Scoring the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP Exams

By Nancy Woolever, SHRM-SCP May 10, 2022
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Scoring the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP Exams

Many candidates ask SHRM how the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certification examinations are scored, and how those scores are reported to examinees. The most frequently asked questions include:

  • Why is 200 the passing score when the exam has 134 questions?
  • Do I have to earn the maximum score to pass the exam?
  • What is the number of questions I must answer correctly to pass the exam?
  • What is the number of questions I must answer correctly in the SHRM Learning System to know if I will pass the exam? 

First, let's talk about how SHRM sets the passing scores for the SHRM certification exams. SHRM employs best-practice procedures most commonly used for setting performance standards for certification and licensure exams. During a multiday evaluation process, a panel of experienced HR professionals evaluates the exam questions to determine how difficult they are for a candidate who is "just-qualified" or "minimally-qualified" at the appropriate level: SHRM-CP (for those in operational roles) or SHRM-SCP (for those in strategic roles). 

To keep the SHRM certification exams up-to-date and fair, during every testing window we add and remove questions. Before a new question is used, it is first pretested (also called field testing) with real examinees. We do that by mixing 24 field test questions into each exam. Examinees answer the field test questions, but answers to field test questions are not part of the pass decision. In other words, of the 134 questions on the exam that you answer, 110 are used to calculate your score; the 24 field test items do not count. Because there is no way for you to know which questions count toward your score and which do not, it is important to do your best on all test items. 

After the field-test items are pretested, SHRM analyzes each item's statistical quality. Only those questions that meet the performance standards become scored items on future exams. Each test form of 134 items changes every time an exam administration occurs. 

Raw scores and scaled scores 

The SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams have 134 questions, and 110 of them are used to calculate your score. After you take the test, you will have a raw score of 0-110 correctly selected keys; but the score we report to you is on a scale of 120-200, with "passing" set at 200—this is known as your scaled score.
It is a common and best practice in standardized testing to place the number of questions answered correctly on a scale (scaled score), rather than to simply report to the examinee the number of questions answered correctly (raw score). You may be familiar with this process if you have taken the SAT or ACT for college, the GRE for graduate school, or the GMAT for a master's degree in business administration. The scores for these exams range from 400-1600 for the SAT, 1-36 for the ACT, 130-170 for the GRE, and 200-800 for the GMAT. Just like on the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams—the numbers of questions on these tests differ from their reported scores.

What does a '200' score mean?

For the SHRM exams, 200 is not necessarily a perfect score. We do not report scores above 200 because anyone who passes the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exam is considered to have achieved the competency level required to earn certification. We could just report a pass/fail result; instead, we provide all examinees with a score report that shows on a graph how well they did in each of three competency clusters and in each of three knowledge domains. This additional information can aid test-takers in evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. Unsuccessful examinees have a numerical score to find out how close they were to being successful, plus a descriptive graphic to help them make appropriate choices about how to prepare for future exams. For successful examinees, the score report serves as feedback on their performance, and can help guide their recertification plans and professional development activities. 

The SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams—like the PMP, SAT, ACT, GRE and GMAT—have been developed using rigorous methodologies and procedures. The exams include a combination of low-, medium- and high-difficulty questions. While we try to make sure the distribution of difficulty is the same on every exam, it is practically impossible to guarantee that each exam is precisely equal in terms of its difficulty. Therefore, we use a statistical process called equating to match the raw scores from a particular test with the scaled scores from that test. This is to ensure that examinees are not unfairly penalized or rewarded for having taken an exam form that was more or less difficult than another exam form given at another time for the same certification. 

Equating is one reason why we cannot state the number of questions one needs to answer correctly to get a passing score. The number of correct questions you need to pass your exam form may differ slightly from the number of correct questions another examinee needs to pass an exam form administered during another testing window. 

SHRM certification test-takers are not compared against each other—that is, the exams are not scored on what is commonly known as a curve. (In technical terms, the exams are not "normed.") If everyone who takes their test meets the knowledge and competency standards, everyone will pass. The opposite is also true. If no one who takes the test meets the knowledge and competency standards, no one will pass.

The SHRM Learning System Is Not the SHRM Exam, and Vice Versa 

The SHRM Body of Applied Skills and Knowledge (SHRM BASKTM) is the foundation for the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams. The SHRM Learning System is also based on the SHRM BASK, just like the exam framework, known as a test blueprint, are based on the SHRM BASK.  However, the SHRM Learning System is not intended to be a replica of the exams, nor is the exam testing the learning content in the SHRM Learning System, which is very extensive. Instead, the SHRM Learning System helps candidates prepare for the exams by presenting learning content on topics defined in the SHRM BASK. It also provides you with opportunities to answer practice questions similar to those found in the exams. Its study materials are intended to aid your understanding of the SHRM technical and behavioral competencies, help you think in terms of real-life scenarios and develop your ability to make decisions within the context of a situation you may encounter in the workplace. Examinees are encouraged to focus not on the wording of each scenario, but on the link between the behavioral competencies and their related proficiency indicators to make decisions, decide the best course of action in a situation or solve problems.

Updates to the SHRM BASK, based on the research findings of a validation survey, led to changes in both the 2022 exams and the SHRM Learning System. Because SHRM is committed to maintaining the relevance of the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP credentials, it is committed to reviewing the content of the SHRM BASK every three to five years—the industry standard. We work continuously to improve both the certification exams and the SHRM Learning System. 

If you have additional questions about the exam, or if you would like to share feedback about your exam experience, you are encouraged to contact us directly at certification@shrm.org. 

Nancy Woolever, SHRM-SCP is SHRM's vice president, Certification.

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