How Much Should You Study for the SHRM Certification Exams?

Many hours of preparation are required for success, research shows—but don’t overdo it

By Mark Smith, Ph.D. February 16, 2022
LIKE SAVE
How Much Should You Study for the SHRM Certification Exams?

​Candidates for SHRM certification often ask about the appropriate level of time they should spend preparing for their certification exams. Because people are different in terms of what they already know and how well they retain new knowledge, the best response to that question is very individualized. That is, candidates should study enough for themselves to understand the material well enough to pass the exam.

Thanks to real data that SHRM collected from first-time test-takers in 2020 and 2021, we can still offer general suggestions about how much to study. To conduct this research, we used information provided by SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP examinees on their post-exam surveys.

Overall, we found that most certification candidates spend quite a bit of time preparing for the exam, and that preparation does relate to rates of passing. We also found that more preparation time does not necessarily lead to higher pass rates. In other words, being prepared is important, but there is such a thing as being overprepared. 

How Much Time Do People Spend Studying for the Exams?

Test-takers of both the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams spent a wide range of time preparing for them. The most common preparation times reported fell into two ranges, 41 to 80 hours and 81 to 120 hours. 




Among the less commonly reported preparation times, a few examinees (2 percent to 3 percent) did not prepare at all; some examinees (almost 10 percent) prepared for more than 200 hours; and nearly one-fifth of examinees prepared for a very limited time of 1 to 40 hours.

How Does Preparation Time Relate to Exam Pass Rates?

In addition to looking at how much time candidates spent preparing for their SHRM certification exams, we also looked at the rates at which they passed the exams based on the preparation time ranges they reported.

 



Preparation versus none. On both the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams, pass rates generally increased as preparation increased above no preparation. Pass rates were quite low for examinees who did not prepare at all, as expected.

SHRM-CP exam. Pass rates were highest for SHRM-CP examinees who spent 81 to 120 hours preparing. It is worth noting, however, that pass rates were quite consistent—and high—for all examinees who prepared for 41 to 200 hours. Pass rates actually decreased for those who spent more than 200 hours preparing.

SHRM-SCP exam. Pass rates were highest for SHRM-SCP examinees who spent 41 to 80 hours preparing. This peak range occurred relatively early with moderate preparation time. Pass rates marginally but consistently decreased for those who spent more than 81 hours preparing.

The Right Balance for Peak Performance

The results above show that preparation is important when it comes to maximizing exam pass rates. For the SHRM-CP exam, peak performance occurs when candidates spend 41 to 200 hours preparing. For the SHRM-SCP exam, peak performance occurs earlier, when candidates spend 41 to 80 hours preparing.

Nevertheless, the results also show that examinees should avoid overpreparing. SHRM-CP exam performance starts to decline when preparation exceeds 120 hours. SHRM-SCP pass rates start to decline when preparation exceeds 81 hours.

Because a true experimental design was not used for this research, alternative explanations for these results are reasonable and appropriate. For example, candidates who spend more than 200 hours preparing for their exams might indeed be spending their time well—they just have more to learn.

Note: Research samples included all first-time examinees with complete data from Dec. 2020-Feb. 2021 and May-July 2021 exam windows for SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams.

Mark Smith, Ph.D., is SHRM's director of HR Thought Leadership.

LIKE SAVE

SHRM HR JOBS

Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Are you a department of one?

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.

REGISTER NOW

SPONSOR OFFERS

HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.