PHR and SPHR Exam Prep

Last Updated May 6, 2019

The Professional in Human Resources (PHR®) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®) credentials offered by the HR Certification Institute enable human resource practitioners to expand their career opportunities and increase their professional worth.

Consider this: According to a survey conducted by B2B International, an independent market research firm, on behalf of the HR Certification Institute, 96% of employers felt that an HR-certified applicant would have an advantage over non-certified candidates when competing for human resource jobs. These findings provide a compelling argument for the value of PHR and SPHR certification.

Applying for the PHR or SPHR certification exam requires meeting minimum eligibility requirements, including at least two years of professional human resources work experience. The HR Certification Institute recommends two to four years of HR experience prior to sitting for the PHR exam, and six to eight years of HR experience for individuals interested in taking the SPHR certification exam.

What Topics Are Covered on the PHR and SPHR Certification Exams?

Passing the PHR or SPHR certification exam requires preparation and hard work. However, your efforts can have a big pay off when you attain the respected credential needed to compete for high-level HR jobs. Knowing what to expect can boost your score – and your chances for success in your HR career.

There are 225 HR exam questions in each test, including 25 pre-test questions (scattered randomly throughout the exam) and 200 scored questions. The PHR and SPHR certification exams cover the same core topics; however, emphasis on key functional areas can vary. For example, the PHR exam focuses most heavily on workforce planning and employment, wile the SPHR exam concentrates on strategic business management.

The HR exam questions are designed to determine a candidate’s expertise in the following areas:

Functional Area PHR SPHR
Strategic Business Management 12% 29%
Workforce Planning and Employment 26% 17%
Human Resource Development 17% 17%
Total Rewards 16% 12%
Employee and Labor Relations 22% 18%
Risk Management 7% 7%

Strategic Business Management

This section of the PHR and SPHR exams tests the HR professional’s ability to: develop, contribute to and support an organization’s mission, vision, values, strategic goals and objectives; formulate policies; guide and lead the change process; and evaluate HR’s contributions to organizational effectiveness. These HR exam questions are related to knowledge of legislative and regulatory processes, and strategic planning and implementation.

Other questions pertain to management functions like planning, organizing, directing and controlling, as well as techniques to promote creativity and innovation. Individuals sitting for the SPHR certification exam also need knowledge of transition techniques for corporate restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, off-shoring and divestitures.

Workforce Planning and Employment

The questions in this part of exam cover methods and activities that ensure an organization’s workforce is able to achieve its goals and objectives. Professionals must demonstrate their knowledge of how to develop, implement and evaluate such activities as sourcing, recruitment and hiring, orientation and succession planning. Employee retention and exit programs are also addressed.

In addition, SPHR certification candidates will encounter HR exam questions on international human resources and the implications of the global workforce for planning and employment.

Human Resource Development

These HR exam questions cover employee training and development knowledge, as well as a professional’s ability to develop, implement and evaluate performance appraisal and talent management programs. These activities help to ensure that staff performance meets an organization’s goals, and that employees’ growth and development needs are addressed. SPHR candidates can also expect questions that test their knowledge of global issues like international law, culture and societal norms.

Total Rewards

“Total rewards” refers to compensation and benefits packages and programs. HR exam questions in this area are designed to test a professional’s ability to develop, select, evaluate, implement and administer programs that meet the organization’s goals, objectives and values. The candidate’s understanding of federal, state and local laws, budgeting and benefits is also tested.

Individuals taking the SPHR certification exam will also need to answer questions on executive compensation methods, non-cash compensation methods (including stock options and ESOPs), international compensation laws and fiduciary responsibility related to total rewards management.

Employee and Labor Relations

The employee and labor relations area of the PHR and SPHR exams includes questions about analyzing, developing and evaluating the employer/employee relationship and working conditions. These HR exam questions address a candidate’s ability to understand and balance employer and employee needs and rights in support of the organization’s goals and objectives.

Questions in this section cover labor laws, retention programs, employee behavior issues, labor practices and communication procedures. The SPHR certification exam also covers the collective bargaining process, including contract negotiation and administration.

Risk Management

It’s important for HR professionals to have expert knowledge in developing, implementing, administering and evaluating plans and polices that contribute to a safe and secure working environment and protect organizations from liability. PHR and SPHR exam questions in this area cover health, safety and privacy activities, workforce safety training, disaster recovery and federal, state and local laws, among other topics.

PHR®/SPHR® Exam Content Part 2