Myth-Busting the SHRM Certification Exam: Part 1

The top 10 misconceptions that detract from success

By Nancy A. Woolever, SHRM-SCP September 12, 2019
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​Urban legends. Bad advice. Misinformation. There are too many myths circulating about the SHRM certification exam that we've heard in personal anecdotes or read on discussion forums. Let's start with three big ones—busted! These debunked misconceptions pertain to both the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams. In the next issue, we'll bust the rest of the top 10. 

Myth No. 1: The exam is based on the materials taught in certification preparation courses.
False! The exam is based on the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (BoCK). 

The SHRM BoCK is the blueprint for the exam. All of the exam questions address topics that are covered in the BoCK. Any topic covered in the BoCK may appear as a question on the exam.

While the SHRM BoCK also serves as the blueprint for the SHRM Learning System and other cert prep courses and materials, the exam questions are not based on the Learning System, nor on the courses or materials of any other organization, educational institution or individual. The questions are written by HR professionals using independent sources.

Cert prep materials often cover many more topics than are covered in the BoCK. The purpose of taking a course or using study materials is to identify the gaps between what you already know about HR from your own education and experience in the field and what you need to know to become SHRM-certified—and to close those gaps. Learn as much as you can, regardless of whether a particular topic shows up on the exam.

Myth No. 2: You don't have to prepare for the exam because you already have HR experience.
False! Your experience is a foundation to build on as you prepare. 

Don't "wing it."

You qualified to take the exam because of your work in or study of the HR field, so you likely have a general idea of what will be on the exam; you're not starting from zero. But you don't know what you don't know; moreover, one's personal understanding of HR is not an appropriate metric for professional certification. The SHRM BoCK is based on a practice analysis of the HR profession, developed and validated by thousands of HR subject matter experts from around the world, at every level of responsibility and representing a wide range of HR disciplines.

The SHRM BoCK features eight behavioral competencies and one technical competency. The behavioral competencies are grouped into three clusters. Each competency includes a definition, subcompetencies, key concepts and proficiency indicators. Proficiency indicators are examples of what constitutes competent behavior for all HR professionals (SHRM-CP exam) and for advanced HR professionals (SHRM-SCP exam). The technical competency, HR Expertise, consists of 15 functional areas grouped into three knowledge domains. Each area includes a definition, key concepts and proficiency indicators.

That said, do keep your HR experience in mind as you study for the exam. Relate what you're learning to what you've done or are doing on the job. Think about how the competencies manifest themselves as you face various situations and issues, and how the competencies may be applied to handle different problems and challenges.

Myth No. 3: Always choose the "SHRM" answer.
False! There are no "SHRM" answers, just as there are no "SHRM" questions.

Asking yourself "What would SHRM do?" or trying to figure out SHRM's "official" position on an HR matter have no relation to the SHRM certification exam.

SHRM manages the exam process but does not write the exam questions. SHRM provides expertise in test development, not HR subject-matter expertise. All of the exam questions—both knowledge items and situational judgment items—are written by independent SHRM-certified HR professionals and subject to several review cycles before field-testing and subsequent inclusion on exams.

Knowledge items test one's understanding of key concepts and terms. Each question pertains to a single piece of knowledge, has only one irrefutably correct answer linked to a specific source, and has a rationale that explains why the answer is right and the other options are wrong. Foundational knowledge items cover topics fundamental to the eight behavioral competencies defined in the SHRM BoCK; HR-specific knowledge items cover topics associated with the 15 functional areas of the HR Expertise technical competency.

Situational judgment items test one's ability to choose the most effective course of action in addressing a realistic workplace situation—one likely to occur in practice and similar to what you may have experienced during your career. They represent what an HR professional does every day: consider a situation and make a decision about the best strategy to handle it, depending on the information presented.

Unlike a knowledge question, a situational judgment question has no single "correct" answer; rather, it has a "best" answer. The item-writers draw on their actual experiences to develop the scenarios. They must provide several plausible courses of action that can be taken in response, ranging from very ineffective to very effective. A panel of SHRM-certified subject matter experts then agrees on which is the most effective course of action in the context of the situation described. Because the best answer is based on the panelists' expert judgments, no other rationale for that response exists.

More myth-busting will appear in the Sept. 26 edition of SHRM Certification Update!

Nancy A. Woolever, MAIS, SHRM-SCP, is SHRM's vice president of Certification Operations.

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 here.

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