Tina Marie’s Tips to Success When Preparing for the PHR/SPHR Exam
Tina Marie Wohlfield, MBA, SPHR, is an instructor for the Walsh PHR/SPHR Exam Preparation program. She is an adjunct faculty member in the MBA program and HR and Compliance Manager at Benefit Review Services.
1. ESTABLISH A PERSONAL TRAINING PLAN
Set aside 20 to 30 minutes a day to read a module or take a practice quiz. I never left home without a module. If I had five/ten minutes waiting at the doctor’s office with one of my children, getting an oil change, at lunch or between conference calls, I took advantage by reading a section or taking a practice quiz.
2. READ THE MODULES
As of the date I sat for the SPHR, I was nearing 20 years in HR and in addition to being a college professor, teaching two of the modules in a prep course. Material in all of the modules is fair game for the exam. If you want to pass the exam you have to actually READ all the modules!
3. USE THE ONLINE PREP RESOURCE
With the advent of tablet and smart phone technology, having access to online practice quizzes, flash cards and progress reports on each module was invaluable. Sitting in bed at 10:30pm taking a practice exam on my iPad without distraction helped me fit those 20 to 30 minutes a day in preparation I committed to. Based on the practice tests, the online tool will also show you areas where you need to focus further review. That helped me adjust my study to make sure I had all modules covered equally.
4. ABOUT THOSE PRACTICE EXAMS
I encourage you to use this tool in the online resource to help prepare you for exam day. One excellent feature to help you “think” like the test is a feature that provides answer “rationale” when you review your answers. It explains the basis for why an answer is correct or why other optional answers are not.
5. USE PRACTICE EXAMS WITH CAUTION
The practice questions are just one of the tools you need to use in preparing for the exam. Reading and reviewing the material in the modules is still crucial. If you overuse this tool you will find yourself memorizing the questions and answers which could result in your missing key learning points (or answering wrong because you didn’t read the entire question) on exam day.
6. TAKE AN EXAM PREP COURSE/LEARN FROM YOUR PEERS
Having a group of cheerleaders who are going through the same experience as you will increase your chances of passing the exam. You have an outlet for support, and can learn from the interpretations of the material from others. The encouragement, tips, insight and support they provide (even after the course is over) is invaluable.
7. YES! THIS IS A TEST!
Ladies and Gentleman, this test is hard. It shouldn’t intimidate you but you need to respect the level of difficulty as you prepare to take it. If I mentioned the pass/fail rate you may freak out, but not everyone who takes it will pass the exam. In the HR profession, we live in the “Grey Area”. The exam does NOT recognize practical applications of a scenario (ie: how you deal with it in your organization may not be the same way I approach it in mine). What the exam is looking for is the best answer that applies from a business perspective for the organization.
Take off your HR hat when taking this exam and answer based on the best business practice. I found myself struggling with that aspect the most. As I was taking the exam I caught myself wanting to argue with the test on why I disagreed with the answer options. There is a comments section for every question which will allow you to state your case (time permitting). If you win your argument, it may also benefit others during that certification cycle. However, only use the comment function if time permits.
You can pass this test! Do not let the fear of “taking the test” become a barrier to your doing so!
8. TEST BASICS
The test is multiple choice. Regardless if you are taking the PHR or SPHR the questions all come from the same test bank of questions. Questions are randomly selected (everyone receives a unique test) and the number of questions you receive from the six areas of the body of knowledge varies based on the certification.
9. READ THE ENTIRE QUESTION (AND POSSIBLE ANSWERS CAREFULLY)
I call this the “Trick Question” principal. Just as we experience in analyzing HR situations in our organizations, you will need to carefully read and interpret the exam questions. A possible answer may look obvious but contain one word that disqualifies it as the correct solution. For example; inclusion of the word “must” or using the phrase “which of these is NOT” in a question is sometimes overlooked. Another play on words is using the direct opposite meaning of a concept answer such as describing the criteria for exempt status using those for non-exempt.
10. USE THE STRIKE-THRU OPTION TO ELIMINATE THE WRONG ANSWERS FIRST
Read all of the possible answers to the question. What I found on the exam is that of the four possible answers, two answers could typically be eliminated right away. The exam has a strike out feature which can be used to “eliminate” the answers you know are wrong to help you focus and better identify which of the remaining answers to select as the best choice.
11. FLAG QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REVIEW
If you are struggling with a question you can flag it to go back and review once you have completed the exam (prior to submitting). I loved this option because it allowed me to manage my time appropriately to make sure I got through all the questions. Go back and answer all of the questions (if time permits) since the exam does not penalize for wrong answers, it rewards for correct ones.
12. TEST DAY HINTS
Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the test center. I found myself stuck in a traffic jam due to an accident a half mile from the testing center. Thankfully I gave myself a little extra time to arrive and got there with ten minutes to spare.
13. GET SLEEP (IF YOU CAN)
Get a good night’s sleep the day before you take the exam (if possible).
14. FEED YOUR MIND
If you are taking the exam in the morning, eat breakfast before. If around lunchtime, eat lunch before. If afternoon, have a snack before your scheduled time. This is a long exam and in order for you to be at your mental best you need to feed your brain. Growling stomach can also be distracting to not only you but others.
15. USE THE RESTROOM BEFORE
If nature calls, in an emergency you will be able to leave the facility to use a bathroom but your exam time clock will not stop. Leaving will also require you to go through the security process again.
16. PRESSING THE SUBMIT BUTTON
This is the hardest part of the process. You studied, you have answered the questions (to the best of your ability) and now you need to see if you were successful. I nearly fainted after I pressed that button and then waited what seemed like an eternity. Be patient and try not to pass out, you will find out if you passed that exam (or didn’t) in approximately two minutes.
I passed the exam and regardless of the outcome I knew I was a better HR professional than I was before I started the process. Certification has awarded me additional professional credibility among my peers and in my organization. If you invest the time to study, practice and apply the aspects of HR from those six modules, you too can place those three or four special letters after your name!
If you’d like to chat with me about the certification, the exam or the Walsh preparation class, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.