How Do You Study For the PHR/SPHR On a Budget? 5 Cost Saving Tips

When all was said and done and I passed the SPHR, I realized that I had spent over $700 in supplemental resources alone. Looking back, there was definitely a more cost-effective way to prep.

How do you study for the PHR/SPHR On a Budget? There are several ways that you can prepare for the PHR/SPHR when funds are limited:

  1. Register for the Onward to Opportunity program
  2. Have your employer pay
  3. Apply for scholarships
  4. Look for inexpensive prep materials
  5. Find a study partner/join a study group

The PHR and SPHR exams have an application fee of $100 each and an exam fee of $395 and $495 respectively. You can save some money by bundling your exam costs and prep materials through HRCI, but you’ll still be paying at least $800 for the PHR and over $1,000 for the SPHR. Let’s take a look at a few ways that we can save on these costs.

Onward to Opportunity Program

One of the ways that I was able to save on my exam fees and prep materials was by enrolling in the Onward to Opportunity program. This is a wonderful program that’s open to service members, members of the selected reserves, veterans and military spouses if they’re not currently serving themselves. The goal of the program is to provide career transition skills and certification training for several different certificates including the PHR and SPHR. My husband learned about the program through a fellow veteran and I immediately began to research what I needed to do to apply.

The process was very simple. I filled out an application online and provided information about my husband’s service along with my work history and experience. It took about a month to receive my official admittance letter with my log-in information and the schedule for the program. Because we live quite a ways from the nearest base where the program is offered, I was able to complete my modules online rather than attending a live class. The program gives you 6 months to complete the course modules and to take three practice exams. As long as you receive an 80 or above on the practice tests, the program will pay for your exam fee, application fee, and an untimed HRCI practice quiz. As a bonus, there are additional study guides such as PHR/SPHR: Professional in Human Resources Guide and the PHR/SPHR Professional in Human Resources Certification Bundle that can be accessed within the Skillsoft platform. Program advisors will send gentle reminders to make sure that you stay on track and they will also suggest additional resources that you can purchase to make sure that you’re well-prepared for the exam. I understand that this approach won’t work for everyone, so I have a few more options ahead. 

Ask Your Company To Sponsor You

If your company doesn’t offer education expense reimbursement, one option that I also recommend is to speak to your manager about paying for all or a portion of your exam fees and study materials or class. 

This is helpful for a couple of reasons. Not only will it help you save money, it also forces you to be accountable and stick to your study plan. I would script out the conversation that I plan on having with my manager and schedule a meeting to lay out the case for why the company should make this investment in you. As an HR professional, you know how challenging the exams are, but your manager may have never heard of them. You will want to communicate who HRCI is and explain how the credential is perceived in the industry, Dropping the approximately 50% pass rate doesn’t hurt either. It will just reaffirm that this credential is not easy to get and demonstrates how committed you are to excel in your role. Of course, you will also want to communicate how this training and your certification will help you stay current on any trends in Human Resources and how those can be applied to help your organization.

If your company is willing to pay, you’ll want to see if there are any strings attached. For example, will you be required to repay the company if you decide to leave or is the firm’s payment contingent on passing the exam? You may find that your company is willing to contribute to your costs, but can’t or won’t pay the whole thing. Every bit helps! I would graciously accept anything that they can offer because it still means less money out of your pocket. Plus, I know many people who have successfully gone back to negotiate their salary after passing their exam.

Apply For Scholarships

Now, it may seem counterintuitive to say this, but having a SHRM membership offers you a few possible ways to save when it comes to exam fees and study materials. An annual SHRM membership costs $209 and is a valuable resource that you will be able to use even after you take your exam. The website is chock full of good information about issues that HR pros are currently facing and it allows you entry into your local SHRM organization oftentimes for free. Aside from holding events that can help you level up your skillset, many local SHRM chapters offer scholarships that can be used for either the SHRM or HRCI certifications. I find the SHRM website helpful for explaining complex issues in a digestible format and I enjoy reading the perspectives of the HR pros.

Look For Alternative Prep Materials

Another way to save big is to forego the learning system altogether and use alternative inexpensive study materials. In doing some research, I came across many people who were able to pass their exam without purchasing one of the expensive learning systems. If I chose to go this route, it would look something like this… I’d purchase a PHR/SPHR study guide and I’d find a highly rated and detailed human resources management textbook to complement it. Textbooks are expensive to purchase outright, but it’s cost-effective to rent them. It might cost you less than $40 to rent one for 6 months depending on the title that you choose. Aside from the cost, the other benefit to using a textbook is that they feature tons of case studies which will demonstrate how the HR knowledge that you’re expected to know on the exam is applied in real-world scenarios. I would treat the study guide as an outline and use the textbook as a reference to delve deeper into a topic. I would also purchase David Siler’s Quiz Pack which has about 550 questions split between multiple-choice questions and practice exams that can be used to assess your knowledge of the materials while you’re also able to work on your test-taking skills.

Find A Study Partner

Finding a study partner or joining a study group can also help you save because you can share supplemental resources. We all know that we can share hard copy books, but did you know that you can also loan Kindle books to a friend even if they don’t own a Kindle device. The option isn’t available for all books, but it is possible for a number of the PHR/SPHR study guides out there. The catch is you can only loan each title once for 14 days and you don’t have access to it while it’s being loaned out. Loaning a Kindle book is an easy 4 step process.

  1. Go to Manage Your Content and Devices on
  2. Select the Actions button for the title > Choose Loan This Title. 
  3. Enter the email address for the recipient
  4. Click Send Now and your book is on its way!

Sitting for your HR certification exam is well worth the investment, but I also believe you should save money where you can. Hopefully, my mistakes can help others save some money on their path to certification.

Related Questions

What is the pass rate for the SPHR? For the period from February 1, 2018 through January 31, 2019, the pass rate for the SPHR exam is 57%

Do you need the PHR before the SPHR? No, you can sit for the SPHR as long as you meet the educational and experience requirements. You do not need to sit for the PHR first.

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