Exam Prep: Study Smart, Leverage Your Time and Energy

Your best investment plan for the SHRM certification exam is the SHRM Learning System

By Nancy Volpe, MBA, SHRM-SCP October 15, 2020
Exam Prep: Study Smart, Leverage Your Time and Energy

Nancy Volpe, MBA, SHRM-SCP

​People today are busy juggling many personal and professional demands. We need to be efficient in all that we do, including how we prepare to pass a certification exam. If you are serious about becoming certified and are looking for a smart study approach to earn your SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP credential, the SHRM Learning System should be part of your plan. 

I have two philosophies for exam preparation: study smart and leverage your time and energy. The SHRM Learning System supports both. That's why, as an HR professional who has coached and instructed thousands of candidates who have passed their exams on the first try, I consider it the premier product on the market. 

Three factors make the SHRM Learning System a smart investment:

  1. It educates you on the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK), the foundational document of SHRM certification. The SHRM certification exams, based on the SHRM BoCK, consist of multiple-choice questions to test your knowledge and situational judgment in various workplace scenarios.
  2. It offers options for any learning style (e.g., listening versus reading, classroom versus self-study, etc.), engaging you to learn in the ways you prefer.
  3. It provides a variety of tools, resources and activities to support what you've learned and help you develop your test-taking skills.

Educating You on HR Competencies and Knowledge

The SHRM BoCK is, essentially, what best-practice HR looks like. There are eight behavioral competencies and one technical knowledge-based competency, HR Expertise. The SHRM BoCK was developed through extensive research to identify how HR supports business results, as well as surveys of over 33,000 HR and business professionals to identify what is needed for successful job performance.

The behavioral competencies are Leadership & Navigation, Ethical Practice, Relationship Management, Communication, Global & Cultural Effectiveness, Business Acumen, Consultation and Critical Evaluation.

The technical competency covers 15 functional areas: HR Strategic Planning, Talent Acquisition, Employee Engagement & Retention, Learning & Development, Total Rewards, Structure of the HR Function, Organizational Effectiveness & Development, Workforce Management, Employee & Labor Relations, Technology Management, HR in the Global Context, Diversity & Inclusion, Risk Management, Corporate Social Responsibility and U.S. Employment Laws & Regulations.

The entire SHRM BoCK is included in the SHRM Learning System, available to view online or to download and print.

All of the information in the SHRM BoCK is broken down into easily consumable modules, so you can understand and apply it when you take the certification exam—and in your everyday practice of HR.

Engaging You in the Way You Learn Best

The SHRM Learning System is designed to support several approaches to studying. You know yourself better than anyone. What are your preferences?

If you do well learning on your own, go with the self-study plan.

If you want more support and structure, take one of SHRM's certification preparation seminars—the SHRM Learning System is included in the price. Virtual classes, taught by instructors and coaches like me, are regularly scheduled for several time zones. There are also in-person classroom options, although these schedules may be more limited due to the challenging pandemic environment.

You can download the content of the SHRM Learning System into your e-reader, iPad or tablet, allowing you to read and review on the go.

The SHRM Learning System's online portal organizes content into 30-minute study sessions, so you can complete the reading and do a knowledge check for each topic group.

"Competencies in Action" videos present workplace scenarios and case studies. Watch them to strengthen your analytical skills for success on situational judgment questions.

The Q&A feature "Ask the Expert" enables you to focus on specifics. It's a content coach at your fingertips!

The SHRM Learning System also includes an electronic version of the 2019 book Ace Your SHRM Certification Exam: A Guide to Success on the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP Exams. It offers tips and strategies for sharpening your test-taking skills, managing anxiety, preparing for the big day, and more.

Supporting You with Tools, Resources and Activities

Your best starting point in the SHRM Learning System is the 160-question assessment test. (This is the same number of questions on the actual exams). This tool will establish your content knowledge base line, informing you of which areas you know well and which you don't know as well. (The latter is what I call the "study-more" plan.)

But it's not enough to know the content. You also need to demonstrate what you know by answering the multiple-choice questions correctly. It's a skill you can develop and strengthen through practice and experience. There are quizzes throughout the SHRM Learning System—over 1,600 practice questions!—so you can keep testing yourself all along the way.

To best leverage and allocate your study time, use the SmartStudy tool, a self-reporting tracker and guide.

Knowing and interacting with the language of HR supports exam success. The SHRM Learning System includes a list of HR acronyms, a glossary of HR terms and flashcards. The print glossary appears in the back of each book, and the online glossary is designed to allow you to test yourself on the definitions. The flashcards are all set up and ready to print out. Try playing a flashcard game with your kids!

The 160-question post-test gives you a final metric of whether you are ready for your actual SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exam. Replicate the experience in advance as best you can. I recommend that you complete the post-test in one session, about two weeks before your exam and around the same time of day you're officially scheduled for it.

Investing in Yourself and Your Career

Picture this: You are sitting in front of a computer, waiting for the results of your SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exam. You've just answered 160 questions, and it takes a few minutes to calculate the results. Wait for it ... wait for it … The message appears on the screen: "You passed!"

Congratulations, you did it! You've earned your SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP credential.

From one SHRM-certified professional to another, I hope our paths cross in the HR community in the near future.

Nancy Volpe, MBA, SHRM-SCP, of Grandville, Mich., is the owner of the Center for People Solutions LLC and a trained corporate coach. Volpe started her career in the U.S. Army and worked at the U.S. Department of Labor, EEO Division, and the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney's Office, before entering the private sector. She served for six years on SHRM's Board of Directors.


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SHRM's Employee Engagement Survey service focuses on more than 50 aspects of job satisfaction and engagement commonly linked to performance.

SHRM's Employee Engagement Survey service focuses on more than 50 aspects of job satisfaction and engagement commonly linked to performance.



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