If you work as an HR professional, you may find it beneficial to pursue certifications. There are many options to choose from that prove your expertise and skills, including the PHR exam. Learning more about the PHR exam and relevant study methods and tips can help you feel more prepared and confident when seeking this certification. In this article, we discuss the PHR exam and the importance of studying for this assessment and offer several steps and tips you can use for studying for and earning this certification.
What is the PHR exam?
The Professional in Human Resources (PHR) exam is a certification assessment for individuals who work in HR, offered by the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI). This exam tests their proficiency in several elements of the role, including technical knowledge and understanding of its operational activities and responsibilities. In addition to knowing the typical tasks performed by these professionals, candidates also need an awareness of relevant laws and regulations.
This certification is for HR professionals who have experience and want to advance their careers. The PHR is a computer-based exam that comprises 90 scored questions—mostly multiple choice—and 25 pretest questions. Applicants must meet one of the following eligibility requirements and pay an exam and application fee:
- At least one year of experience in a professional-level HR role and a master's degree (or higher)
- At least two years of experience in a professional-level HR role and a bachelor's degree
- At least four years of experience in a professional-level HR role
Related: PHR vs. SHRM: What's the Difference?
Why is it important to study for the PHR exam?
It's important to study for the PHR exam because it can help you feel more confident and prepared and improve your score. When you study, you review materials relevant to the exam to build your knowledge and skills on the topics it covers. The more you read and practice, the more you can improve and feel comfortable with the material. As a result, you may feel less anxiety or stress over the test-taking process because of your confidence in your knowledge.
A score of at least 500 out of 700 points total represents a passing score on the PHR exam. These participants earn their PHR certification, which can offer several benefits. For example, a certification can prove they have expertise in the HR field and its practices, procedures and regulations. Due to these credentials, they may find additional advancement opportunities in the workplace or increased salaries.
How to study for the PHR exam
If you're interested in taking the PHR exam and earning certification, you may find it helpful to learn best practices for preparing for it. You can use the following steps to study for the PHR exam:
1. Consider your budget
As you prepare to study for the PHR exam, spend time assessing your budget. In addition to the exam and application fees, different exam prep programs and materials often come with varying costs. Setting a budget for yourself can help you navigate these options and decide which ones work best for you.
You may also seek ways to help supplement these costs. For example, some companies offer reimbursement for education expenses or sponsor employees and pay for all or a portion of their fees for exams and study materials. If possible, consider speaking to your employer about the options available to you. You may also find scholarships via professional associations, such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that you can use toward the exam. No matter what budget you have, you can likely find numerous lower-cost or free options.
2. Assess your skills and knowledge
A self-assessment can help you evaluate your skills before studying for the PHR exam. With this step, you can understand your strengths and weaknesses and develop a more effective study plan. You can perform an informal self-assessment by reviewing the PHR exam content outline provided by HRCI. This document discusses the different functional areas being tests and their weights on the exam, which are:
- HR operations (39%)
- Recruitment and selection (15%)
- Compensation and benefits (14%)
- Human resource development and retention (12%)
- Employee relations (16%)
- Health, safety and security (5%)
Within this document, HCRI discusses the tasks and topics you need proficiency in for each of the above functional areas. Once you perform this self-assessment and understand your proficiencies, you can begin seeking materials, practice tests and prep programs to help you maintain your strengths and improve your weaknesses. For further guidance, you may consider performing a self-assessment of your preferred learning style to help you identify the most effective studying methods to use.
3. Determine your study methods
There are many study methods and techniques you can use to prepare for your PHR exam. Taking a self-assessment of your preferred learning style can help you determine what works best for you. At this point in your preparation process, you can research formal studying methods, such as study groups, practice exams and prep courses or programs. As mentioned, you can assess your options while researching them to determine whether they align with your budget and other needs. You can also review different studying techniques to use, such as note-taking and flashcards.
Related: Top 10 Study Skills and Techniques
4. Develop a study schedule
Once you decide to take the PHR exam, you may find it helpful to develop a study schedule to keep yourself focused and prepared. This schedule can vary depending on the date you plan to take the exam, the studying methods you choose and your personal or professional commitments. For example, some people may take a few days or weeks to study while others may spend a year or more preparing for the exam. No matter how much time you have, try to engage with your study materials at least once a day to keep yourself focused.
You can review and gather study materials from HRCI, then identify the areas where you need the most practice. Consider researching HR professional forums or other resources, such as your professional connections, to gain insights on typical study timelines. Besides HRCI, other professional HR associations may also offer study schedule guides and templates for you to use.
5. Take practice tests
Practice tests can help you feel more comfortable and prepared for the PHR exam. HRCI offers an official practice PHR exam for a fee that allows you to take the exam at your desired pace. These exams can help you assess your proficiencies in the different functional areas of the exam, helping you choose where to focus your studying efforts. HRCI practice exams also provide explanations about the answers, helping you understand questions you got wrong.
There are numerous other resources for PHR practice exams from various educational and HR professional organizations. When you find a practice exam provider that works well for you, consider taking an exam early in your study process. You can track your progress by retaking these exams on a set schedule to identify areas where you see improvement and where you need more practice.
6. Take prep courses
Prep courses are a comprehensive studying option that you can use to prepare for your PHR exam. You can find prep programs from various providers, and they often provide you with review materials. These materials may include video and audio content, study guides, quizzes, flashcards and practice tests. The fees for prep programs vary, and you can also often find both self-paced and instructor-led options.
Because prep courses give you access to many study materials and resources, you may find it to be a helpful and organized option. Having a set schedule or program to follow may also help keep you motivated during the studying process. You can identify prep course providers independently, or HRCI offers a list of options in different locations and delivery formats.
Tips for earning your PHR certification
Here's some advice you can use to help you earn PHR certification:
Seek guidance from colleagues and connections
As an HR professional, you may work with or know several individuals in your field who already hold PHR certification. When preparing for this exam, consider asking your connections whether they have advice about it. These individuals have already prepared for and passed the exam, so they may offer valuable insights that you can't find elsewhere. For example, they may mention specific study techniques, prep courses or study guides they believe helped them succeed. In some situations, one of these individuals may be willing to mentor you or help you study.
Prepare for your exam day
Some people feel anxious before they take an exam. When you feel prepared for the test, it can help alleviate your nerves or anxieties about it. Before the exam, make sure that you've gathered the required identification materials you need to present. Some participants may need disability or other accommodations, so make sure to notify the testing facility or provider about these requests in advance if they apply to you. In addition to studying, consider preparing for the exam by planning your day and routine.
For example, if you're going to a testing site, you may drive to the location to understand how long it takes to get there and the ideal route to take. Having this knowledge can help you feel confident that you'll arrive on time or early, giving you a bit of extra time to settle into your test-taking seat and do some final studying or preparation rather than rush to begin. Similarly, following your usual routines, such as an early morning workout, coffee or filling meal, can help you feel more comfortable and provide brief distractions.
Manage your time effectively
As mentioned, the PHR exam takes several hours to complete. It's important to monitor the allotted time to ensure you answer all the required questions. When you manage your time effectively, it can also help reduce your stress and avoid rushing yourself. If you feel you had sufficient time to answer the questions thoughtfully, you may feel more confident as you submit the exam and wait for the results.
One tactic for managing your time is to set a goal for yourself. For example, you may tell yourself to look at the clock or your watch every 15 minutes to assess how much time you have and the number of questions left to answer. This brief action helps you track the time left, allowing you to adjust your test-taking strategy as needed. As the deadline gets closer, you may start setting time limits for yourself regarding how long you spend on each question.
Take the exam more than once (as needed)
PHR candidates can take the exam three times within a year. When you take this exam initially, you may find it helpful to think of it as a practice test. This tactic can help you take some pressure off and ease your nerves because you know you have an additional two opportunities if you need them. When you feel more relaxed, it can make it easier to focus during the exam. If you need to retake the exam, you can reapply immediately but must wait 90 days between attempts. Eligibility requirements and fees apply to all exam attempts.
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