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Mastering Your HR Certification Exam: 7 Expert Tips for Success

hr best practices hr certification hr department hr essentials Oct 09, 2023

Does the thought of taking a multiple-choice exam send shivers down your spine? Often, the HR certification exam itself is often enough to keep you away from testing. However, with the right preparation, these exams can be conquered!  And….we know from data that passing will have a significant impact on your career.  Both emotionally and financially!  So let’s get this done!

People ask me all the time if I have any tips for passing these exams, so here are some of my favorites!

Tip #1 - Don’t Try to Memorize Everything

In order to pass your HR certification exam, you’ll need to take what you know and apply it to different situations. Rote memorization can’t help you there! There will be some basic information you need to know, and you can learn those through preparation. Focus on learning high-level concepts and laws, then use that knowledge to pick the correct answer through the process of elimination.

Tip #2 - Check Your Experience at the Door

Your real-world experience is valuable, but you can’t rely too heavily on it for the exam. The questions are written by hundreds of different HR professionals, each with their own take on a situation. When selecting your answer, choose the one that would be best in the majority of situations, even if it’s not necessarily what you or your company would do.

Tip #3 - Know Your Vocabulary

Remember when you were studying for the SAT and ACT exams in high school? You were taught that if you have a good understanding of vocabulary, you’ll be able to figure out the right answers based on context. It’s the same here! If you’re weak on vocabulary, you’ll have difficulty understanding the questions. My flashcard-style app, HR Cards is FREE to try for first 3 days and designed to get you ready.  You can find it in iTunes and Google Play.

Tip #4 - Don’t Underestimate the Value of Practice Questions

Perform a quick search on the internet and you’ll find plenty of tools that allow you to answer multiple choice practice questions. Look for one that not only tells you the correct answer but also provides a complete explanation of why the right answers are right and the wrong answers are wrong.  I really like the site for practice.

Tip #5 - Pace Yourself

By the 30-minute mark, you should be somewhere around question 35-40. If you’re farther ahead, you may not be reading the questions thoroughly enough. If you’re too far behind, you may not be able to finish the whole test. No matter which exam you’re taking, aim to have about 45 minutes leftover so you have ample time to go back and check your answers.

Tip #6 - Remember that this is a Federal Exam

Leave everything you know about state law behind. For example, unemployment and workers compensation are federally mandated but state-run, so there will be very few specific questions (be sure to know they both exist though!). Don’t let things like minimum wage, paid time off, and drug testing impact your answers. Always focus on the overarching federal law.

Tip #7 - Be Ready for Exam Day

Don’t get tripped up on things that have nothing to do with the material. Prepare your mind and body for testing so you can be focused when the time comes.

  • Do a test run of the exam site location. You don’t want to get lost or have difficulty parking.
  • Get a good night’s sleep so you are fresh for the test.
  • Eat a complete breakfast.
  • Bring a small snack, such as a granola bar, to the testing center
  • Take a deep breath. Like everything else in life, this too shall pass!

The longest minute of your life will be the one when you hit the button at the end of the exam to say that you are finished. You’ll sit for a moment, answer their survey, and then be told how you did. If you pass, it will say it’s conditional upon final review, but I’ve never heard of anyone who was later told they failed. Go home, celebrate, and change the signature in your email!

If you weren’t successful, know that you are in good company. Many people have to take the exam more than once and it’s not always a reflection of HR knowledge. Sometimes it’s just about the test itself. In fact, often a person misses by just a few questions. So, lick your wounds for a day or two, but then brush yourself off and try again.

HR Certification can change the trajectory of your career.  In addition to increasing your salary and moving up with a new job title, the confidence and sense of self-satisfaction can’t be underestimated.  So go forth and get this done!



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