Archive for the ‘Test-taking tips’ Category

Knowledge vs. skill

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

When a young, uninitiated human resource professional fails the certification exam, we chalk it up to inexperience. Give her a few years, we say. But what about a respected, seasoned HR veteran failing the exam? The person who knows it all, whom everyone else goes to for advice. What does it mean when he fails?

The SPHR and PHR exams are as much an assessment of test-taking skills as they are an evaluation of human resource knowledge. Often, when a competent, experienced HR professional fails the exam, the deficiency is not in knowledge and understanding of the HRCI Body of Knowledge, but a lack of skill in taking tests. Some people are naturally better test-takers than others, but, as with any skill, those of any skill level who work at it can improve. Read through the test-taking tips I’ve listed in this blog. And practice, practice, practice. (No, I can’t say “practice” too many times.)

March Madness

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Yes, I get caught up in the madness that is NCAA basketball. I closely followed a conference championship tournament last week and was delighted when three of the four quarter-final games were decided by a total of seven points (a one-point game, a two-point game, and a four-point game). I love the drama and tension of the nail-biters. I like to think about what makes the difference in the close games, and here’s my (admittedly incomplete and oversimplified) list:

  • Execution
  • Stamina
  • Luck

And (surprise, surprise), each of these items can also make the difference in the close ones on the PHR and SPHR exams. (Yes, I can relate anything to HR certification. Try me.)

  • Execution. Just as you’ve got to put the ball in the hoop to win a basketball game, so must you answer questions correctly to pass the human resource certification exam. Simple, I know, but that’s what it all boils down to in the end. Ability to execute on the PHR and SPHR exams depends principally on 1) knowing enough about the right stuff, and 2) accurately applying that knowledge to the exam. Your preparation for the exam should include both the acquisition of information and the improvement of test-taking skills.
  • Stamina. The HR certification exam may not be as physically exhausting as playing 40 minutes of basketball, but it is mentally draining. You’ve got to condition yourself. You’ve got to be toned. You’ve got to be tough. The best workout you can do to prepare for the exam is to simulate the timed test environment and bench press a bazillion questions.
  • Luck. Sometimes the ball bounces your way, and sometimes it doesn’t. You can only study so many topics, memorize so many terms, review so many pieces of legislation. Which of the thousands of potential topics will be reflected in the 225 questions on the PHR or SPHR exam is essentially a matter of luck. It’s out of your hands. However, keep in mind the wise words attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

The up side of exam anxiety

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Based on the significant spike we’ve seen in people taking our online practice tests in the past few days, I think it’s safe to assume that many PHR and SPHR candidates will be sitting for their HR certification exams in the next few days. We had a call to our office today from someone who was in an absolute panic about the exam. It got me thinking that a few words about exam anxiety might be helpful here:

  • Anxiety is normal, and it can actually be beneficial. It helps us get “up” for an event. It heightens our attention and sharpens our memory.
  • When you feel butterflies in your tummy (or a wave of nausea, as the case may be), tell yourself, “This is a good thing. This will help me.” Don’t allow the nervousness to escalate to the point that it is detrimental to exam performance. Relax.
  • To determine which relaxation techniques work best for you, employ various relaxation techniques when you take practice tests.
  • While poor preparation can certainly lead to nervousness, it doesn’t follow that feelings of anxiety mean you are ill-prepared. Even those who are well-prepared can feel nervous.
  • Worrying is focusing (obsessing, even) about the possibility of an undesirable outcome. It has no up side. Don’t allow yourself to worry.

Good luck!

Question dissection

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

The number one complaint I hear about the PHR and SPHR exams is the level of ambiguity in many of the questions. The frustration is not usually due to an inability to find a right answer, but rather that you could make a plausible argument for every one of the alternatives. Here’s where you’ve got to take the question apart and figure out what the item writer is looking for. Each exam question is assessing your knowledge or skill in a particular area. Ask yourself, what am I being tested on here? Is this item trying to determine if I know some particular fact? Is it trying to assess if I can do something? By asking yourself these questions, you can often eliminate the extraneous garbage and get to the heart of the matter.

If, when you’ve dissected the question, you find that you don’t know the pertinent fact or don’t possess the necessary skill, then make your best guess. Often you’ll find, however, that breaking the question down and finding the concept that is being tested will help you arrive at the best answer.

Retracing your steps

Monday, May 7th, 2007

While you are taking the PHR or SPHR exam, you can mark any question to which you intend to return later in the exam by clicking the “mark” button on the computer screen. If you’ve eliminated one or more of the distractors, make a note so you don’t waste time reading and considering them again. (The exam administrator will give you an erasable noteboard and marker, which you can use to make notes.) It may also be wise to select your first impression of the right answer in case you run out of time and do not have time to reconsider the question later in the testing period. You can review the questions you have marked by clicking the “review marked” button. You can also review unanswered items by clicking the “review incomplete” button.

Take the day off work

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Remember, on the exam you are being tested on the standards relating to the entire practice of Human Resources. In scenario questions, and elsewhere on the exam, you are not being asked how you, personally, would solve the problem. For the four hours of the exam, you need to think like a member of the HR community, recognizing that your personal preferences or the policies of the business where you work may lead you to incorrect responses.

So, go ahead. Take the day off work.

You deserve it.

Today it begins

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

Raise your hand if you are scheduled to take the PHR or SPHR exam today.

Yes, that’s right, the spring testing period begins today. I took the SPHR exam last spring; however, I took it not on the first day of the testing period, but on the last (June 30). It wasn’t due entirely to procrastination. I wanted to wait until returning from the SHRM Conference in Washington, D.C. (we had a booth in the expo). I needed the travel time for study.

While I recognize that some of you (rate-busters) will be taking the exam today or within the next few days, I assume that many of my blog’s visitors will be taking the exam later in the exam period (or possibly in the winter exam period). I will therefore continue dispensing advice and test-taking tips.

Here’s my tip for today: RELAX! Stress and anxiety hamper your ability to recall information and to think clearly. When you take practice tests, practice employing various relaxation techniques so you’ll know what works for you.

A step ahead of the test

Friday, April 27th, 2007

As you read each question of the PHR or SPHR exam, try to anticipate the correct answer before you read the alternatives. This will help you locate the correct answer faster and will help you stay focused on each exam item. Always be sure, however, to carefully read all four alternatives before you select one. Just to be sure.

The ticking clock

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

When you take the PHR or SPHR exam, you have four hours to complete the test. That’s 240 minutes to answer 225 questions. To be sure that you make it through the entire test, you should pace yourself. Recognize that this means that, on average, you need to answer a question every 60 seconds, which would leave you 15 minutes at the end to review your answers and to guess on any unanswered questions. Don’t become obsessed with the time any particular question takes you; recognize that some questions, like the scenario questions and those questions requiring mathematical calculations, will require more time.

Another acronym to know: LHF

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

LHF = low-hanging fruit

Okay, so you don’t really need to know about low-hanging fruit for the PHR and SPHR exams, but the concept itself might help you. On a fruit tree, the low-hanging fruit is the easiest to gather. No tree-climbing necessary. No ladders required. You just walk up to the tree and pick it. Some of the questions on the human resource certification exams are like low-hanging fruit. They are there for the picking, and it would behoove you to pick them first.

Passing the exam is about answering questions correctly. There is no additional credit for spending a lot of time on one of the really hard questions (especially if you end up answering it incorrectly). And really, which questions on the exam seem difficult varies from person to person based on background, preparation, and day-to-day job responsibilities. Don’t spend so much time on questions that are difficult for you that you sacrifice the chance to answer several other questions that would have been “gimmies” for you. You can always come back to the tough ones later.

For those of you taking the HR certification exam in the next two months, I hope you find bushels of low-hanging fruit.