Everything You Need to Know About the SPHR Exam

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The SPHR, or Senior Professional in Human Resources designation, is issued by the HR Certification Institute (HRCI). The SPHR demonstrates your mastery of the strategic and policy-making aspects of HR management as practiced in the U.S. The credential is designed for big-picture thinkers responsible for planning rather than implementing HR policy. 

Which HRCI Exam Should I Take? PHR vs. SPHR

It can be confusing to decide which exam to take, as the eligibility criteria for the two designations differ but also overlap. The PHR (Professional in Human Resources) isn’t a prerequisite for the  SPHR designation. 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 Does the SPHR Mean?

Organizations seek out SPHR professionals for their proven accountability for HR department goals, for breadth and depth of knowledge in all HR disciplines, and for understanding business issues beyond the HR function.


Details About the SPHR Exam

– Multiple choice 

– Answers are ranked 

– 2 hours and 30 minutes 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 SPHR Exam? 

Testing for the SPHR 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 SPHR Exam? 

The SPHR exam fee is $100 more than the PHR fee, but all other factors remain the same. 

SPHR Exam Fee*: $495 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.

Eligibility Requirements for the SPHR Exam

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

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

– Have at least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position plus a Master’s degree or higher,

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

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

Your SPHR certification is valid for three years after testing. To maintain your SPHR credential, you must earn 60 recertification credits over a three-year time span or retake the exam. Of the 60 recertification credits required, 15 must be Business Management & Strategy credits. 

It is critical to make sure you meet the requirements of both the PHR and SPHR 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 SPHR 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 of the 145 out of the 175 questions are going to be used in the scoring of your SPHR exam. You have four hours to answer all the questions for the exam. Thirty of the 175 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 SPHR is 58%.

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 SPHR 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 SPHR 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 SPHR 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 SPHR 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 PHR

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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