Planning before You Prepare Your PHR/SPHR Exam Study Plan

By Sandra M. Reed

A study plan is a tool that you can use to prepare for the PHR or SPHR exam. Hence, you want your study plan to be specific to your needs. Needs to consider include the date of your exam, the amount of time you have available to dedicate to studying, and your specific strengths and weaknesses.

Prior to writing your plan, complete the following activities:

  1. Select the right exam.

    Deciding on the proper exam for your skill level increases the odds of success and can reduce the level of preparation necessary for a passing score. Selecting the right exam prior to creating your study plan also allows you to take the right assessment test and compare your individual strengths and weaknesses to the correct exam content so you know where you need to study.

    Make sure that you choose the exam that is most reflective of your regular job responsibilities. For example, if your work is operational in nature and you report to an HR manager, then the PHR is the right test for you. If your position requires the use of independent judgment and you help set executive strategy, then the SPHR is more appropriate.

  2. Determine how much time on a daily or weekly basis you realistically have available for study activities.

    Resist the temptation to underestimate how much time you need for planning. Training and studying may be inconvenient to the active professional, but they’re a necessary evil in order to perform well on the exam. Depending on your skill set and assessment results, plan to dedicate between six to eight hours per week on exam preparation.

  3. Take an assessment to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

    An assessment exam helps you discover your specific strengths and weaknesses. You can then create your study plan based on those areas. Haphazardly reviewing topics that you’ve already mastered doesn’t serve you. Conversely, not spending enough time in areas of knowledge deficiencies leaves you woefully unprepared for the contextual element of these exams.

    Purchase the assessments from HRCI. They consist of retired exam questions, which can give you a realistic preview of what to expect of the question format on the exam and help you gauge your current skill level. They can be purchased for $45 per exam or a discounted rate of $70 if you purchase two.

    Keep in mind that the actual exam is weighted based on level of difficulty, so there is no true passing score to use as a benchmark. As a general rule, however, you want to be at or above the 80 percent mark in each of the functional areas set for the exam.

    It is unlikely that you’ll pass your practice exam the first time, mainly because you have had little to no preparation. Don’t be discouraged; that is to be expected. Not passing is actually useful because you need to know where you’re deficient in order to build a meaningful study plan that focuses your study effort on the right topics. Consider giving yourself more time to study in the areas with your lowest scores.

    You need to take at minimum two assessment exams: one prior to building your study plan and one at least two weeks prior to your exam date to see where you have improved and where you need to bone up.