How to Answer PHR/SPHR Exam Questions Containing Absolutes

By Sandra M. Reed

Answer choices that contain absolutes such as never, none, all, or always are virtually never correct. Absolutes must apply to all circumstances, and HR professionals know that very few things in day-to-day activities are universal. For this reason, eliminating these answers as incorrect is a safe bet.

A bit more difficult to navigate are the most and least questions. These types of questions tell you right away that all four answers apply in some fashion, and your job is to apply independent judgment and work experience to rate them in order of importance or likelihood of occurrence.

To solve these most and least problems, keep these points in mind:

  • Think about what you would do if the situation were presented to you on the job.

  • Consider the facts that you would gather or what resources you would employ.

  • Address the legal issues that may or may not be associated with the question presented.

Consider the following example of a most/least problem.

  1. OSHA discovered at your place of work that noise levels exceed the maximum levels allowed. Which of the following choices is LEAST likely to result in hazard abatement?

    (A) Introduce a policy requiring employees to wear ear protection.

    (B) Re-instate the manufacturing guards that control the volume of the machinery.

    (C) Call out an expert to measure and confirm the original decibel findings.

    (D) Discipline the employees for failing to wear their ear muffs.

    The correct answer is (D). Disciplining employees for failing to wear ear protection won’t solve the root cause, which is the goal of hazard abatement efforts. A policy (A) won’t result in compliance although it certainly launches the process. Calling in the experts (C) is a better answer, because it seeks to find the root cause of the issue. (B) is a critical component to compliance, because the machines guards for noise protection had been bypassed.

Note in this example question that you had to infer information from the other answers. Answer (A) used the term introduce, from which you can deduct that there wasn’t an existing policy. (B) used the term re-instate, implying that the guards were there but had been removed. Successful navigation of these types of questions requires a keen sense of awareness and an eye for the detail.