Anyone who has accomplished a certification knows the work and effort required to get one. Back in 2013, I bought my SHRM Certification Prep books (2 years outdated) and decided to start my studying in July. I signed up to take the test in December, so I gave myself a solid 6 months. The challenge of working a full-time job and studying was proving to be difficult for me. I worked on the weekends when in college and never had to work after studying, so this was a whole different experience for me.
I started reading the books and typing in my iPad as I read. Some of the topics required me to read a lot slower. I recall training and development as well as executive compensation plans being the toughest for me. The topics could be extremely dry and burdensome to go through, but would absolutely help me get a clearer understanding. I was getting more excited as I went through the material because any college course I took never went into thorough detail about some of these topics. Reading and studying the topics helped me apply those concepts on the job immediately.
After reading all the chapters, I took a test every single time to check my understanding. To say the least, I was doing very poorly in the beginning. I was surprised I did so poorly on these practice tests because I thought I had a very good understanding of Human Resources in general. I realized very quickly how I needed to go back and study the ones I missed. I re-read the material and ingrained the answers into my brain so I would know it if it came up again. I actually read through each of the topics twice and took the exams until I had a satisfactory score (I set up a score of about 90% and above).
Some tips: Type out your notes on an iPad or tablet so you can travel with your notes everywhere you go. Type out the exam questions on one page and then type out the answers on another page. Take the exams as many times as you have to so you can master the material. The HR Certification Institute requires a score of 500 or higher (Scale is 100-700). It is important to gauge your weak points ahead of time when studying. It’s important to spend the majority of your time studying in the areas which have the heaviest weights on the exam. Employee and Labor Relations will always have the highest weight (I’m pretty sure it will continue as the exam goes on). Even though none of us will ever have to deal with a Union, it’s important to know the in’s and out’s of them.
I was able to work 40 plus hours a week and study every night for about 2-3 hours before going to bed. I bought audiobooks by David Siler and listened to them on my commute to and from work. There were also practice tests online which I took every night. I also bought HRCI’s practice tests from retired exam questions and took one at the beginning and one at the end of my studies. I took the last one the day before my exam since I needed to ensure I was ready for the testing software. I find those were very helpful for the testing environment as well as help me gauge a feel of the test.
One very important thing I did was using the scratch paper to write down information during the exam. I wrote 1-175 down on the paper and wrote A-B-C-D next to each one while the instructions were going on in the exam. I used this strategy because the software lets you mark and strikeout any options you need during the exam. The issue is the exam will not allow you to write down your thoughts. On paper, I would put an “X” over the answers which I knew were wrong, and circle the ones which I felt were right. I would gauge a percentage over each of those which had a circle over them. If A and C were circled, but A had a 70% and C had 30%; I would choose A when it came down to the wire. Me doing this saved me time in the end.
I literally gauged my success level by circling the numbers and putting 50/50 or 90/10 next to them. This gave me an idea of how well I did. Mind you, there are 25 questions on the exam which are placebo questions, so they will not count against you or help you do better if you get them right. We won’t know which ones they are, but I felt the hardest ones might have been it (just a guess). Utilizing the strategy above allowed me to save time and make an educated guess in a short amount of time. With 175 questions and 3 hours, this is less than 1 minute per question. I know this strategy may not work for everyone, but I know it worked for me.
If someone asks me what it takes to pass the exam, I would tell them the following:
1) Buy study materials and budget at least $300 to $400 for those materials. Use eBay to buy used books and other study materials. I would recommend buying HRCI’s retired practice exams. These will help you gauge the testing environment.
2) Study at least 6 months in advance of your exam. It does not ensure success, but I can certainly tell you 6 months of studying saved me.
3) Use something portable to have your notes and study materials. If you commute like me, it’s good to have audiobooks to listen to in your car in between commutes.
4) Take as many practice exams as you can get your hands on. There are lots of websites which will let you take them for free. I used these to buffer in between study sessions. Take them as many times as you can so you can master the material.
5) Get plenty of rest and take deep breaths. This will be a very informing and trying time. You will get through it, just be patient and it will come.
Best of luck to all of you!