The ABCs of PHR/SPHR Exam Day

By Sandra M. Reed

A few common factors can contribute to success on PHR/SPHR test day, no matter your education or experience. Here are three important tips that can help you get in the right frame of mind.

Attitude: Believe that you can succeed

Conduct a web search on the term “the power of positive thinking” and you may be surprised at the amount of material that is available on the impact of how a person’s attitude affects successful outcomes. From peer-reviewed research to bestselling books, you can find a ton of information about the impact of the positive perception of your life, knowledge, skills, and abilities.

However, having a good attitude on test day isn’t enough. Your attitude toward your study time, the materials that you use, and the choices that you make can substantially influence how prepared you feel going into exam day.

The reality is that you may not pass this exam on the first try. Accepting the real fact that these tests are difficult positions so be prepared to do your best. Certification is truly about the journey. You’re guaranteed to come out more informed and competent in your job, making this exercise well worth every second of preparation, regardless of a pass or fail score.

Breathing: It matters more than you may think

Regulating your breathing is important to clearing your mind and sharpening your focus. In through your nose, out through your mouth may feel silly, but your body needs regulated oxygen to perform optimally. In fact, taking too many shallow breaths can actually increase anxiety and even cause you to hyperventilate in the worst case.

Knowing how to breathe better has many benefits to overall health. For purposes of exam preparation, proper breathing calms the fight-or-flight instinct that everyone has when faced with high stress or perceived dangerous situations. Symptoms that you’re anxious include rapid heart beat, sweaty palms, and temperature changes such as flushing or feeling cold. Proper breathing requires that you take in air through your nose and then push it out from your stomach through your mouth.

Here are a few training tips to help you master this technique:

  • Put one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. When you breathe in, your stomach should rise more than your chest, which means the air is being drawn all the way to the base of your lungs.

  • Exhale slowly through your mouth. As a general rule, your exhale should be twice as long as the inhale.

  • Repeat four or five times until you feel the calming results of a slower heartbeat or normalized temperature.

Meditation is another technique that you may help you enter a calmer state, which is especially useful if you suffer from test-taking or performance anxiety. Although many methods are available, look for one that addresses the basics of concentration or focuses your mind on one thought at a time.

Confidence: Expect success

True confidence requires that you’re honest about your capabilities and effort up to test day. Believe in yourself, knowing that you’ve prepared for the test and done what you need to succeed. However if you go into your exam day expecting to fail, you may not be as motivated to perform because in your mind, the outcome is already set.

Getting to a true confident state requires that you ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you taking the right test? Too often, exam takers reach for the SPHR before they’re truly ready. Make sure and pay attention to your assessment scores and be willing to change exams if they aren’t up to par. It’s better to pay the fee to change the test than to sit for an exam that you aren’t ready for and fail.

  • Did you respect your studying time? Be honest. You know what you did to prepare. Are you being too hard on yourself and minimizing your efforts, or are you being too generous, according effort where it really doesn’t belong? The good news is that you don’t have to share this answer with anyone — it’s just between you and your psyche, so don’t be afraid to explore at will. If you know you didn’t do as much as you should have done to prepare, don’t let it derail you. What matters is that you focus on the task at hand and systematically do your best to answer the questions.

    Be sure to read each question thoroughly before answering to ensure that you know what the question is asking. Eliminate the obviously wrong answers first so you can concentrate on comparing the remaining options. Go through the test and answer only the ones you’re certain of first, marking the others for review. Doing so allows you to use the remaining time to puzzle through the more difficult ones that require extra concentration.

  • What stereotypes or negative self-talk has crossed your mind? Negative self-talk erodes confidence. Thinking things like “I can’t do this” or “I knew this test was going to be too hard for me” keeps you from doing your best. Focusing on what you dont know is at the expense of what you do know. Getting control of those thoughts before they change your behavior is key. If, during the test you begin to think negative thoughts, stifle them by taking a deep breath and changing the statement. For example “I should have studied harder” can be converted to “I am going to apply what I know.” Or “I’m not good at taking tests” can be changed to “I’m putting myself out there and am going to get this done.”

    A note of encouragement: Many people hold onto negative thoughts that they’ve had or negative experiences that they’ve survived as a kid about their knowledge or abilities. Being an excellent HR professional doesn’t always require a formal college degree nor is it dominated by one race or gender. Human resources is relevant in all industries and important in all of the major countries where the work of business is getting done. You’ll be successfully certified based solely on your talent and performance, and taking this step in your career signals your dedication. Be proud of yourself, regardless of the outcome on test day.