How to Prepare for Your PHR Exam

Earlier this year, I took the PHR (Professional in Human Resources) certification exam and passed it. In this blog post, I’ll be sharing some tips for those preparing to take the test.

An HR certification is a great way to demonstrate your HR experience and knowledge. I took the PHR exam, administered by the HR Certification Institute (HRCI®), to prove my career-long commitment to the HR profession and to show my mastery of global HR principles, including US laws and regulations.

I must admit that preparing for this certification exam was not a walk in the park. During my testing period, HRCI’s data showed a 59% pass rate for the PHR exam. Honestly, I was a bit scared because passing the exam meant I had to manage many commitments, including a full-time job.

After five months of studying, I eventually sat through the three-hour-long computer-based exam, answering 175 questions. Phew!

I felt very proud of myself when I passed it on my first attempt. So, the tips I’m sharing below are from my personal experience. I hope you find them helpful!

  • Plan Ahead: I did a lot of research about the PHR exam to understand the level of commitment required—time, financial, physical, and emotional—and to gauge my readiness. At the time of planning, HRCI had just announced changes to its content outline and exam weighting, so it was helpful to know what those changes meant for me. Also, I reached out to a few people in my network to ask about their experiences with the exam. Hearing their experiences gave me a general sense of how to commit my time and effort to the exam. Planning ahead helps to reduce surprises and stress for the test taker. 
  • Take a Preparatory Course: When it comes to test taking, some of us experience the jitters. Since I didn’t want any form of mental roadblock that could impact my exam, I decided to enroll in a virtual/instructor-led preparatory course. During the prep course, I could ask questions, learn test taking strategies, and practice exam questions with peers. The course gave me the confidence I needed while going into the exam. It also helped me to stay accountable and on track with my study goals. You can find approved tutors through HRCI’s list of Certification Preparation Providers.
  • Use Multiple Preparation Materials: Different retailers sell study materials for the PHR exam. However, I firmly believe that the ability to pass the exam comes from adequate preparation, not necessarily the brand of study materials. In my case, I used the HRCP Study Program, which gave me access to books, flashcards, and practice tests. There were five books (with corresponding flashcards), and each unit covered a functional area of the exam. I read each book from cover to cover and used the flashcards after completing each unit. I found the flashcards handy as I went about my regular day because I could study them during my commute to work or during my lunch break. At the end of each unit, I used the practice tests to gauge my retention of the content. Outside of HRCP’s materials, I also purchased a study app called Pocket Prep—this app sent me daily notifications to answer the “question of the day” and also provided additional practice questions. Lastly, you can also search for free online tests on Google, which I found useful as well.
  • Develop a Study Plan: One of the best advice I received was to create a study plan. A study plan helps you to structure your study materials and ensures that you meet your study goals before the exam. You can find samples of study plans online or through your study program. However, I’ll advise that you create a study plan that works for you—one that allows you to spend more time on your areas of weakness. Whether your goal is to cover several chapters per day or to take more practice tests, ensure that your study plan is realistic.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice: As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” The best way to get comfortable with test taking is to practice it. You want to be able to walk confidently into the exam center, feeling ready for the exam. Try out as many practice tests as possible so that you can get familiar with the style, pace, and challenges of the exam. A month before the scheduled test date, I focused only on taking practice tests, especially the comprehensive ones. I found this approach helpful because it made me conscious of my pace and helped me identify those chapters I needed to revisit.
  • Give Yourself a Break: After months of studying, you’ll sure need a break before the exam. I stopped any form of studying for at least 24 hours before the exam. I used the time to listen to calming music, take a walk, and get some good sleep. This break helped me to relax and get ready to conquer. Haha! So, give yourself a break and get in the right state of mind before your exam. 

Since you have decided that being certified is an important step in your career, ensure that you improve your chances of success by preparing adequately.

Best wishes for your exam!


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