How do I Prepare for the PHR&Reg; Test?

Dale Marshall

Professionals in most fields of endeavor are certified as to their competence and mastery of the material germane to their occupation. In the United States, a professional in the field of human resource administration and management aspires, often as a career boost, to achieve certification as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR®). This certification is achieved by people with at least two years of professional-level experience in human resources management and administration who successfully complete an exhaustive examination &emdash; the PHR® test &emdash administered by the testing arm of the professional organization of human resources workers &emdash; the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The PHR test has 255 multiple-choice questions, and candidates have four hours to complete it.
The PHR test has 255 multiple-choice questions, and candidates have four hours to complete it.

The PHR test is comprised of 255 multiple-choice questions, and candidates have four hours in one sitting to complete it. Upon successful completion of the exam, candidates are certified as Professionals in Human Resources and are authorized to wear the PHR® insignia and use the PHR® designation on their business cards, stationery, resumes, and other material.

Classroom instruction and tutoring is provided by a variety of groups in preparation for the PHR.
Classroom instruction and tutoring is provided by a variety of groups in preparation for the PHR.

SHRM bestows three levels of certification: the PHR®, for front-line, hands-on professionals, who generally are accountable to another HR professional at work; the SPHR® (Senior Professional in Human Resources), for those at director and vice president levels; and the GPHR® (Global Professional in Human Resources), for professionals employed in global enterprises. The PHR® and SPHR® tests cover the same material, but have different emphases, with the PHR® test focusing more on functional application and the SPHR® test concentrating more on strategic planning and “big picture” issues. The PHR® test evaluates practical knowledge in six general subject areas: strategic management, human resource development, risk management, workforce planning and employment, employee and labor relations, and total rewards.

A highly detailed explanation of the six subject areas is provided by the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI). While that material doesn't supply the answers to questions that might be encountered in the PHR® test, it thoroughly details the subject matter the test covers. Any competent preparation regime will include that material as a bare minimum. One thing to keep in mind is that HRCI reveals the emphasis placed on each subject area. The emphases change from year to year to reflect changes in the field, but a good rule of thumb is that almost half the test will be devoted to questions on just two topics: workforce planning and employment, and employee and labor relations. These two topics include much of the applicable law covering human resources.

In addition to the three certifications noted, HRCI, in recognition of the complexity of regulation in California, offers additional certifications to those working or practicing in California and already certified as PHR® and SPHR®: the PHR-CA and the SPHR-CA. The material covered on the exams for those certifications is unique to California and does not duplicate the material covered in the basic exams.

After examining the list of subject matter provided by HRCI, candidates have a number of options from which to choose in preparing for the PHR® test. Some of the choices are best made based on an understanding of oneself; some candidates will learn better on their own, studying books and other prepared material, while others will fare better in a classroom setting where they can ask questions about topics they're having a hard time understanding. SHRM itself offers a three-day course to prepare for the PHR® test, available in various locations around the country. Other organizations, sanctioned and otherwise, provide classroom instruction and tutoring for the PHR® test. Many SHRM chapters nationwide also offer test preparation courses and seminars, and some already-certified professionals will offer private tutoring.

Candidates who elect to study on their own are advised to obtain a test preparation book from SHRM. In addition, they should take the sample exams provided and evaluate their answers to determine the areas in which they're strong in, as well as those in which they're weak. While it may seem monotonous, it's this repetitive process of studying and testing that's most effective in learning, whether in a classroom setting or self-directed.

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