Ep 233 – Test Taking Strategies for HRCI and SHRM Exams

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Ep 233 – Test Taking Strategies for HRCI and SHRM Exams

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Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell. Founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Episode 331: Test-Taking Strategies for HRCI and SHRM Exams 


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:25.35] Within our HR careers, having a certification is extremely important. Taking an exam to demonstrate your HR expertise by earning a certification is a great way to gain HR knowledge foundation and demonstrate your HR expertise. This allows you to stand out from others when you are in the job search or you are using this as a stepping stone in your career for more work experience and also possibly increased compensation. These can turn into opportunities for you that will allow you to live a more fulfilling career and hopefully life while preparing and studying for the exam is extremely important. I want to say that it is extremely important. We often forget about, though, preparing for the actual HR certification exam itself. And what I mean by that is that preparing to take your exam either in a testing center or via a remote proctor, you need to have a clear strategy and a plan to answer questions, selecting the best answer, and focusing on your overall HR certification exam game plan. In this special episode of the Workology podcast, we’re hearing from three different test-taking experts. They are weighing in, giving us their best tips, suggestions and insights into how to prepare for your HR certification exam beyond just study Prep. In this first interview, I’m pleased to have organizational psychologist Katy Caselli with me today. Katy is a workforce development expert and author of the book Building Giants: A Proven System to Transform Your Workforce Through Effective Training. Founder and president of Building Giants, Katy has coached hundreds of employees through taking the ACT work keys test. She shares tips for preparation and a self-hypnosis technique that is going to help you, I promise, ace your HR certification exam. You’ll hear from her. She’s talking about having a positive attitude and how proper mental preparation can go a long way.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:27.94] Many of us simply believe that we’re not good test-takers. I hear that a lot in our HR certification study group on Facebook. And I think this idea that we’re not going to test taking becomes a part of our personal narrative. Why do our brains fail us when we sit down to take a test?

Katy Caselli: [00:02:45.94] Well, actually, our brains are wired rather negatively for failure. So the brain remembers and dwells too heavily, I think, on past failures and at a much higher rate and with much more vivid emotions than what our brain feels about successes. So depending on what has happened in the past with your test-taking experience, so like with your SATs or your final exams in schools, we might take a single bad incident and create a perceived pattern that that is the truth for all future tests. But in reality, we can actually convince the brain otherwise by giving it the opposite message frequently. So you can say things to yourself like, I’m so glad I’m taking this test. I’m going to prove how good I am at this subject. I’m going to do really, really well on this test. These are examples of messages that you can repeat to yourself, and the research about these internal messages are that they really work. You can actually change your mind literally by telling your brain a new truth. So, your unconscious will pick up the message and these neural pathways will then be strengthened and the old ones will shrink away. So it leaves your brain able to follow this new scenario. And it might sound pretty strange, but science really does back this up. It’s called neuroplasticity. And what we can do is literally delete the old negative story we’ve been telling ourselves and create a new success story. So neuroplasticity is something just really fascinating to me personally and, you know, personally, for me, it’s definitely worked. And I know it’s worked for many, many, many people. So an example of what a test taker might do is, is repeat to themselves leading up to the tests. It could be something like, I’m really good at taking tasks over and over again and you can do it when you’re making coffee, when you take a shower, when you’re doing errands, when you’re out walking. Just repeat the message. Often in the weeks leading up to the test and that old story will disappear.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:48.07] One of the best things I’ve been doing over the last couple of years for myself hypnosis and the way we live today makes it difficult to focus on a single thing at once. And I feel like the self-hypnosis helps me a lot. Can you talk about how you use this to help improve focus both for study and during the exam?

Katy Caselli: [00:05:09.02] Yeah. So, you know, there’s, these days, there’s a lot more information on this than there used to be. You know, and it boils down to mindfulness and meditation. It’s, it’s all basically about calming the mind and reaching yourself in a way that allows you to deliver yourself a very clear message. And so self-hypnosis is basically you can do this by putting yourself into a very relaxed state. And the way, the way you do that is to focus on your breath, just like with meditation. And you calm the heart rate, you calm the breathing, and you just become very, very quiet and focused. And in that quiet you can tell yourself, you know, I am going to do extremely well with this exam. I am focused only on this exam. I am, I’m not worried about anything that’s happening before or after the exam. I’m only focusing on the exam and I’m accessing all this information I know so well. All the stuff I’ve studied, it’s all organized and ready to be accessed when I start the exam. And so you’re basically giving yourself and you’re giving your brain a pep talk in a very, very clear way. And meanwhile, you drop your shoulders from around your ears, you’re breathing studies and becomes more, more focused, more, more regular.

Katy Caselli: [00:06:34.34] And you’re really starting to get to yourself in a very clear way. Instead of all these things popping into your brain and distracting you. So that’s all we’re doing here is, with self-hypnosis is basically you’re meditating, and you’re, you’re reaching yourself so you can get a very, very clear message to your brain. And it really, really does help. It really helps you to become, you know, much more focused. You know, you’re not noticing the people around you. You’re not even noticing the desktop or your shoes or nothing like that. You’re just focused on the exam papers or the computer in front of you and how that is, how that’s delivering information. And your brain is connecting to that information and putting out the correct answers. And so it’s, it’s remarkable for focus. And if you find yourself with extra time during the, the exam, maybe you’ve reached the end of the questions you’re ready to go back and go through again all the ones that you flagged. That’s another time to take a couple of calming deep breaths and refocus and then go ahead and attack this second round of questions.

Break: [00:07:42.90] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you were listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Workology. Today we are talking about test-taking strategies for HR professionals who are looking to take their HRCI and/or SHRM certification exams. With test-taking day approaching for many, I’m sharing my best insights from leading exam experts who are focused on preparing your mind, body, and soul for HR exam day.

Break: [00:08:11.70] Are you tired of putting your professional development on the back burner? It’s time for you to invest in yourself with Upskill HR by Workology. We’re a membership community focused on personal development for HR. Gain access to our elite community, training, coaching, and events. Learn more at UpskillHR.com.

Dr. Tere Linzey and Marilyn Devonish


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:37.24] While having yourself in the right frame of mind is important, you also want to think about brain optimization, which is the practice of training one’s brain to develop optimal fundamental skills that are necessary for learning. Since that’s what we’re working on in order to study for and take our HR certification exams, I’m pleased to have Dr. Tere Linzey with me today. Dr. Linzey is a licensed educational psychologist and the founder of Brain Matters, a program that helps improve auditory processing, executive functioning skills, attention and focus and memory for learning. Dr. Linzey specializes in brain optimization, which is the practice of training one’s brain to develop optimal fundamental skills that are necessary for learning. She specializes in helping students pass exams and hone their skills for test taking. Dr. Linzey, in this interview, talks with us about the different types of memory. But I want you to keep brain optimization in mind, as well as ways to best prepare your brain for your HR certification exam.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:40.21] Now, if I remember correctly, there’s two different types of memory. Can you walk us through memory types and why those are important?

Dr. Tere Linzey: [00:09:47.74] Sure. So explicit memory is that memory that you’re using to study for a test or where you’re consciously aware of the steps that you’re having to take to do something, right? So test taking and learning a new skill, those kinds of things, you’re using your explicit memory then, because you’re aware. Implicit memory is memory that that’s being used because you’ve repetitively done something so many times that you’re not consciously aware of the steps anymore. For example, driving a car or getting dressed in the morning or brushing your teeth. Those are all examples of implicit memory. So what’s interesting with regard to test taking is that stress has a much bigger impact on explicit memory when you’re having to learn things from a textbook and then transfer it to take the test. If the brain is stressed at the same time when you’re still having to try to remember all those steps, then it, there’s much more impact during that time, which, which is one of the reasons why test-taking can be difficult.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:04.57] Without us taking the assessment, what are some ways that maybe we could improve our brain function before the exam? Or are there any kind of broad-based tips that you can give us?

Dr. Tere Linzey: [00:11:16.50] Well, I would say if you don’t have time to see how your brain processes, then you want to come in from the angle of making sure that you’re, the chemicals in the brain are primed before a test. So there’s a lot of research out there on performance and what you should do before a test there, that actually primed the brain with chemicals. Gratitude, sitting down, and just writing things that you’re grateful for sends in those positive chemicals in the brain. We know that meditation does that. Exercise does that. There’s something now called power poses that they’re telling people to do before interviews and before test-taking where you put yourself in a pose that makes you feel powerful, whether that’s like you can imagine a bodybuilder putting they’re holding up their muscles or whatever. So whatever kind of pose makes you feel powerful. The body sends messages to the brain and then the brain sends messages back to the body. So doing that power pose sends in those positive chemicals. And then also thinking about a time that you did well is really important before you go into a test, because a lot of people are thinking about, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, how am I going to do? Remember, I failed that last one or what? You know, And so it’s really important that you go into a test thinking about the last time you did something and you did it well. And then lastly, I would say practice under pressure. Do whatever you can to practice under pressure, meaning time yourself. These little things that make you a little bit anxious when your test when you’re studying. Coaches have known this forever. Coaches have known you make the practice harder than the game, but we don’t do that for people when they’re test-taking. And so anyway that you can make that you can put a little pressure on yourself, then you’re going to be a little bit ahead of the game when you get into the test-taking when it comes to the stress.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:21.33] An area of test-taking prep that I want to highlight is using neuroscience to improve your pass rate for your HR certification exam. There’s a lot of science behind why and how we learn and how we can train our brains to be more confident and better at test-taking. I’m pleased to have neuroscience coach Marilyn Devonish with me today. Marilyn Devonish is a certified photo reading instructor and NLP trainer, keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, freelance writer, flexible working implementation management consultant, and a certified multidisciplinary therapist. A personal trainer for your brain, she specializes in blending aspects of neuroscience with personal development to make accelerated performance more easily accessible to everyone. In this interview, Marilyn talks with us about Imagineering and how this can help you and your HR certification exam. Hear from her why a mental run-through could be the difference maker for HR professionals and how they perform on their exams.

Marilyn Devonish: [00:14:22.77] I call it Imagineering for my clients, and one of the things we often do is, is a run through, a mentor run through. And I say, right? what I want you to do is I want you to imagine the moment you arrive at the exam center. Sometimes people know what the exam center is, sometimes they’ve never been there before. But I said, Hey, look, you can imagine a desk and a chair, so just do that. And you imagine the moment you walk in, how you’re feeling, the way you’re, the way you’re holding yourself, the way you move, even right down to your facial expressions, your gestures, etc. And you see yourself sitting down going through that exam paper or looking at the multiple choice questions, having that sense, that feeling of excitement, because everything that you’ve been working for, everything that you’ve been studying, it’s now all there in front of you on that piece of paper, and your mind and your brain can automatically start sorting out, right? We’re going to do this first and we’re going to do this and then we’re going to do this.

Marilyn Devonish: [00:15:13.92] And they start mapping out a plan right in those first, I say those first 2 to 4 minutes are crucial in terms of the exam because that’s going to set the tone for everything else that happens over the next anything from 60 to 90 minutes to 3 hours. So I’d say that that whole piece, imagine that arriving, going interstate, seeing the paper being relaxed, doing your work, having almost the answers flowing from your brain down your arm at the end of your pen through your fingers, and people will often come back and say, Oh my gosh, Marilyn, I arrived at the exam center. I felt exactly like I did, like we talked about and you’re absolutely right. I looked at the paper and there was one of those questions. I was like, Yes. And there was another one where I say, Oh. However, in terms of working the exam plan for those 2 to 4 minutes, everything flowed like clockwork. So definitely how you approach it even before you walk into the exam room is also really important.

Closing: [00:16:14.97] Your HR certification exam is the culmination of so many things in your career, not to mention all your hard work studying, learning, and being comfortable with thousands of concepts, laws, topics, and terms that are all part of the larger HR profession and industry. Test-taking strategy, in my experience, is something we often overlook. So easy to just focus on memorizing and knowing all the terms. This is why I wanted to highlight these tips for you today. We dive in deeper. Talking about test-taking strategies in my ACE the HR Exam course, and our various offerings, as well as my upcoming book called ACE The HR Exam. It’s not enough for you to be familiar with HR terms information and perform well on your practice exams. It takes the right mindset, test-taking strategy, and preparation. This means your entire self, preparing your entire self to perform at optimum levels come your exam testing day. In order for you to pass your exam, you need a well-rounded and thorough approach to preparing for your HR certification exam. I’d love to invite you to join our Free HR Certification Study Group on Facebook. Just go to Facebook.com and you can search in the search box. Enter in HR Certification Study Group. It’s there that I share in this group more free resources like this podcast interview while allowing you to connect with thousands of HR professionals like you who are also preparing for their HRCI and SHRM certification exams. It’s also there you can learn more about ACE the HR Exam, my course or you can visit www.ACETheHRExam.com. Thank you for taking the time to join with me and best of luck in you acing your HR certification exam.

Connect with Katy, Dr. Tere and Marilyn.


19 Positive Affirmations for HR and Workplace Leaders 

5 Tips for Studying for the SHRM and HRCI Exams 

Join our HR Certification Study Group on Facebook

How to Change Habits and Behavior

Answering Test Questions for your HR Certification Exams

HR Certification Prep Resources

HR Recertification Resources

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