PHR & SPHR Online Course

The HR Certification Institute (HRCI) offers a certification called the Professional in Human Resources (PHR). According to the HRCI, this exam focuses on the technical and operational aspects of human resource practices.

The HRCI reports that this exam is specifically designed for those who are not necessarily brand new in their HR career (they suggest two to four years of professional work experience in all HR disciplines) but has not yet had increasingly complicated HR work experience. HR professionals are encouraged to become certified in order to show they are aware of the most current principles and core practices of HR management.

Applications for the exams are accepted twice a year and there are only two testing periods over the course of the year. Test takers are strongly encouraged to apply early to ensure their registration is confirmed and that the test taker's choice of test date and location is available. For the PHR, the fee is $350 for members of the HRCI and $400 for non-members. Each testing period lasts two months, and applications are accepted for each period approximately one-and-a-half to four months before the beginning of each testing period, with another month given to test takers to submit a late application for an additional $75 fee. Those who do not pass the exam may retake it but must wait until at least the next testing period to do so. The application process must be followed as before and all appropriate fees must be paid again.

Other services are available for a fee, including a review of the exam score for $50 as well as ordering a duplicate score report or replacement certificate for $25. Those interested in taking the PHR are encouraged to view the website of the HRCI, which lists a variety of scholarships that are available for those pursuing professional certification. For those who cancel their exam, a 50 percent refund may be given depending on the circumstances; however, for those who simply do not appear to take the exam on their scheduled date and give no explanation as to their absence, no refund will be given.

The PHR exam is divided into six sections: business management and strategy (comprising 11 percent of the entire exam), workforce planning and employment (24 percent), human resources development (18 percent), compensation and benefits (19 percent), employee and labor relations (20 percent), and risk management (eight percent). All questions on the exam are in a multiple choice format. The exam consists of 175 multiple choice questions and test takers are given three hours to complete it. Eligibility for the exam is either a Master's degree or higher and at least one year of professional HR experience, a Bachelor's degree or higher and at least two years of professional HR experience, or less than a Bachelor's degree along with four or more years of professional HR experience.

The HRCI reports that each PHR exam question is "pre-equated." This means that the difficulty of each question has already been assessed from including it as a pretest question on previous exams. There are a variety of versions of the PHR exam given to test takers and no two versions are identical. While all exams are close in their difficultly level, those that include questions that have been assessed as being slightly easier will require more total correct answers to achieve a passing score.

Test takers will receive preliminary results of the exam and whether a passing score was achieved at the exam center. Test takers are cautioned, however, that this report is to be considered unofficial until official results are received in the mail. Exams are scored on a scaled score of up to 700. To pass the PHR exam, a scaled score of 500 or higher must be achieved. For those who do not pass, they will receive information indicating how close they came to a passing score. Regardless of the pass/fail outcome, all candidates will receive an explanation of their performance on each of the topic areas that are in the exam. The HRCI website lists the percentage of PHR test takers who passed in each of the different testing periods going back to 2010 and in each period between 56 and 59 percent passed.

Those who want to request a review of their score can do so for an additional fee of $50. However, the HRCI is open about its quality control processes and reports that before official exam scores are released, they 1) receive scrambled electronic files of exam records, 2) use a scoring key to unscramble each record, and 3) verify that the record is complete and the preliminary score is accurate. It is possible that a review will change a test taker's score, though it is highly unlikely.

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Last Updated: 10/04/2016


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