Prepare for Your SHRM Certification Exams

Preparing for SHRM-SCP and SHRM-CP Exams

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

As the deadline approaches for the SHRM and HRCI certification exams, you might be feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information you have to absorb in a short period of time. Having a strategy to help you take in and retain study materials is the key to your success. Here, I’ll go over some tips to help you prepare and study for your certification exam.

Preparing For Your SHRM-SCP and SHRM-CP HR Exams 

We’ve established that certification is important and can help you further your career. Since most of us are working at demanding jobs and managing home lives while we’re studying, it might feel like the pressure on your schedule and bandwidth is just too much. I’ve written about some “brain hacks” that can help alleviate this pressure, like making sure your basic human needs (nutrition, sleep, exercise) are tended to while you work towards your goal. So once we’ve met these basic needs, how do we study for the exam? 

Schedule learning over a period of time

While it’s tempting to set aside a weekend for a cram session reading the materials, learning over time is much more effective to help you retain the information. This requires consistency and a schedule, and is also known as the “spacing effect.”  Dartmouth College published a study on the spacing effect and its results on two groups of learners, One was given a speech six times in a single day, and the second was given the speech three times a day over three days. The research found that students who received the information repetitively over a longer period of time remembered the speech more accurately and even a month later could recall it. The group that “crammed” study of the speech had very poor results in recollection, both immediately and a month later. 

Programs like our Ace the HR Exam Course as well as our SHRM Certification Prep Course , break your studying down into manageable bites with multiple deadlines, setting you up with a series of accomplishment milestones as opposed to a singular finish date. This helps to ensure you have absorbed each section of exam prep as an item you can check off of a list, and holds you accountable for the deadline for each section.

Vary methods of study

The “learning pyramid,” developed by the National Training Laboratory, shows that most students remember about 10% of what they read, but retain nearly 90% of what they learn through teaching others. The Learning Pyramid model suggests that some methods of study are more effective than others and that varying study methods will lead to deeper learning and long-term retention. Having a mix of flashcards, audio glossary, practice tests, content review with study groups, and talking about the subject matter will help improve your chances of acing the certification exam immensely.

Unfortunately, we can’t just jump from lecture to teaching. This is why I suggest using different methods to vary your learning. Personally, I love reading and then writing down what I’ve learned or talking about it with that accountability partner, a study group or a friend. I also really love audio learning in the form of podcasts because I can multitask doing things that don’t require a lot of brain power and those messages become somewhat subliminal and help reinforce the learning. 

Know your own learning style

I am a visual and audio learner. Adapting your study methods to your own learning style can speed up the process and make it easier for you to retain the information you need to pass your exam. Different people absorb information in different ways. Flashcards are great if you’re a visual learner, but if you’re a tactile learner, you need to “do” in order to learn, so situational questions and solutions help you develop a strategy as opposed to memorizing the information. Practice tests can be helpful as well.

Auditory learners are good at remembering what they hear as they learn information through auditory representation. As I mentioned above, most of us don’t fall into a single category for learning style and most of us can benefit from multiple methods. Audio learning is one of the most adaptable and common learning styles, and for HRCI and SHRM certification prep, there are lots of advantages to audio courses, including being able to multitask (listen while driving or even while sleeping) while internalizing the information. This works especially well for the hundreds of glossary terms that you’ll need to learn.

Don’t go it alone

In order to achieve mastery I recommend spending at least 6 months studying and preparing for the exam. My best recommendation is to study and prepare over the course of 10 months. You can’t do it alone though. This should be a group effort to allow for the highest level of learning and knowledge retention. Having study buddies or accountability partners like an online community of people who are also studying for their certification can be the support you need to keep up with your study schedule and a cheering section when it comes time to take your exam.

Learn and connect concepts by “chunking” study content

Breaking large amounts of information into smaller subsections helps your brain put this information into categories that you can access more easily later. Identify similarities or patterns and organize the information into smaller concepts. It’s essentially reducing your cognitive load, because our brains understand small bits of a lot of information (seven-digit phone numbers, passwords, the items on our grocery lists) better than large swaths of information.

Finally, it’s never too early to start preparing. No matter if you have months or weeks to study, start with creating a schedule and commit to it. Find online communities and accountability partners. Use a variety of learning methods and lean heavily on repetition and practice quizzes. You’ll want to go into your testing with confidence, and all of the above can help you feel prepared to ace your exam.

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

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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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