read about each case).


My understanding is that the PHR version includes more "fact based" questions than the SPHR one does - but even the PHR exam is supposed to be "application" based.


How much should you study? Does the SHRM Learning System include a study plan?


Cindy D. asked how much she should plan on studying. Cindy, that's a very indidvidual question, and it's likely to depend on your level of experience, test taking skills, and formal knowledge of HR.  I personally did study a lot. How much is "a lot"? In my case, off and on for a year (including participating in several study group sessions and a weekend-long course), several hours per week for the last 6 months (including weekly sessions with my study buddy and regular weekly readings), and almost non-stop full time during my month of break from school.  Do you need all that? My gut is that if you have a lot of generalist experience you probably won't need that much. Remember, I'm a specialist, not a learning "from scratch" the laws and processes many of you know in your sleep took me a lot of time, pain, and effort.


I don't recall seeing a "study plan" in the SHRM Learning System. However, the online version does include practice questions for each module, flash cards, a power point presentation, and lots of other resources. My "study buddy" Jim Foord did a terrific job of creating study plans - that was immensely helpful to both of us.


Whatever you do, I can't say this enough - do not rely on one resource only.  The SHRM Learning System is great, but it's not a catch-all.  The SHRM Practice Tests are helpful but seemed to me to be more "fact-based" than the "real thing." Also, internalizing information may be easier if you read about it in different texts, including different examples, etc.


Uff - I guess that's what I have for today.  I need to go back to Linked:HR and see the many comments in there - and possibly summarize them in the next Blog! By now I need to focus on my students at Drake University and get those classes prepared!


Good luck to all of you and CONGRATULATIONS on those who obtained the certification!




Write a comment

Comments: 1

  • #1

    Maru (Sunday, 19 February 2012 12:12)

    Clear like water, thanks a lot for sharing.

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