Learning Hacks to Help Studying for the HR Certification Exam

HR certification learning study preparation

As the testing deadline approaches for the SHRM and HRCI exams and the spring window begins, you’re likely in full-on cram mode. There’s a ton of information to absorb and you only have one brain to do it with.

Learning Hacks to Help Studying for the HR Certification Exam 

But we’ve got some tips—brain hacks if you will— so you don’t have to eschew any semblance of a social life, sacrifice sleep, and go underground to pass your HR certification exams.

Learn and Connect related HR concepts with  “Chunks”

We have this thing called working memory and it’s similar to memory on a computer. The way to work around that limited capacity it to understand that you can make better and more efficient use of your short-term memory by grouping information. Essentially you want to reduce your cognitive load.

Break large amounts of information into smaller subsections. Identify similarities or patterns and organize the information into smaller concepts. It’s essentially categorization or creating an umbrella topic. For example, on a grocery list, you might list each thing under the grocery section.

This is where the SHRM Learning System and Workology’s SHRM Certification Prep Course comes into play. SHRM’s Body of Knowledge creates a sense of topic and content organization for you. Meaning you can start chunking the information based on a topic within the SHRM Learning System such as Risk Management which is part of the Workplace Module. 

Another great way to chunk and organize the information you wish to review is to use quizzes as a way to help prioritize your time devoted to an HR or topic area. While the SHRM Learning System also has quizzes, Workology’s own SHRM Certification Prep Course also provides quizzes to help further assess and explore areas of opportunity that might need some additional time and attention before you take that test. 

Engage in a Long-term Relationship with the HR Certification Material

The SHRM certification exam requires more than your attention for a 48 hour period. You need to be exposed to the material consistently and over time to actually comprehend the information. If you try to cram the learning into a short period of time, you’re likely to forget it in a short period of time.

So it makes sense to work backward. Understand how long it typically takes to absorb the material for the SHRM exams and work backward from there. Set a schedule on your calendar to do 3 hours at a time or three 1-hour sessions each week to review HR certification quizzes and the SHRM Learning System. I recommend you spend at least 4 months preparing for the exam and reviewing relevant study materials. Exposure to the resources in this way is much more effective for actually learning and mastering the material.

Teach Someone Else What You’ve Learned

Study groups can be crazy things—devolving into late nights that don’t have a lot of impact on what you’ve learned. But they are great if you can use them to your advantage… namely, teaching. Approaching your study group as a teacher might will help engage your brain more effectively than just the objective to pass a test.

Instruction is a great way to learn the material and is something that CHRO, Mark Fogel recommends in a recent Workology Podcast interview where I talked with Mark on how to best prepare for HR certification exams. Mark encourages his team to apply and teach the information to others to help with information retention for both the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams.

If you don’t have a study group to lean on, then approach the material as if you were going to teach it. Analysts from Washington University tell us that their study participants who “anticipate teaching produced more complete and better organized free recall and in general, correctly answered more questions about the passage.”

Sleep, Rest and Recover to Retain HR Certification Testing Information 

In the past decade, there’s been an overwhelming number of sleep studies that tell us that sleep affects everything from our short-term happiness to our long-term health. But when we’re facing a big test, it’s easy to ditch out on much-needed ZZZs. What if I told you that taking the time to sleep will actually increase the likelihood that you’ll pass the test?

It’s no surprise that the body uses sleep to repair itself. It’s basically your body’s optimization process. And in REM, your brain replays and consolidates everything that happened that day. In fact, a sleep study at the University of Luebeck in German found that volunteers taking a relatively simple math test were 3X more likely than sleep-deprived participants to find the answer.

Sweat it out

It seems like exercise is the answer to everything and information absorption is no exception. When you get your heart pumping, your brain gets treated to some extra-rich oxygenated blood. Researchers have found that that aerobic exercise also appears to grow the size of the hippocampus. That singular and longer-term stimulation of the hippocampus boosts your capacity for cognition and reasoning.

Additionally, as we know, exercise functions as a stress reducer. Since stress directly affects your capacity to focus, think of it as a way to clear out stress-induced brain fog. To get more out of it, try doing 20 minutes of cardio before an intense study-sesh.

For more on hacking your brain, check out our free forty-five-minute webinar discussing how to best prepare for the SHRM and HRCI certification exams. During this presentation, we dive into more SHRM certification exam testing theory and what to expect.

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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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