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SHRM Instructor's Top 20 Test Tips: Part 1

Advice on preparing for and taking the SHRM certification exam

A black and white photo of a man with a mustache.
​Adam R. Calli, SHRM-SCP

​I have been helping people prepare for and take HR certification exams since 2013, when I became an instructor for one of the many community colleges and universities that make up SHRM's nationwide network of educational partners. Over the years I have collected insights from my students and other instructors, which now serve as the basis for this list. Of course, neither I nor SHRM nor anyone else can guarantee your exam results based on these tips. But I hope they prove valuable to you as you create your study plan and do the work. I wish you the best of luck for success on your SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exam!

Let's start with some tips on test preparation, then move on to tips for test taking: 

  1. Time commitment. People who have succeeded on the SHRM certification exam report investing between 120 to 160 hours in their preparation. (That's a solid month: four weeks at 40 hours a week.) You might spend as little as 60 hours or as much as 180 hours—adjust as needed. But remember that hours alone aren't a guarantee of success; the time needs to be well-spent. Keep this in mind as you build your study plan. Look for moments you can steal—use your lunch break to work online in the SHRM Learning System, go out to your car and read a little, and never be without your flashcards (more on that below). It all adds up.

  2. Practice questions. The more practice questions you answer, the better prepared you'll be. Some of my students have found non-SHRM resources like study apps Quizlet and Kahoot to be helpful in this area.

  3. Explanations of answers. The online SHRM Learning System has many practice questions for both the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP practice module exams and finals. After you answer the questions, you'll see explanations for why the correct answers are correct and why the others are wrong. This will help you refine your thinking.

  4. No shortcuts. A word of warning: While practice exams are helpful, they're not a replacement for studying and learning. Some students become overconfident when they repeatedly take practice exams and see their scores improving—but they aren't learning the content, they're just memorizing those exams! Don't mislead yourself. You've got to do the reading, attend the classes, take notes and study them. On this exam (as in life!), there are no shortcuts to success.

  5. Flashcards. Become best friends with your flashcards. Whether you choose to print them out and cut them up or download them to an e-reader, always have them with you. That way, you can make good use of small bits of unexpected available time—waiting for a meeting to begin, standing in line at the store, etc. Flashcards help you remember concepts and definitions. If you understand a concept and know a definition, you've got a shot at answering an exam question correctly. (Flashcards are not enough on their own. But if you don't know a concept or definition when you're taking the exam, your chances of answering a question correctly are low.)

  6. Learning through stories. Throughout history, humanity has always learned through stories, whether sharing ancient lore around a fire or tales from a pulpit. People retain lessons when they can connect to them. Knowing the story behind SHRM exam content can be helpful as well. For example, there are stories behind key employment laws and court cases. What happened to Willie Griggs that made Griggs v. Duke Power a landmark decision? Why is what happened to the namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act relevant today? While the SHRM certification exams won't test you on such stories per se, you might encounter related questions. If knowing the stories helps you retain the knowledge, search online and read all about them.

  7. Discussions and study groups.SHRM Connect is an online community for SHRM members to discuss all kinds of HR topics. Search for the "SHRM Certification Prep Group." For those of you who like to work in a study group, you might be able to find or start one in your area using this platform. Plus, it's a good networking opportunity—a double payoff.

  8. Now that you've read some tips on test preparation, here are a few tips for test taking:

  9. Trial run. A tutorial available on Prometric's website (available here; requires Adobe Flash Player version 10.2.0 or greater) allows you to try out the test-taking platform before you take the actual test. Do a generic mini-test to use the highlight, strikethrough and flag functions and more. Becoming familiar with the system before the day of the exam will improve your confidence greatly.

  10. Long questions. It's easy to get distracted by all the information in situational judgment test items or long narrative questions on the exam. Stop to identify what the question truly is. Be sure to pick out the exact question you're being asked to answer.

  11. Multipart questions. If you encounter a block of text on the exam followed by multiple questions relating to it, different parts of that text will be useful for answering different questions. Use the highlight function to mark what stands out to you—what is relevant to each question—one by one. Erase the highlight when you've answered the question, then highlight the new material that relates to the next question and so on.

More tips will appear in the next edition of SHRM Certification Update on June 13!

For more information on SHRM Certification, and to register for the exam, please visit our website.

Already SHRM-certified? Be sure to maintain your credential by recertifying. Learn more about recertification activities.

Adam R. Calli, SHRM-SCP, is principal consultant for Arc Human Capital Consulting LLC of Woodbridge, Va. He has been in the HR profession for over 20 years and has a master's degree in management with an HR concentration. Calli is an instructor of SHRM certification exam preparation courses for SHRM and George Mason University.


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