It was around February 2019 that I started doing research on the SHRM certifications and I listed the approximate costs in one of my many notebooks for my thoughts. With mounting costs, especially with the inclusion of any prep course (face-to-face or virtually), I did a quick Google search to see what others recommended as the best path to passing the exam. I’m a fan of “how to” articles generally, but I soon realized that only one person wrote such an article after I typed "how to pass SHRM CP" in Google search. I found it one late night while browsing on my mobile phone.
A few days later, I searched for the article again, because I needed to make sure I noted the recommendations in order to give the exam my best shot. That article was published on LinkedIn in 2017 by Julian Beck, and I’m really glad that I found it. It was very helpful. Currently, we are all experiencing the pandemic and I thought to offer details on how I passed the SHRM-CP exam during this chaotic time, which seems to be lingering a bit longer than anyone would like.
Make a plan!
I’m a visual and read/write learner, and while I didn’t create a vision board for 2020 (as I did for the previous three years – maybe I knew that this year was going to be chaotic), I listed all the requirements and details and their associated costs. In listing the requirements, I did Google searches and made a few calls locally and soon realized that my island, Barbados, did not have a Prometric Center. The closest center was in neighboring Trinidad & Tobago. That meant that I added to my list two more items – travel and accommodation. My full bullet point listing was:
- Call/email local testing center in Barbados to confirm whether it's approved
- SHRM-CP Application Deadline
- Exam Fee
- Exam Prep Guide Cost
- Learning System Cost (plus shipping)
- Travel to Trinidad & Tobago
- Accommodation search
You’ll notice that I included shipping in the cost of the SHRM Learning System. I retain information off-screen much better, and I knew I would require physical books in the process. In the process of planning, remember that you know yourself best, and this will guide you on what you require.
Will you allow limited funds to limit your growth? No way!
I lead a single-income single-parent household and I estimated the cost to be about US$2,400 in total. I did not have this saved, and I did not have this amount available on my credit card. What did I do next? I started searching for scholarships. We, as adult learners, must never forget that opportunities are available to us. I soon located SHRM Foundation and a quick email one afternoon confirmed that scholarships are available to global members. That meant that two more bullets were added to my listing:
- Scholarship application requirements
- Scholarship application deadline
The application process was simple and it didn’t require one sitting, you could “save as draft” and return later. The process required a letter of recommendation from someone who’s familiar with your work or work ethic, and it needed to be uploaded by that individual personally, using a link generated from your application. About two months later, I received the news that I got the scholarship. That was one hurdle out of the way. Also, as a SHRM member, discounted exam fees and learning systems costs are available, so savings can be obtained in that way as well.
I have many years of HR experience. Can I wing it?
As Julian Beck mentioned in his article, my own knowledge and experience in HR alone would not have been enough to pass the exam. The learning system and prep course were both important to me. A 3-day prep course was held locally with Todd Brodie through Profiles Caribbean. It was a small group of five ladies over the 9-hour days (1 hour included for lunch) and we covered the four books in broad strokes, just as Julian said. Useful tips were offered throughout the sessions, which I scribbled quickly in my dedicated 1-subject notebook and highlighted for later reference.
We also received a copy of the presentation slides at the end of the three days. We were quizzed in both the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP categories. Todd also recommended a study plan, and he was gracious enough to stay in touch via WhatsApp, phone and email. Some of the ladies in the group even called me and we chatted about the impact of COVID-19 on our various workplaces. The sessions definitely expanded my professional network as well.
And exactly how do you learn?
An easy online test using VARK or some other learning style inventory will assist you in identifying your learning style, in case you don’t already know. I read, and write notes, and I remember associated graphics and visuals. I also know that I often forget things that I hear, so the speech-to-text app that I downloaded on my phone was short-lived. I had every intention to listen to the material during my long commute. I figured it could only help, but it wasn’t very effective, but I tried! I, therefore, opted to purchase the texts from SHRM, and while that attracted 50 percent in shipping, duties and taxes, they were worth the investment. And there’s always the option of reselling.
Self-study = consistency, discipline and patience
I’ve found that my learning habits have markedly changed from secondary school (high school) and university days. I no longer cram information. I now read in order to understand, and that usually means that I take longer to cover the material. Consistency is key. I read during late nights, at least one to two weeknights, and one late night, every other weekend. I also spent about a half-hour reading during my lunch breaks.
My advice? Read (or listen), watch the videos, read/use the flashcards, review the glossary, and do the quizzes. Two months before the exam, I prepared a countdown calendar (pictured above right) with topics I needed to cover and each time I crossed one off, I felt more motivated to keep going. It even included my plans to celebrate and publishing this article.
Here’s a quick look at the projected program costs versus the actual costs for the 2019/20 year. Costs are in USD and inclusive of taxes and duties.
Major savings were possible with the SHRM scholarship and while I had already purchased my travel ticket, and a refund is not possible at this time, I do have a travel credit to travel elsewhere in 2021, hopefully, COVID-free.
The inevitable ups and downs...
I was initially scheduled to complete my exam in February 2020. My work responsibilities increased and I was not putting in the study time that I needed and I opted to pay to reschedule the exam to the next testing window. This came at a cost and much personal disappointment, but I knew it was the best decision. And then came COVID-19 to the Caribbean, and the rest of the world.
The pandemic brought with it canceled flights, online and at-home schooling, and everyday mayhem. It became difficult to focus and schedule study time, so the change to the summer testing window was welcome. Given that I had already moved my exam to a new testing window, this was it! No more changes allowed.
Some weekends I did meal prep to limit kitchen time, and maximize study time, and I found time-blocking (allocating time periods to specific tasks) to be very useful. I remember being disappointed when I did the post-test in the learning system and only improved my score by 3 percent. I felt as though all the time spent studying amounted to 3 percent over the pre-test when I knew nothing at all.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Your performance in the post-test isn’t necessarily an indicator of your ability to pass. Simply, review the questions, and seek out where you may have gone wrong. The rationale for the correct answer in the learning system is very clear and the section within the learning system is also cited for further reading.
Exam Day Tips for Remote Proctoring
- Speak positively to yourself, and visualize your “Pass” at the end of the exam.
- Eat breakfast and limit liquids, and try to do all your bathroom business ahead of time.
- Do not cram. It doesn’t work.
- Expect technical issues. I had to do the 360 scan and security check-in three times on my exam day.
- Do not unplug your laptop at any time during the exam. It will take a very long time to reconnect to the testing system.
- Concerned about possible power outages and internet problems at home? As a partial overthinker, these were my two concerns, though somewhat unlikely. Nevertheless, I booked a small meeting room at one of our unit offices where the employees were mostly working from home. This meant no distractions and the comfort in knowing that there would be a backup plan in case of a power outage.
- Dress simply. I wore a pair of pants with fake pockets and one hairband/scrunchie to keep my hair back. These made the process of checking in much easier, and faster.
- Practice at home in whispered tones when attempting questions. You will not be allowed to speak out loud in the exam when reading the questions or scenarios. This was really difficult for me.
- Be very careful how you click items in the exam. I found that the “close” button for the PDF generator in the testing system was near to other buttons. Care must be taken when clicking, and this takes away time if you’re not careful.
- Use your time wisely. I took no breaks, and I used every single precious minute of the 240 afforded.
In the final analysis...
The exam was difficult (no walk in the park at all), but with solid preparation, you improve your chances of passing. Keep your eye on that ticking clock. It was recommended that 1 minute be used for knowledge questions and 2 minutes for situational judgment questions. This wasn’t always possible for me, so with both sections 1 and 2, I went right down to the wire with my time. Know yourself and your learning style, attend a prep course if you can, prepare well, and you’ve got this! Forward only.