PHR / SPHR Exam For Dummies
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There are multiple ways to study for the PHR/SPHR exam. Most human resources professionals today are working in a never-ending cycle of both planned and unplanned activities. One day you may be peacefully ensconced in your office and other days you’re fighting fires on the front line. For this reason, having access to your study materials for the PHR or SPHR exam in multiple formats is an excellent way to maximize moments of downtime.

This list was created specifically to get you up-and-out of the traditional studying mindset of sitting down and just reading text, although reading can only take you so far toward retention and application of the PHR and SPHR exam content. These smartphone apps can help you prepare for the PHR or SPHR exam no matter where you are.

Keep in mind that you may need Internet access when accessing the content of these recommendations. When in doubt, take a screenshot or download the relevant data for future access without Wi-Fi.

HRCI’s must-read online resources

The Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) in its exam preparation section identifies three Internet resources as must-reads. Stay up-to date and seamlessly integrate this data by downloading apps from the following companies when studying for the PHR or SPHR exam:

  • McKinsey and Company: This global consulting firm specializes in all-things-business. The app, called McKinsey Insights, is customizable to your search preferences. Consider signing up for content related to strategic planning and global HR management or global business practices to be immersed in these important exam objectives.

  • The Boston Consulting Group: The BCG Perspectives feature is available on Twitter. Use this format to drill down into business concepts as they emerge, a guide if you will on topics that may not be covered by your other study materials.

  • Deloitte Belgium: This mobile app focuses on trends galore. Once well known for bank audits, this global firm has critical study material on exam topics such finance, HR, tax, and legal issues facing businesses today.

Leave no stone unturned. Sign up for LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter posts from these expert firms.

This app rocks. You can use this app in many ways to create visual elements of what is often dry, boring information, including the ability to create a study plan calendar (with alerts) to keep you on track with your study pace, whether you have four weeks or four months to prepare.

Formally known as ExamTime, this app also has a mind map. Take a difficult concept or an entire chapter and create a visual of the relationship between concepts.

There is a group here to share resources and collaborate. It includes flashcards of EEO terms and the entire glossary of terms published by HRCI. Check it out at and join the group titled “Sandra M. Reed, SPHR” to gain free access.

Oxford Dictionary and Investopedia

As you prepare for these exams, more than likely you’ll come up against unfamiliar terms. Both the Oxford Dictionary and Investopedia have apps that allow you to search business or financial terms for their definitions. Looking up terms that you don’t know is a great way to learn while standing in line or waiting to pick up your child. These apps are available for both Android and iOS users.

TED talks

The TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) are less-than-20-miniute “talks” that has both a YouTube channel and app that you can download to access the ideas from the minds of the key business leaders of today. Search concepts such as “corporate social responsibility” or “technology in the workplace” and listen while working out or driving. Don’t forget to search for HRCI’s recommended authors, which include the following:

  • Warren Bennis

  • Charles Handy

  • Geert Hofstede

  • Henry Mintzberg (he’s also on Twitter)

  • Kenichi Ohmae

  • Michael Porter

  • C.K. Prahalad

  • Edgar Schein

  • Peter Senge

  • Dave Ulrich

Although some of these thought leaders are no longer alive to record a TED talk, many protégés have broadened the work of the older and wiser.


Take your notes on the go with this versatile app. Evernote allows you to clip web pages and store photos of material for mobile access. If you know that you’ll be somewhere in which a textbook is inconvenient, consider typing up material outlines. Note that you should seek whenever possible to type up your own material because the process of creation is reinforcement.


Quizlet is a service offered to students and teachers that allow you to create study tools in a flashcard format. Once written, you can put it in in learn or quiz mode for review. But wait, there’s more. Many former Quizlet users created PHR and SPHR flashcard sets and left them available to the public, which means that you can access the work of others whenever the mood strikes.


Although Edx isn’t actually a true app, it really belongs on this list because it’s changing the way academics is delivered, making information available to the masses. This means that you don’t have to enroll in a traditional university class that meets on campus, but can now access relevant courses, often for free. Massive open online courses (MOOC for short) are open university, a huge trend in education. Many adult learners just don’t have the time to go back to school or don't feel the need to get a formal degree. Professors at major universities, including MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, and Dartmouth, teach these classes. Even though courses may change, topics relevant to the PHR and the SPHR include business environment, finance, leadership, and risk.

To stay in line with the article theme, check out Group MOOC app. You can forward your registrations from Edx, and it can help you organize the assignments and export dates to your calendar, keeping your classes and schedule organized.

Khan Academy

The process of studying for the PHR and SPHR exams, especially, the SPHR, feels like studying for a master’s degree in business. The Khan Academy offers quick videos and lectures on concepts such as business metrics, finance, human capital, marketing, and enterprise risk management. Get this app and begin to study in short lessons about the quantitative and qualitative techniques used to measure business data. Think return on investment (ROI), median, gross profit, simulation models, and ratios. Focus on the concepts first and then see how they apply in the HR world.

PHR or SPHR specific apps

Many popular PHR and SPHR exam preparation apps are available for sale. Look closely at the quality of content however before spending your prep dollars. Although $9.99 may seem like a great deal, it’s money poorly spent if the material isn’t credible or the format is undeliverable.

Consider also what you already have available in terms of content. Another set of flashcards or even more reading may result in mode (method of delivery) saturation. These apps are recommended because they bring a unique perspective or learning method to your preparation party. More of the same isn’t the goal. You want a fresh way to look at critical exam content.

These exams are experiential. You must access real-world data to understand how these concepts apply. Rote memorization only goes so far toward a passing score, so be creative and immerse yourself in the world of HR and business; you won’t regret the knowledge gained regardless of your final score on exam day.

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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