How Do You Study For the SPHR?: My 16 Week Study Plan

When I decided to sit for the SPHR exam, I only knew one thing. I wanted to pass the exam the first time and I didn’t want to look back. Below you will find the study plan that I used to do exactly that.

How Do You Study For the SPHR? As recommended, I used a few different sources to prepare for the SPHR exam. I purchased the HRCP system, participated in the Onward to Opportunity program for military spouses and took countless practice tests over a four and a half month period.

When I was slated to take the test, I knew that I would be taking the new SPHR exam. There wasn’t really much written about it online from a candidate’s perspective so I felt like I needed to over prepare  because I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

SPHR New Exam

The SPHR has always been known to be a challenging exam with a pass rate hovering around 50-55%. In June of 2018, HRCI announced that they would be making changes to the structure of the exam and there would be a new format released later that year in August. When I began thinking about how I’d study for the exam, I wanted to make sure that I was using study materials that aligned with HRCI’s new exam content outline and I made sure to have a good understanding of topics that we be covered and their relative importance.

HRCI condensed the exam content down to 5 sections from 6 with Leadership and Strategy, and Employee Relations and Engagement weighing in at 40% and 20% respectively. Knowing that these two sections alone would make up over 60% of the exam, I knew that I needed to score well on those sections if I wanted to ensure that I’d pass.  Going into it, I thought that I would do well on the Leadership and Strategy section because of my HR Business Partner experience and background in owning and operating a small business. However, I knew that unions would present themselves in the Employee Relations section and my experience with them was pretty much nonexistent. I knew that I had to create a study plan that would accommodate that.

SPHR Study Materials

When I was formulating my study plan, I had to decide if I wanted to take a class or self-study. I ultimately decided to self-study because I’ve always been a pretty diligent student and knew that I would make sure to complete all of the required lessons. More importantly, self-study provided the flexibility that I needed as a working mom juggling the demands of a full-time job, the attentions of a two-year old and a pretty long commute.  On top of it all, I’m a tactile learner who does best when reading, taking notes and using practice tests so I just knew that sitting in a class wasn’t for me. I ended up purchasing the HRCP system and participating in the Onward to Opportunity program which used TestPrep Review in the SkillSoft learning platform.  


When I first got the HRCP system, I was intimidated by the size of the books and the amount of content they contained. It seemed like there was just so much to cover.  It was essentially like reading a textbook for each of the sections on the exam. I decided to break down my schedule like you see below with most of the emphasis on the two sections that were weighted the most.

Section# of Weeks
Leadership and Strategy3 weeks
Talent Planning and Acquisition2 weeks
Learning and Development1 week
Total Rewards1 week
Employee Relations and Engagement3 weeks
Strategic HR Management2 weeks

I created a schedule and saved it in my Google calendar so I could keep track of when I needed to have each section finished and it helped me stay on track against my goals. I created a summary for each of the sections and I would take practice quizzes in both Skillsoft and HRCP to ensure that I had a firm grasp on the concept before moving on to the next section.If there was anything that I was unsure of, I would look for supplemental resources that would explain the concepts in a different way. In addition, I would make flashcards for any concept that I was having trouble remembering and I would bring those along so I could study anywhere.  I would use my train ride and lunch breaks to study. On average, I’d study about 2 hours a day during the week and about 3-4 hours a day on the weekend when I had a little more free time and my mom would babysit.

SPHR Practice Questions

I completed my review of the material and spent the last 4 weeks focusing on multiple choice questions and practice tests.  I used a number of different books for multiple choice questions and focused on high quality practice tests that closely mirrored what I would see on the exam. Some of the books of practice questions that I used were:

PHR and SPHR Professional in Human Resources Certification Complete Practice Tests: 2018 Exams

This was one of my favorite books because it was broken down by exam and section so you knew exactly what area to focus on for additional review.  It also had really detailed explanations of the answers which was helpful in getting a fresh perspective on tricky concepts. The book also included a practice test for each exam type.  I bought the Kindle version on Amazon, but any purchase includes access to their online test bank once you register with Sybex.

SPHR Exam Practice Questions (First Set): SPHR Practice Tests & Review for the Senior Professional in Human Resources Certification Exam

I purchased both the first set and second set of these practice questions.  Each set only has 175 questions, but they were definitely more strategic in nature that the books that covered both PHR and SPHR questions. Each set contained 175 questions which is in line with the length of the exam. I liked that there were no filler questions and it got me thinking about concepts that could appear on the exam.

1010 PHR / SPHR Practice Questions With 200 PHR / SPHR Key Points: PHR Exam Prep. PHR Key Points. PHR Explanations

This book has a lot of questions that covers all aspects of HR concepts and laws in depth. I would go through 50 – 100 questions at a time and mark the ones that I got wrong for additional review. I felt like this book helped me have a thorough understanding of the nuances of the laws and acts. But, I think it’s a better tool for PHR candidates because the questions are more detailed than what you’ll find on the SPHR exam.

PHR, SPHR, SHRM-CP, & SHRM-SCP Exam Prep: 700 Practice Questions 

This book also had well designed questions and I liked that they also included match questions and fill in the blanks which could also be found on the new versions of the exam. It was a little challenging to complete the match questions using the Kindle version of the book, so in hindsight, the paperback version might have worked out better for me.

SPHR Practice Exams

In the final weeks leading up to the exam, I would also make it a point to take a full length timed practice exam each week so I could get a feeling of what it would be like to test under realistic conditions and to make sure that I could complete the exam in the time allotted.  I used the following practice exams in addition to the ones that were included in HRCP and TestPrep review.


I took the HRReview online practice test for the SPHR.  It’s 125 questions and gives explanations for any wrong answers.  One important thing to note is that you only have access to the answer explanations in the same session that you take the exam.  Once you log out, you will only see your score when you log back in, so make sure that you take any notes while you’re still in the exam session..

David Siler’s Distinctive HR Quiz Pack

David Siler’s system is well known and the questions in his Quiz Pack do closely resemble what I saw on the actual exam.  The Quiz Pack was fun because it had over 500 questions and also included a fun quiz show type game. I’d highly recommend this to anyone looking for additional questions and practice tests.

HRCI Practice Test

I also purchased the HRCI timed practice test.  The price is a bit steep at $85 for a 50 question practice test.  However, it was helpful to see the retired questions so I had a better feel for what to expect.  Still, I’m not sure that it was entirely necessary, but at the end of the day…

I Passed the SPHR

I’m happy that I stayed on track.  It was all worth it when I got that piece of paper in my hand.

To recap, when you’re getting ready to create your study plan for the SPHR:

  1. Figure out the way you study best
  2. Write out a detailed plan
  3. Gather your resources
  4. Test, test and test some more

Related Questions

What is the passing score for the PHR exam? The PHR is scored on a scale of 100 to 700. You must score at least a 500 to pass.

How many questions is the PHR exam? The PHR exam has 150 scored questions and 25 pretest questions. Pretest questions are used to determine which questions will appear on future tests.

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