How I Planned, Budgeted and Prepared for My SHRM-CP

I did my research and studied consistently to pass the test during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Alison Brome, SHRM-CP October 15, 2020
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How I Planned, Budgeted and Prepared for My SHRM-CP

Alison Brome, SHRM-CP

As a fan of "how-to" articles, I'm hopeful that this one will be helpful to you in your journey toward SHRM certification during this chaotic time, which seems to be lingering a bit longer than any of us would like. It's been tough, but you are just as tough.

Make a Plan

Once I decided to seek SHRM certification in February 2019, I started doing research. In one of my many notebooks for my thoughts, I listed the requirements and details and their associated costs. This included the application deadline, a prep course (face-to-face or virtual), study materials, exam fees, testing location and more.

After an online search and a few calls, I soon realized that the island where I live, Barbados, does not have a testing center run by Prometric, SHRM's testing partner. The closest one is in neighboring Trinidad and Tobago. That meant adding two more items to my list: travel and accommodation.

Fortunately, SHRM offers an option for remote proctoring of the exam, enabling people to take it at home or the office and eliminate any costs associated with travel.

Limited Funds Need Not Limit Your Growth

Despite the savings in travel costs, other costs were mounting—based on my list, I estimated about $2,400 (USD) in total. I lead a single-income, single-parent household and did not have this amount saved or available on my credit card. What to do next?

I started searching for scholarships. Adult learners must never forget about such opportunities.

I'm a SHRM member, and scholarships from the SHRM Foundation are available to international members. The application process is simple. It requires a letter of recommendation from someone familiar with your work or work ethic to be uploaded separately by that individual using a link generated from your application.

About two months after applying, I received the news that I got the scholarship. That was another hurdle out of the way.

SHRM members get discounts on exam fees and the SHRM Learning System, so that's another way to save money during the process.

Determine Your Learning Style

Preparation is essential. Even if you have many years of HR experience, don't wing it.

I took a prep course locally through Profiles Caribbean, an authorized SHRM Education Partner. Over three eight-hour days, our small group covered the four books of the SHRM Learning System in broad strokes. Useful tips were offered throughout the sessions, which I scribbled quickly in my dedicated notebook and highlighted for later reference. We were quizzed on both the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certification levels. At the end, we received a copy of the presentation slides.

A study plan was also recommended, and I followed it very closely. In the process of planning, remember that you know yourself best. This will guide you.

Identify your learning style: visual, auditory, reading/writing or kinesthetic. Take an easy online test (such as the VARK Questionnaire) to assist you in identifying exactly how you learn.

I'm a visual and read/write learner—I read and write notes and remember associated graphics and visuals. Therefore, I opted to purchase hard copies of the SHRM Learning System texts. The costs of shipping, duties and taxes were worth the investment, since I retain information much better when it's delivered off-screen. I also used the Web-based SHRM Learning System to help me track my progress, strengths and areas for improvement.

Consistency is key. I stayed up late doing my reading at least one to two nights each week and one night every other weekend. I also spent about a half-hour reading during my lunch breaks.

My advice? Cover all the material, watch the videos, read and use the flashcards, review the glossary, and do the quizzes.

The Inevitable Ups and Downs

My performance on the SHRM Learning System post-test was disappointing. Despite all the time I'd spent studying, I hardly did better than I had done on the pre-test, when I knew nothing at all. Soon I realized I shouldn't be too hard on myself, because the post-test isn't necessarily an indicator of one's ability to pass the actual exam.

You can simply review the questions and seek out where you may have gone wrong. The SHRM Learning System clearly presents the rationale for each correct answer and cites the corresponding section for further reading. So that's what I did.

Two months before the exam, I prepared a handwritten countdown calendar. Each time I completed a topic and crossed it off, I felt more motivated to keep going.

My exam was initially scheduled for February. However, my work responsibilities increased and I was not putting in the study time I needed, so I paid to defer to the next testing window. (One deferral is allowed.)

Then came COVID-19. The pandemic brought with it canceled flights, online and at-home schooling, and mayhem every day.

With assistance from SHRM and Prometric, I rescheduled and finally took my SHRM-CP exam using remote proctoring in August. And I passed!

Tips for Exam Day

  • Don't cram. It doesn't work.
  • Speak positively to yourself, and visualize a "Pass" announcement at the end of the exam.
  • Eat breakfast and limit liquids. Try to do all your bathroom business ahead of time.
  • Review, understand and follow the rules about breaks. You can take an unscheduled break if you need to, but remember that the clock keeps running, and you'll have to do another security check when you come back.
  • There might be technical issues. I had to do the 360 scan and security check-in three times. (The platform implemented since I took my exam has greatly reduced these problems, but it's best to be aware of the possibility it could happen to you.)
  • Do not unplug your laptop at any time during the exam. It will take a very long time to reconnect to the testing system.
  • You will not be allowed to speak out loud during the exam when reading the questions or scenarios, so practice beforehand in whispered tones. This was really difficult for me.
  • Be very careful how you click on items. I found that the "close" button for the PDF generator in the testing system was near other buttons, so take care when clicking.
  • Keep your eye on that ticking clock—the recommendation is to take one minute for each knowledge question and two minutes for each situational judgment question.
  • Use your time wisely. I took no breaks and used every single precious minute of the 240 minutes afforded, right down to the wire.

In the Final Analysis ...

The SHRM certification exam was difficult, but with solid preparation, you improve your chances of passing. Know yourself and your learning style, attend a prep course if you can, study well, and you've got this! Forward only.

Alison Brome, SHRM-CP, is HR supervisor for Massy Stores in Barbados. She has a master's degree in project management and is a Certified Green Project Manager (GPM-b).

Another version of this article was originally published Sept. 9, 2020, on LinkedIn.

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