10 Activities to Do the First 10 Days When Studying for the PHR/SPHR Exam

By Sandra M. Reed

So you’ve decided to take the PHR or the SPHR exam. Congratulations! This career decision is an excellent place to invest your time and resources, mainly because it’s all about you. You need to do a few things to get started, and this list is a practical guide to get you prepared to prepare.

An important note: The pace you set early on in your study plan is indicative of your time commitment throughout the preparation process. Don’t underestimate the amount of time necessary to prepare. Whether you have four or 14 weeks, every day counts. Even the most experienced professional is bound to come across unfamiliar material, so plan to be disciplined and territorial about your study activities.

  • Explore the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI): The HRCI administers the exams. The Human Resource Certification Institute administers the exams. The organization’s comprehensive website is a place you must become extremely familiar with because you can find things such as the following there:

    • Exam eligibility requirements: Both exams require either education or experience to be eligible.

    • The exam bodies of knowledge (BOK): This is the map of what is on the exam and where you need to spend your study time. It’s perhaps the most important reference tool in your study arsenal.

    • The registration process: Where to begin and what you need to apply.

    • List of resources: HRCI recommends the use of multiple exam preparation resources. Here you will find a list for both students and instructors of exam preparation classes.

    The process of exploration begins by creating an account, which is important because it’s the housing place of all of your efforts, from exam registration to logging recertification activities. Plan to spend an hour or so on their website on Day 1, taking in the process and getting ready to use the information to its fullest.

  • Select the proper exam: Probably the biggest mistake that candidates make is selecting the wrong exam. Candidates who really are qualified to take the SPHR start with the PHR just in case. More likely however is that candidates underestimate the level of difficulty of the exams and jump right in front of the SPHR train simply because they meet the eligibility requirements.

    The good news is that HRCI has tools that you may use to help determine which exam is right for you. Purchase an assessment exam for the desired test and see how well you do. Note that taking an assessment test is not to just determine your exam readiness; you already know that you aren’t ready to take the exam just yet. This assessment score looks at where you placed higher and lower to determine where you need to shore up. For example, more than 60 percent of the SPHR exam content consists of the objectives found in Business Management and Strategy, HR Development, and Workforce Planning and Employment. If your lowest scores on the assessment exam directly correlate to these top functional areas, consider the PHR exam as a starting point instead.

  • Complete the exam application: By Day 3 you have confidently decided on the proper exam, and now you need to register with HRCI. The process begins by filling out an application, which involves describing your HR job activities and education in order for HRCI to determine your eligibility to test. Keep in mind that you can’t schedule your exam until you receive an authorization-to-test letter, so the sooner the better to ensure your preference of exam date, time, and location.

  • Select study materials: Day 4 is all about the exam preparation materials you’ll use to prepare your mind for the big day. Amazon is an excellent resource for both textbooks and software. Look for well-rounded material that is written to the exam objectives and that offers assessment tests as part of the package. Although HRCI doesn’t endorse any single preparation resource, it does have a list of popular items.

  • Prepare your family: Most individuals sitting for one of the exams are working professionals that already have only a limited time available. Even if you’re unemployed, you probably don’t have blocks of time each day available to sit down and study uninterrupted. For this reason, Day 5 is focused on sitting down with your household and talking with them about several things. Discuss why you’re taking the exam and why it’s important. Tell family members that you’ll need their support throughout the process, including respecting your study time. It’s good for your family to see you reaching for things that are important to you, and kudos to you for setting that example in your home.

  • Create a study plan: Time to build your study plan on Day 6. Use the exam BOK to create a calendar of content that you must master. Even if you haven’t received your study materials yet, you can put together a schedule using the exam objectives. This Day 6 activity is also a great time to work into a study plan your assessment scores from Day 2 into your study plan.

  • Set up your study area: Day 7 focuses on designating a place away from distractions as your study space. A desk or tabletop is ideal to store your study material and supplies. Have available highlighters, sticky notes, index cards, and other supplies to help you work. Be sure that you have proper lighting and a good chair for comfort. Don’t skimp on the details.

    Studying in bed is one of the worst things you can do. You’re training your mind that the place you sleep is actually where you work, which is tough to rebound from. Studying at work isn’t much better, with all the distractions waiting to claim your brain.

  • Sign up for resources: By Day 8 you should have received your study material. Now it’s time to go online. Register for emails, tweets and Facebook posts from business and industry leaders. Here is a list of some great YouTube videos/channels to get you started:

  • Find a study partner: Regardless of your learning style, studying with a partner creates a level of accountability and camaraderie that can help keep you on track as you go through this process. Day 9 is all about reaching out. Find someone at work that you can take the exam with. Or join a local HR association and contact its board to see about pairing you with another exam student. Consider joining a study group to interact with other pilgrims. Or start a study group online to share resources and commiserate when you feel tired and grumpy. With thousands applying each year to take these exams, a world is at your fingertips ready to offer support and work together.

  • Schedule with Prometric: Even if you haven’t yet received your authorization-to-test email, Day 10 is focused on visiting the Prometric website to review its processes. Watch the videos about what to expect on exam day and what items are prohibited. Search the locations to find the one where you want to sit for the exam. Yank out your calendar and look ideally 14 weeks from Day 10 and identify your exam date. This and the other preparation activities can help you plan for the logistical complexities that are inherent in exams and allow you to focus on what is most important — starting to prepare.