Episode 262: Test-Taking Strategies for HRCI and SHRM Certification

During the past several months, many HR professionals have had to reschedule certification exams, take them online with a remote proctor, or in a test center with social distancing protocols. Because HR Certification exams might just be the most difficult you’re ever going to be faced with, adding a global pandemic to the experience can be scary. It’s always good to be prepared, so I talked to two HR professionals about their experience taking HRCI and SHRM exams recently. 


Episode 262: Test-Taking Strategies for HRCI and SHRM Certification with Danielle Martinez, SHRM-CP (@Danielleloveshr), and Tracy Spears, SPHR (@TracySpears)

Looking for more resources as you work towards your HR certification? Join the HR Certification Study Group on Facebook.

Danielle Martinez, SHRM-CP, has been in HR for a little over a decade and currently works for a New York City-based technology company. I asked Danielle which exam she chose and why. “I took the SHRM-CP exam because I took the SCP exam in December of 2019 and did not pass. So I decided to scale back a bit because it didn’t feel like I was ready.”

What was the remote testing experience like for you?

Danielle said that she “took the SHRM-CP exam remotely. When I took the SCP exam at a testing center it was distracting and I was anxious…remote proctoring was a completely different experience. I enjoyed it more than the testing center, I had really good proctors that were really encouraging. The only thing is that you have to do a 360 of your room where you’re testing and have to cover up pictures.” 

What else should we know about remote proctoring?

“The test cut out on me twice. When your test cuts off, your time stops completely. In order for your time to begin, they have to check you back in all over again. If your computer shuts off, don’t freak out. When you log back in, tell the proctor you want to use the restroom while they’re checking you in. That way when you do get a break later you can stretch your legs, walk around, actually take a break.”

What topics or questions do you feel like tripped you up the most?

“I remember I had three situational judgment questions where I understood the question, but the story was convoluted and the answers once you narrow them down isn’t what you would do, but what Sharon in HR would do.” 

I wish I had spent more time studying about:

“Risk management.”

What advice would you give someone who is studying right now?

“Breathe. Don’t get caught up on all the feedback online and psych yourself out…every test is a little different. I had one legal question and other people I know had several. Know your subject matter enough to be comfortable. Don’t overthink it and stay focused. I had to fall in love with the material and put things into real experiences and situations.”


Tracy Spears, SPHR, has been in HR since 2013 and currently works as HR Director for a nondenominational church. Tracy said that she “initially signed up for the PHR, but then COVID hit and my test day was canceled. That actually gave me more time to study so the second time I signed up for the SPHR, ended up taking that and passing it.”

What topics or questions tripped you up the most?

Tracy said that there “weren’t specific questions that tripped me up; it was more how the questions were worded. I used the HR.com testing materials and expected the language that I had been studying to be on the exam…I started to panic because the way they wrote the questions was very different from what I had been quizzing myself on. For the SPHR there is a heavy emphasis on business acumen…what I found myself getting confused on is what voice I was answering the question on – from the COO perspective or the HR perspective.”

What was the test experience like?

“I was concerned about [remote testing] and at the time I scheduled my test there wasn’t a lot of information on what the remote test would be like, so I decided to do in-person testing once it opened back up. The entrance process is more in-depth than boarding a plane, so that was interesting. There was an anxious moment at the end of the test when I hit submit and the proctor came in, it wasn’t submitting. It finally went through but it was an anxious few minutes.”

I wish I had spent more time studying about:

“Situational questions.”

What advice would you give someone who is studying right now?

When people say this is the hardest exam you can take, they aren’t kidding. Make sure you set aside time to study through a longer period of time so you’re not cramming for it. The other thing I would say is to trust yourself.”


Thanks to Danielle and Tracy for sharing their experiences and insights with us! 

In order 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. This is where I share more free resources like this podcast and connect you with thousands of HR professionals just like you who are also preparing for their HRCI and SHRM certification exams. 

Want to increase your chances of passing your HR Certification on your first try? Take a look at Workology’s Ace the HR Exam courses, featuring audio and video content, practice tests, live and on-demand study options, and 700+ HR terms and concepts.

Best of luck as you prepare for your SHRM-SCP, SHRM-CP, PHR, and SPHR exams!


Connect with Danielle Martinez and Tracy Spears.



– Danielle Martinez on LinkedIn

– Tracy Spears on LinkedIn

– HR Certification Study Group on Facebook

– Ace the HR Exam courses

– Episode 259: Remote Proctoring with SHRM and HRCI

– Episode Transcript


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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