SHRM Instructor's Top 20 Test Tips: Part 2

More expert advice on preparing for and taking the SHRM certification exam

By Adam R. Calli, SHRM-SCP June 13, 2019

I have been helping people prepare for and take HR certification exams since 2013, when I became an instructor for one of the many community colleges and universities that make up SHRM's nationwide network of educational partners. Over the years, I have collected insights from my students and other instructors, which now serve as the basis for this list.

Last month, we published the first 10 test preparation and test-taking tips to help guide you on your certification journey. Here is the final set of tips. Of course, neither I nor SHRM nor anyone else can guarantee your exam results. But I hope that the two articles together produce a valuable roadmap to help you reach your goal.

11.   HR means action! In the modern era of HR, we are expected to get things done and make things happen, to be proactive partners and leaders in our organizations—not sit and wait to be told what to do. The exam reflects this. Look for answers in which you are expected to act.

12.   Use the strikethrough function and other tools that help you focus. Strike through "distractors," which are answers you believe to be incorrect. Eliminating incorrect options improves your focus on the remaining options, which may increase your chances of selecting the correct answer. Learn how to use strikethrough with the tutorial available on Prometric's website (requires Adobe Flash Player version 10.2.0 or later) and practice using the test-taking system before your exam date.

13.   Use the flag function. Not sure what the answer is? Mark the question with a flag so you can return to it later. As you warm up through the exam, you may pick up hints from other questions and answers, or some piece of critical knowledge may get knocked loose from your memory, and you'll be able to come back to the flagged item. (How to use flags is something else you'll learn on the Prometric tutorial.)

14.   Use the calculator. You don't have to do math in your head. There's a built-in calculator, so use it. (Practice using the calculator, too, on the Prometric tutorial.)

15.   Use scratch paper. Scratch paper is provided by the testing center, so use it. Capture things while they are still in your short-term memory. Writing things down helps you see what you're doing, so scratch paper can also be useful for completing math calculations even if you use the calculator.

16.   Know HR math processes. While we're discussing calculations, keep in mind that the four multiple-choice answers offered for a math question will often reflect how the numbers in the question itself are used. For example, if the question involves the numbers 4 and 3, the answers to choose from might be: 7 (4 plus 3); 1 (4 minus 3); 12 (4 multiplied by 3); or 1.3 (4 divided by 3). Learn the processes required for HR math.

17.   Look for differentiator words in the questions. When you see differentiators—"least," "best," "quickest," "most important" and so on—use them to guide your analysis. These words require you to distinguish between a pretty good answer and the best answer.

18.   Approach absolutes in the answers with caution. When you see absolutes—"all," "always," "only," "never" and the like—beware! Absolutes in HR are unlikely and are just as unlikely to be correct answers on the exam. After all, how many things have you encountered in your career that are always or never true?

19.   Answer every question. Not answering is a bad idea: Don't leave questions unanswered. There's no penalty if you answer incorrectly—points are not taken away—so take a guess. It can't hurt, and you might guess correctly. (Of course, if you think you can guess your way through the whole exam, guess again! Refer to the very first test tip in Part 1, which discusses how many hours of preparation time you should plan for.)

20.   Watch your time. Keep your eye on the timer at the top of your screen. Don't dwell on one question for too long; in doing so, you might run out of time, sacrificing your chances of answering other questions correctly later. Remember, you have four hours to answer 160 questions, an average of one-and-a-half minutes (90 seconds) per question. Pace yourself.

I promised you 20 tips, but here's a bonus!

21.   Don't second-guess yourself. Your first answer is usually correct, so don't change an answer once you've completed a question unless you have a very good reason to do so. There's no need for concern, for instance, if you've chosen the same multiple-choice letter for several answers in a row—say, three or four consecutive "B" answers. Don't go back and change any of them because you're afraid that the "B" repetition means one must be wrong. That's not an indicator of anything! Your choices are either correct or incorrect based on your understanding of each question and its answer options.

I assure you that because the SHRM certification exam is very challenging, it's incredibly rewarding when you pass! If you succeed, you'll be thrilled to add SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP after your name on your business card, LinkedIn profile, e-mail signature and everywhere else! Here's to your success!

Adam R. Calli, SHRM-SCP, is principal consultant for Arc Human Capital Consulting LLC of Woodbridge, Va. He has been in the HR profession for over 20 years, has a master's degree in management with an HR concentration, and is an instructor of SHRM certification exam preparation courses for SHRM and George Mason University.


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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