Full disclosure...that exam was extremely difficult, and I feel that I could have just as easily been writing a blog post today titled something like, "failing once doesn't mean it's over..."
Getting my PHR certification was a professional goal of mine, and my company paid for me to take it ($400 - ain't a cheap exam) as well as paid for my study materials. The relief I feel right now is incredible...that exam was a killer. In the 20 or so seconds between hitting the submit button and seeing my score results, my heart beat was rapidly accelerating...doing something that my company was sponsoring that I could have potentially screwed up was a lot of pressure, and it all built up in those 20 seconds. I thought the test proctor was gonna have to do some CPR on me if I didn't see the results in another few moments. I had flashbacks of union campaigns, acronyms, and sexual harassment....
Here is what worked for me, broken down into part one (studying) and part two (exam day tips). Some of this is general study/exam tips, but I do want to touch on the PHR specifically, in case someone reading this is planning to take this sucker.
PHR Study Tips
1. Use at least one study guide. I believe the SHRM study materials cost about $1000 or so, and prep courses at universities cost even more. I know myself well enought to know that as long as I could get the material, I could effectively teach it to myself....so I bought what is known as the holy grail DIY study book for the PHR (pictured above) for like, less than $40. This was my sole source, and even though the 2012 edition is the most recent, I felt well prepped for the 2014 exam from this. Well written, straight to the point book. Also has electronic companion with flashcards, practice questions, and an appendix with court cases and such in the back.
2. TAKE AS MANY PRACTICE EXAMS AS POSSIBLE. This is probably the most important. Somehow, "the powers that be" translate the rules and laws in a certain way (sometimes not intuitive to what you think), so taking practice exam questions really saved me. I bought a book full of practice exams, found a free one on hrcistudy.com, and got my hands on any additional free quizzes I could find. You can also purchase practice exams for $45 a pop at SHRM, but I thought my material was sufficient, and much cheaper.
3. Time is of the essence. There is a lot of info to absorb, and you want to get to the point where you've already covered all the material at least a couple of weeks before the test so that in the last minute, you can just be reinforcing it and memorizing law details and such. I planned to take a solid 3 months studying, but then we decided to buy a house and all my extra time and energy was spent on that process. I was left with a month to study, and it honestly did not feel like enough time...but I hit it hard there at the end.
4. Find the right music to make you focus. When I'm covering new material, I like to listen to ambient music (like the station "Yoga Workout" on Pandora), but when I'm drilling stuff in at the end trying to commit it to memory, I like to listen to rap. In fact, when I was answering exam questions at the testing center today, I could almost hear Wiz Kahlifa singing in my head.....
5. Get your favorite drink while you work. My brain on caffeine is so much sharper than when there is no caffeine. Sorry, not sorry. If you're like me, then this is an important component.
6. For those who have kids.....GET SOMEONE TO WATCH YOUR KIDS A LOT. In the weeks leading up to the exam, you need your undivided time to devote to studying, and we all know with kids, you never get that time unless you ask for help. From your partner. From your parents/family. From your friend. Someone. Anyone (who you feel okay leaving your kiddos with). I couldn't have done this without my husband or my parents.
And.....now that you've studied hard....here are some exam tips for the day before and day of:
1. Give it up. If you don't know the stuff the day of, you probably won't. Sorry.
2. Get sleep and have a low key, relaxing day before. Your mental state needs to be on point the next day, so staying up late worrying or cramming may not do you any favors. Or maybe it will....but it wouldn't fly for me.
3. Take exam day off from work. The entire day needs to be stress free.
4. Eat a great meal before you go into the testing center. It's a 3 hour long exam...which isn't as long as the GMAT or something like that...but still - be well fed and well hydrated.
5. Drink something highly caffeinated before your exam. Consume it. Feel your brain come alive. Seems like my standardized test days follow me throughout my life...SAT, ACT, GMAT, and now PHR. I get a huge coffee before each one, and I think it's had a positive impact.
6. DON'T FORGET YOUR ID.
7. PHR Specific - Really take your time with the questions. These aren't black and white...there will usually be two right answers, but one is more right than the other. Look for words used in the question, and see how those may tie particularly to one of the answers to make it seem a bit more right than the other. Mark any that you aren't sure of, and you'll have the chance to go back and review them and spend more time on the end of the test if you have it.