How to Recognize the Best Answers on the PHR/SPHR Exams

By Sandra M. Reed

Both the PHR and SPHR exams rely heavily on the concept of the best answer. It means that in a group of experts, all would agree that the answer is the best answer to a given premise. The exams use these types of questions to measure how well you’re able to apply your work experience to an exam item.

To tackle these types of questions, keep in mind that you’re looking for the answer that serves the exam objectives and the industry as a whole. It may not be the choice that is true all of the time, and it certainly won’t be an absolute statement with terms, such as never or always. Here are a few strategies to help you get to the correct answer:

  • Find the most ethical answer. Ethics is a huge consideration of the profession and often must serve as the final element to your decision-making. Let it serve you with these types of questions.

  • Select the choice that best serves the employee. Erring on the side of the employee is rarely the wrong thing to do at work and often is the best choice for managing risk. This strategy reduces your risk of selecting the wrong answer. Be sure when employing this strategy that the question doesn’t specify an advantage for the employer.

  • Look for similarities and differences in the answer options. If two answers seem to be correct, compare them against each other to identify the difference and similarity, and then reread the question. Apply both answers while considering the difference/similarity and choose what makes most sense.

  • Picture the response scrutinized in court. You’re the expert at work, and you have the responsibility to give solid advice. Look for the answer that would hold up best if you had to publish your response or defend an employment action in court.

  • Select the choice that is an industry best practice. For this strategy to work, you must have mastered the exam BOK. Although you may answer differently for your own employer, these questions are measuring what best reflects the HR industry best practices.

The practice exams will help familiarize you with these types of questions, so invest in as many credible resources as your budget allows.

Here is an example of a best question. Use these strategies and review the answer explanation to see how you did.

  1. The BEST reason to conduct a labor market analysis is increased:

    (A) Knowledge of local trends

    (B) Assessment of workforce skill sets

    (C) Brand awareness of your organization

    (D) Identification of workforce requirements

    The correct answer is (A). In many best questions, all the answers appear to be appropriate, so it’s up to you to apply critical-thinking skills to the choices. In (B), a labor market analysis collects trends that impact the workforce skill sets, but it’s only one component of the information gathered. Brand awareness (C) could certainly be a byproduct of trolling the market for information, but it isn’t a directly related goal of the effort. Answer (D) is an internal activity, not an external effort.