PHR / SPHR Exam For Dummies
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Each question on the PHR or SPHR exam has four multiple choice options, of which two seem highly possible but only one is correct. When faced with this choice, think about how you would answer this question at work.

Consider both answers from a federal versus a state perspective and remind yourself that these exams are based on federal law. Re-read the question and make sure that you understand what it's asking before making your answer choice.

For example, a question asking you to implement a plan may have answer options related to design, implementation, and measurement of said plan. All answers are vital to the planning process, but only one is directly related to implementation, which would be the correct answer.

Try to anticipate the right answer before you even read the answer choices. This strategy requires knowledge about the core subjects and the ability to predict what the answer choices may be. This strategy isn't a guessing technique. It's a technique designed to focus your thinking on what the question is asking so that you recognize the most likely answer when you read the options.

To use this strategy, stick to these steps:

  1. Read the questions twice.

  2. Before looking at the available answers, identify the correct answer in your mind.

  3. After you're confident that you know the answer, scan the multiple choice options for the most similar choice to your conclusion.

    When you allow yourself to find the answer naturally, you're less likely to be swayed by the options and the distractors.

These tips can help you apply this strategy:

  • Properly prepare. Make sure that you spend the time to study the material. If you're unprepared, this strategy won't work, simply because you won't have the information stored in your brain to arrive at the conclusion without assistance.

  • Read the question twice. The first time that you read the question, you're getting the general sense and absorbing the gist of the concept being measured. The second pass involves looking for the keywords that get at what the question is truly asking. You can figure out whether it asks for action or design, questions, interpretation, or application, or if it measures knowledge or references best practices. Remember that the PHR exam will use keywords related to operational activities that focus on performing the work of an HR generalist. The SPHR focuses keywords on strategizing the role of all HR activities in a company.

  • Be confident. Being confident that you have properly prepared and having the discipline to stick to your answer can help keep you from vacillating after you're presented with the four options.

The best way to determine whether this strategy works for you is to take a practice exam where you can try it. Measure your comfort level and confidence, not just the final score.

In addition to predicting the correct answer, other effective ways can help you narrow your choices. They include the following:

  • Eliminate the obvious. Writing wrong answers is more difficult than you may think for the exam preparers. Look for slight variations in wording or partially correct answers. Search for clues such as synonyms or phrases in the answer that mirror that of the question. Find the distractors (extraneous information included as an answer or in the question stem that isn't relevant; refer to the next section for more help on how to locate distractors) that include correct information, but don't actually answer the question. If you know these techniques ahead of time, you can practice spotting them on exam simulations. Make it a challenge when you take practice exams.

  • Apply your knowledge. An incorrect answer choice may answer part of the question, but not all of it. Incorrect choices serve to confuse you, because you know part of the answer choice is correct, so you think that perhaps it may be right. Think about how you would accomplish the activity on the job. Ask yourself important questions: What information do you need and what actions would you take? What resources would be necessary, and most importantly, what is the desired outcome? From this process, you should be able to spot the answer option that best reflects the answers to your workforce application.

This example question illustrates this strategy at work. Go ahead and use this strategy and then read the answer explanation to see how you did.

  1. Where would be the best place to find information about local labor market trends?

    (A) Your city's chamber of commerce

    (B) The state's workforce development agency

    (C) The Department of Labor

    (D) The Bureau of Labor Statistics

    The correct answer is (B). Although all choices may offer you variations of labor market trends, applying the preceding techniques can help you arrive at the best answer. Rereading the question can help you identify a key word — local. You can eliminate choices (C) and (D) because they're national resources. Both (A) and (B) address the locality issue, so apply your working knowledge of this practice. An experienced HR professional knows that chambers of commerce don't actively collect labor market data and serve more in the capacity of employer lobbyists. Therefore, (B) is the best answer.

Half of your brain is focused on the structure of the question and interpreting the stem, whereas the other half is engaged in applying your knowledge to find the answer. Both of these functions are important to arriving at the correct conclusion. Compartmentalizing these activities during practice trains your brain to acknowledge each half during the test, minimizing anxiety because you're prepared for successful analysis.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Sandra M. Reed, SPHR, is the owner of EpocHResources, a consulting firm specializing in the unique HR needs of small businesses. She has authored learning modules and case studies for the Society for Human Resource Management. She is the co-author of PHR/SPHR: Professional in Human Resources Certification Study Guide, 4E, by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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