What Does the PHR Stand For?

Everything you need to know about the PHR exam

Looking for more support as you prepare for your PHR exam?  Join our HR Certification Study Group on Facebook or our HR Certification Study Group on LinkedIn.

The PHR, or Professional in Human Resources designation, is from the HR Certification Institute (HRCI). The PHR demonstrates mastery of the technical and operational aspects of HR management, including U.S. laws and regulations. 

Which HRCI Exam Should I Take? PHR vs. SPHR

The PHR isn’t a prerequisite for the  SPHR, or Senior Professional in Human Resources, designation. It can be confusing to decide which exam to take, as the eligibility criteria for the two designations differ but overlap. Like the SHRM certifications, eligibility is based on expertise, experience, HR knowledge and job title or position.

If you meet the eligibility requirements for level of education, whether or not your education is in the HR field, and the number of years of professional HR experience, consider your work experience. If you have experience in just a few areas of HR and are not in a leadership function, the PHR is likely going to be the best choice. If you have experience in each area of HR, plus are leading HR functions, developing strategy, or implementing and managing elements of HR, the SPHR is probably going to be the right certification for you.

You should also consider the following:

  • The largest section for the PHR exam is Employee and Labor Relations, making up 39 percent of the exam, followed by Business Management, 20 percent of the exam.
  • In contrast, the largest section for the SPHR exam is Leadership and Strategy, 40 percent of the exam, followed by Employee Relations and Engagement, at 20 percent.


What Is the PHR? 

The PHR is for the HR professional who has experience with program implementation, has a tactical/logistical orientation, is accountable to another HR professional within the organization, and has responsibilities that focus on the HR department rather than the whole organization.

Details About the PHR Exam

– Multiple choice 

– Answers are ranked 

– 2 hours to complete

– 140 scored questions (mostly multiple-choice) + 25 pretest questions

– 5-minute survey 

– Testing occurs 120 days after registering to take the exam

What Are the Testing And Registration Dates for the PHR Exam? 

Testing for the PHR is available year-round, subject to test center availability. You may schedule your exam as soon as your application is approved, however you must take your exam within 120 days of your application approval date.

How Much Does It Cost to Sign Up for the PHR Exam? 

PHR Exam Fee*: $395 plus Application Fee: $100

*Once an exam application is approved, no refunds will be made whether a candidate withdraws or no longer wishes to take the exam.

PHR Certification Eligibility Requirements

To become certified, you must meet strict professional experience and educational requirements before taking the exam. 

To be eligible for the PHR you must meet one of the following conditions for education and experience:

– Have at least one year of experience in a professional-level HR position and a Master’s degree or higher,

– Have at least two years of experience in a professional-level HR position and a Bachelor’s degree, OR

– Have at least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position and a high school diploma.

To remain certified, you must stay current in the HR profession and recertify every three years. You display your certification by putting the credential after your name.

The PHR and SPHR exam pass rates are close to 50% (65% PHR, 58% SPHR) but the aPHR has an 84% pass rate. It is critical to make sure you meet the requirements of each and develop a proper plan for preparing to take the exam.

What is a Passing Score for the PHR Exam?

One of the challenges with both HRCI exams including the PHR is they are weighted exams meaning that your score isn’t tied to a certain number of questions you get wrong or right. You won’t know the scoring or even which questions are going to be used in the scoring of your PHR exam. You have 2 hours to answer all the questions for the exam. 25 of the 90 questions are test questions HRCI is considering adding to the exam. They want to see how you respond and are testing them out before they become part of the scored questions for future exam. When it comes to your exam, you need a passing score for the HRCI exam of 500. Anything less in a score of 500 means you don’t pass your exam. As I mentioned, the current pass rate for the PHR is 59%.

HR practitioners are well aware of the difficulty of the PHR and SPHR exams and there is a lot of advice out there on methods of preparation for HRCI certifications. First, there’s no “trick” to passing the exams. Preparation involves study and memorization, no matter how long you’ve been working in the HR field or what your degree is in. What does make the process easier is having an organized study schedule and preparation ahead of the exam to ensure you’ll pass it the first time you take it.   

How I Prep for the PHR Exam:

At Workology, we offer different certification prep options for those taking the PHR or SPHR exams. First, we have an HR Practice Test course complete with 200 HR Practice Test questions. Second, we have our on-demand course called Ace the HR Exam that offers more than 8 1/2 hours of audio and video learning plus a glossary resources of more than 600 important HR terms you need to know as you prepare for your exam. These resources help you retain what you learn so you can put it to use long after you earn your SPHR certification.

It’s important to focus on your individual and unique needs which is why we have exam prep resources for nearly every type of learner. In order to best prepare for the PHR exam, we suggest a focused learning approach starting with a self-assessment and creating a study plan that focuses on HR competency subject matter areas like diversity, talent acquisition, risk, employment law, or business acumen… Your study schedule and how you prep for the PHR exam is unique to you which is why I suggest a 12-15 week approach focused on these subject matter areas where you focus on 1-2 areas over the course of two weeks. Prep should be 3-7 hours a week during that time with review time being no more than 45 minutes in a single sitting without a break. This allows you to really focus in your study prep time for the PHR without overworking your brain.

As I mentioned, at Workology our most robust offering is our comprehensive Ace the HR Exam Suite which includes digital and on-demand resources for all types of learners who are preparing for the PHR Exam. This includes an audio course called Ace the HR Exam. You’ll also have access to our Ace HR Shorts course which is 100+ short 5-7 minute videos on hard to remember HR topics. Also included is our signature Ace the HR Exam course with over 28 hours of exam prep longer form review videos as well as a pre-study assessment, 150 exam test questions and other digital downloads including flashcards and a downloadable 600+ HR glossary. You can learn more about our Ace HR Exam Suite by visiting www.acehrsuite.com.


More HR Certification Resources:


Everything You Need to Know About the SHRM-CP

Everything You Need to Know About the SHRM-SCP

Everything You Need to Know About the SPHR

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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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