HR Students' Limited Work Experience No Bar to Exam Success

Research shows students and recent grads can ace SHRM-CP exam despite less time in practice of HR

By Mark Smith, Ph.D. January 20, 2022
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HR Students Limited Work Experience No Bar to Exam Success

​HR students tend to perform well on the SHRM-CP exam and pass at a reasonably high rate, despite their limited experience in the practice of HR, updated SHRM research shows.

SHRM took another look at students' exam performance—last studied in 2018—due to recent changes in eligibility requirements and exam affordability. These adjustments have led more students to take the SHRM-CP exam in pursuit of certification before they enter the field as full-time practitioners.

Earlier Research on Student Exam Performance

College students in SHRM-aligned HR education programs became eligible to take the SHRM-CP exam in 2017. This seemed like a good opportunity for them to get a head start on their HR careers. But would their relatively limited experience in the practice of HR impede their ability to perform well on the exam?

To investigate this issue, SHRM conducted an initial study of examinees in 2018. Results showed that HR students and others with limited HR experience passed the SHRM-CP exam at a higher rate than those with many years of experience.

Recent Changes Increase Student Participation 

Student interest in the SHRM-CP exam greatly increased in 2021, following a reduction in the fees charged to students to take the test. In January 2022, SHRM changed the SHRM-CP eligibility standards to specifically include "those pursuing a career" in HR. This will allow even more students to become eligible for the exam and certification.

In expectation of an influx of candidates, SHRM wanted to see how students performed on a recent SHRM-CP exam. These latest results were consistent with previous findings. The pass rate of HR students from accredited programs who took the test between May and July of 2021 was 67 percent. Additionally, non-students who had limited experience in the practice of HR—less than two years—likewise performed well on the SHRM-CP exam: Their pass rate was 73 percent.

These rates are in line or even higher than the overall pass rate of 67 percent found across all SHRM-CP examinees in this 2021 testing window.

Surprisingly, experienced HR professionals with 16 or more years in the field who took this exam had only about a 60 percent pass rate. One explanation is that these examinees' increased job responsibilities during the COVID-19 crisis negatively affected their test performance in 2021, as they shifted their priorities to dealing with the pandemic. In addition, very experienced professionals often have not taken long exams in many years, so their test-taking skills may be rusty.


Pass Rates for SHRM-CP Exam, May-July 2021



Overall pass rate 67 percent. Within this testing window, HR students and others with limited HR experience passed the SHRM-CP exam at higher rates than those with many years of experience.

Conclusion

It is possible that only the most able and ready limited-experience candidates take the SHRM-CP exam. Nevertheless, the results of our updated research show that students tend to succeed at passing the SHRM-CP exam despite their relative inexperience in the practice of HR.

HR students should be encouraged to take the exam while their "book knowledge" and test-taking skills are still fresh. If they wait too long, they might lose the ability to perform well on tests and forget some of their schooling-based knowledge. 

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

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