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How I Prepared for the SHRM-CP Certification Exam – Society for Human Resource Management

The Society for Human Resource Management – Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) is a certification for HR leaders that requires passing a 160-question exam in a testing facility. The exam is comprehensive to the human resources discipline and includes both knowledge-based questions and situational judgment questions, covering a range of behavioral competencies and HR functional areas. Having recently studied for and passed the SHRM-CP certification exam, I wanted to share how I studied the content and prepared for the exam.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive “how to pass the SHRM-CP” guide, and is only intended to help give you ideas for how you might like to prepare based on how you personally learn best. For information on the SHRM-CP certification exam in general, see SHRM’s website here.

student preparing for the SHRM-CP Certification Exam

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1. I enrolled in an online prep course and picked an exam date

I think that enrolling in a SHRM-CP certification exam prep course was a very good decision as it gave me a structured timeline to review, learn, and study the SHRM Learning System content. Because the course I took was online, it gave me extra flexibility in terms of when I could review the class recordings; this certainly came in handy with a full-time work schedule and a baby at home.

Also, by being in a class with students from a wide variety of industries, backgrounds, HR roles, and career levels, I was able to gain perspectives from others that helped me broaden my understanding of the HR discipline.

Once my prep course began, I soon signed up for an exam date through SHRM’s website (signing up for a prep course does not automatically set you up with an exam date). I chose to give myself about 4 weeks after my prep course’s end date to review content and focus in on my weak areas, which to me felt like a comfortable amount of time. Any less, and I may have felt rushed to review content and weak areas; any more, and I may have felt like I had to go back and re-review certain sections due to the amount of time that had passed.

2. I took a lot of practice questions

What really benefited me the most – aside from reviewing the content itself – was taking as many practice questions as I could. I used the online SHRM Learning System which I gained access to through my prep course. Within the learning system, there are practice questions within each content section, as well as an initial assessment, and a timed final assessment.

I completed all the questions once as I was going through the content along with my prep course, but also a second time after the prep course was over as a way to refresh and review. The learning system also allows you to switch between SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP, and I took a lot of practice questions as well under the SHRM-SCP to get exposed to as many types of questions as possible.

What was specifically helpful to me with these questions was not only reinforcing content I had learned but additional insight into SHRM’s “way of thinking” based on the answer justifications they provide for each question. I became initially frustrated in my first pass-through of the exam practice questions because I was scoring relatively low, and I felt that the questions were unreasonably tough at times.

However, in my second pass-through, I began paying closer attention to these justifications provided, and realized that it wasn’t enough to memorize content, but that I needed to have a comprehensive grasp of SHRM’s Body of Competencies & Core Knowledge (BoCK). I began to see that these competencies would often interrelate in the answer justifications, with multiple competencies being potentially included in a single situational judgment scenario.

What also really helped me when taking practice questions was writing down key phrases and words that stuck out while I read the question or scenario, and then paying attention to these when I reviewed each answer to a question. During the actual exam, you are able to highlight and cross out text, and this certainly helped me focus my attention when identifying the correct answer.

3. I used a lot of flashcards

The SHRM Learning System provides some flashcards, which you can print out and laminate. While I found these helpful to memorize some vocabulary, what helped me even more was using Quizlet to create my own flashcards. Instead of focusing only on definitions of words, I broadened my use of flashcards to encompass concepts, ideas, and examples given in the study material and external resources (more on those in the next section).

Quizlet is a really helpful study tool, and I especially found the “Learn” feature to be great for studying for the exam. This feature takes the content from the flashcards you create and introduces the terms with their definitions for you to review, and then also creates multiple-choice test questions for you to answer to better help you retain the knowledge.

4. I passed through content a second time and used external resources

After my online prep course had ended, I went through the SHRM Learning System content a second time, but I approached this review slightly differently. Whereas my first review of the content focused more on taking everything in and trying to keep up with the topics at hand, my second review was more focused on gaining a broader understanding of the interrelated nature of concepts and competencies. I did this by utilizing some alternative resources available to help me understand topics and themes from HR professionals in the field.

Within the SHRM Learning System, each chapter and section has links to external sources, including SHRM-published articles, research papers, and other organizations’ websites. I found these links extremely useful in gaining a more in-depth and meaningful understanding of the content I learned in my prep course.

I also listened to episodes from SHRM’s Honest HR podcast. Sadly, the host of the podcast passed away, but all episodes are still available to review. Each episode covers a different HR topic, and many episodes are grouped together as mini-series to cover a broader theme. With each episode having a different guest, I found that hearing perspectives from a wide range of HR professionals in the field allowed me to broaden my understanding of topics and concepts.

Hopefully, this information on what I did to prepare for the SHRM-CP certification exam has given you some ideas for what might work for you. One final piece of advice I will give is to take a deep breath and know that you have what it takes to pass this exam. You can do this! If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to leave those in the comments.

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The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.

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