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Hr Test Prep

Tackling HR Certification Exam Preparation

So, you’ve decided to pursue your HR Certification. Congratulations! For so many, this is a pivotal decision in their career trajectory.

However, if you’re like many HR Pros who opt to pursue a certification, you may not know where to begin. And if you’re like me, when I opted to pursue my PHR, I hadn’t studied or taken an exam for that matter, since shortly after college (and it’s been a minute). But luckily for you, we can share some preparation advice!

1. Effective preparation requires comprehensive preparation materials.

In our programs, we incorporate materials from HRCP. They have been in the exam preparation space for almost 30 years and have generally been regarded as the “Gold Standard” in HR Certification test preparation. They include:

    • 900 pages of reading (divided into 5 units of study)
    • 1000+ practice questions (in the form of 14 practice tests)
    • flashcards

You truly don’t need any other resources. And do not discount those practice questions. They are gold. These materials are available for the HRCI exams (aPHR, PHR, SPHR, PHRi, SPHRi), but can also be used for the SHRM-CP or SHRM- SCP.

For those who are preparing exclusively for the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP, the SHRM Learning System is another great resource. It covers much of the same information as the HRCP Materials but is organized differently. It’s another very comprehensive program and will get you where you need to go.

There are lots of other resources out there (I mean—you can find almost anything on Amazon), but I’d stick with the tried-and-true programs!

2. Decide whether you are going to go it on your own, or if you feel like you’re a better fit for a preparation class. 

This is one of those decisions that really causes you to evaluate your personal situation. Here are some factors to consider:

  • How busy is your current schedule (considering work, family, and personal obligations)?
  • Are you someone who is fairly self-directed, or do you do better with structure and guidance?
  • Rate yourself in terms of accountability.

I sort of liken test preparation to going to the gym! I, personally, do way better if I show up at a specific time for a class. I know I’ve got an instructor and other people who are waiting for me. I know that no matter how I’m feeling that day, I’m going to go into class and be told what I need to do. And I know I’ve got people who are supporting me, watching me, and keeping me going. If I don’t have a class, I might slack off. I might opt for just the treadmill because I’m tired or skip out on weights. I’m not going to push myself as much as I would in a class. So—for me—when it came to test prep, I knew I needed a class and a community with which to do this.

For some, they rock the exam with just studying on their own. But if you do opt for self-study, I would still recommend:

  • Create a consistent study schedule. Choose specific hours, days of the week, etc., that you’ll devote to study.
  • Find a distraction-free environment to study. Maybe it’s your bedroom, maybe it’s a library or nearby Starbucks, but try to find a place to really focus.
  • Tell some colleagues, friends, or a partner about your certification prep and exam—especially if you’re going the self-study route. You will still want someone who knows your goals, can check in on you and help keep you accountable!
  • Schedule your exam! Don’t delay on this, because if you do, you may find yourself floundering. Scheduling your exam gives you a hard deadline and will help you keep going—even on the hardest days.

3. Stick to your plan!

Whatever your plan is—self-study or you’re doing a class, do your best to commit to it and stick to your plan. I had to really be intentional about being “disciplined.” As adults, we are pulled in many different directions-work, family, professional obligations, school for some, and let’s not even mention a social life?! Remember that this is a short-term time investment, so do your best to power through!

4. Give yourself grace!

Again—you’re an adult. Life happens. Kids get sick, jobs get crazy and life sometimes gets in the way. Don’t beat yourself up about it, and don’t let that be a reason that you quit! Take the time you need but keep on going with the understanding that progress is the goal, not perfection!

5. Don’t let anxiety stand in your way.

Honestly-test prep can feel scary. It can feel overwhelming. And the thought of sitting for the test is stressful for MANY people. I don’t think, in my own preparation, that there was any scenario in which I would have felt READY for the exam. I questioned my prep, my knowledge. I thought about rescheduling on multiple occasions. But at the end of the day, I knew I had to bite the bullet. The worst that could happen is that I’d fail. And in that case, I’d try again. Just “don’t let the fear of striking out, keep you from playing the game.” You can do this!

I hope this helps those of you who are just starting out on your certification journey. Please know that you can do this. It won’t be easy, but most things worth doing aren’t. And—you’re not alone! 

For information on upcoming HR Education Network courses, visit If you just want to talk test prep, email We can’t wait to help you earn those letters.

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