HR Jetpack
Official SHRM Education Partner

How to Prepare for the SHRM Certification Exam

A 2024 guide for HR Professionals from SHRM-Certified HR Professionals

10 Tips for the SHRM-CP & SHRM-SCP Exam


You can’t simply walk into a testing facility, ask for the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exam, sit down, answer a few questions and BAM you’re certified! There are application, auditing, and scheduling processes. And, most HR Professionals need plenty of time to prepare properly.

Before we begin, let’s start with a few questions to determine if you are in the right place.

Is this guide for me?

Let’s answer a question with a question; “Are you eligible to take the exam?” If you haven’t reviewed SHRM’s eligibility criteria and confirmed you meet the requirements, visit now.

If you are not eligible, your attention should be on meeting SHRM’s eligibility requirements first. Then, come back. This guide is for those who have confirmed they are eligible to apply for and take the SHRM-CP or the SHRM-SCP exam. Next question.

I am eligible. Why should I read this guide?

The HR Jetpack team has developed a community of over a thousand HR Professionals who have already been through the SHRM certification exam preparation process. Many in our community have earned their SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP, and have generously shared their experiences.

With so much valuable feedback over the years, patterns of success have emerged. This guide is a collection of those patterns. Learn from those who have already successfully completed the journey. Final question.

What will this guide do for me?

The intention of this guide is to help you optimize your chances of passing the exam. It provides the most important actions and advice we’ve learned from our students and instructors. However, if you can’t take all these actions, or follow all the advice, it doesn’t mean you will fail.

Take away what you can, and don’t let anything stop you from achieving your goal. You can pass that exam! OK, let’s get started…

1. Be Committed

Once you’ve determined you are indeed eligible to take the exam, you need to answer these next three questions…

Do I need a SHRM certification?

Let’s be real. Not everyone needs an HR certification. For instance, maybe you have a Master’s degree in HR, landed a senior position as an HR Business Partner, and are at the end of your career. Do you need this certification? Maybe. But, maybe not.

Do I have the time?

Be ready to commit at least 80-100+ hours over 12+ weeks to this journey. Without the commitment, you will find yourself cramming the last week before the exam. We’ve heard too many HR Professionals regret not spending more time studying in the weeks leading up to their exam day. Cramming won’t work!

The time commitment depends on your experience, but remember even if you are an incredible HR Professional with years of experience, you must put the time in. Where you invest your time can vary, but may include reading, going over practice questions, reviewing flashcards, participating in a study group, attending class, and anything else that prepares you for exam day. Using a timeline will help. (More on this later.)

Is this a good time for me?

This question can be challenging. You can’t predict what will happen in your personal and professional life. Be realistic when determining if your life situation is conducive to such a commitment.

You must answer these three questions before moving on. It will be too easy to rationalize later when things get difficult. Don’t give your future-self any reason to rationalize why you should quit. You need to know the answer is YES to all three of these questions to have a lasting commitment.

2. Create a Timeline

Congratulations, you have committed yourself to a new goal of becoming a SHRM Certified professional!

Now, you may be tempted to tell your family your new goal and post it on LinkedIn but it’s important to take a step back, understand the overall process, and build a timeline.

This timeline will not only guide you, but also give you the milestones you need to stay on track and achieve your goal. To start building your timeline, begin by identifying what dates are out of your control:

Application deadlines
Exam windows

Your timeline is anchored by these dates, which are set by SHRM. Typically, there are two exam windows each year, and the application deadlines correspond to each window.

Let’s start with SHRM’s application deadline. The dates that SHRM accepts applications can be found on Make sure the exam window fits your schedule, and write down when you plan to apply (well before the deadline).

Then, depending on how you are going to prepare, you should figure out how much time you will study on a weekly basis. Once you have a general idea of how much time you will use to prepare, pick a date within the exam window. Write it down!

With these two dates you now have the beginning of a personal timeline. The diagram below is an example of a basic timeline.

Basic Timeline for SHRM Certification Exam

The rest of the timeline is up to you. The other milestones will depend on your schedule and method of preparation.

If you are going to join a program based around the SHRM Learning System (more on this later), you want to ensure the program ends close (but not too close) to your exam date. 2-3 weeks after the program ends is normally enough time to continue studying and addressing weaknesses. The content will still be fresh in your mind.

Let’s review the following example.

Imagine it’s August. Maria, an awesome HR Professional from Houston, wants to earn her SHRM-CP. She visits to find the dates available to sit for the exam. She decides to take the exam in the next available window. This means she must apply before the application deadline. To start forming her timeline, Maria writes down the date she will submit her application to SHRM (October 1st).

Maria also decides to register for an online, live, instructor-led SHRM Certification Prep Course offered by an offical SHRM Education Partner. Maria enrolls in HR Jetpack’s program because it is “open”. This program is unique because she can access multiple classes and recordings for an entire year. Maria likes the flexibility.

This allows Maria to figure out a possible exam date. The live classes provide 36 hours of unique content. She plans to take the exam 2-3 weeks after she finishes the content. She decides to take her exam on January 14th. She writes down her exam date.

Timeline for SHRM Certification Exam

If Maria starts preparing the week before she joins a class, she has approximately four months to prepare for her SHRM-CP exam. She needs 80+ hours of study and preparation time. Looking over the timeline Maria writes her goal statement:

“I commit 5-6 hours/week (including 3 hours in class) for 16 weeks to study for my SHRM Certification Exam so I will PASS and achieve my SHRM-CP in January.”

Research has shown it’s important to take the time throughout your journey to picture your success. Once your timeline is formed, remember to continually look at the last milestone. Imagine that moment looking at the computer screen when you see “Congratulations! You have PASSED…”.

Get additional preparation tips and exam updates

You will also received a PDF version of this guide!

3. Create a Study Plan

Once you’ve figured out your timeline, the next step is to create a plan. A study plan. Start by moving your timeline milestones into your calendar. Be very specific with dates and times.

In our previous example, Maria set out to dedicate about 6 hours (including class time) to prepare for her exam each week. Maria’s class meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 6pm to 7:30pm for 12 weeks. She enters all 24 classes in her calendar.

Now it’s fairly easy blocking time out on your calendar for a class with consistent meeting dates and times. You know exactly when it starts and when it ends. But, where do you go from here?

Maria committed to about 6 hours a week to study. She blocked out 3 hours a week for her class. This leaves 3 hours. She divides the 3 hours into 1.5 hour study blocks. She is going to study from 6pm to 7:30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This way she knows Mondays through Thursdays at 6pm is dedicated to preparing for her exam.

Try to keep your study blocks consistent. You want to know when your study blocks are without needing to look at the calendar. The less complicated, the better.

Next is to divide your study materials out evenly. Whatever materials you are going to use, look them over in a general way, and estimate how much you will need to get through each week. Write the specifics within each study block in your calendar.

Maria is taking an online SHRM Certification Exam Prep Course, so much of that work is done for her. Her instructor tells her what content to study each week.

Maria’s instructor recommends reading a section in the book such as Leadership & Navigation, and log into the online SHRM Learning System to complete a quiz associated to that topic. For every wrong answer, she is instructed to go back and review that particular section to fully understand the right rationale.

It’s important to note that developing a study plan is very personal. It’s all about you, your life responsibilities, and your needs. There are many different factors that could be impacted.

You must create a plan that’s flexible and works best for you.

4. Build Your Team

Now you have a study plan and you’ve entered it into your calendar. However, let’s be realistic. You are not the only one who has influence over your schedule. What about those around you who impact your time? Those folks need to be on board. Not only do you need their support, but they should also know what to expect. Setting their expectations is key to staying on track.

It’s time to build your team!

Your team isn’t SHRM. Your team isn’t necessarily your HR Colleagues. Your team members are family, friends, employees, and anyone else who impacts your schedule. Whether you have kids, a partner, senior parents, pets, or other personal commitments, juggling those responsibilities with studying for the exam, is tough. You’ve got to rely on others to help you follow through with your study plan.

We had a student who would lock herself in her home office for 2 hours nearly every night. She would tell her family, “This is Mommy’s Study Time. Do not disturb unless it’s an emergency.” It was difficult, but her spouse and daughter (her team members) understood why it was so important. It was necessary for her to set the expectations with her family before she began preparing for her exam.

Getting your supervisor and specific co-workers on your team may be necessary as well. You may need to take an online class during work-hours, or need to take time off to prepare. Having them understand why it’s so important will go a long way. Get them on the team.

The team must be on board before the preparation begins. You don’t want any surprises while you are focusing on your preparation.

Make it fun. Give your team a name, and be sure your team members are a part of your celebration once you pass!

5. Find an HR Community

Your community is different than your team. Your team members are those who influence your time and attention. Your community is made up of those who are currently preparing to earn their SHRM certification, or have already earned their SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP.

There are a number of benefits to joining a community with people who have a common goal and are on a similar journey. This helps in at least two ways…

  • Knowledge Transfer
  • Motivation

Learn from others who have been where you are. Discuss your concerns. Find out what worked for those who have passed. The knowledge and advice you can get from each other is amazing.

When you see someone in your group post “I passed my exam today!”, it will motivate you. It makes your goal feel much more real.

Where do you find a community?

  • Local SHRM Chapter
  • HR Meetup
  • Online study group

HR Jetpack has a private online study group for those who enroll in our SHRM Certification Exam Open Prep Program. It has hundreds of active members.

You don’t necessarily need a formal study group. It can be as simple as a few of your co-workers preparing for the SHRM exam together. HR can be a lonely profession. Don’t go at it alone. Join an HR community.

6. Know What To Expect

At some point in the process you will feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. This is completely normal. Nearly everyone goes through the “What-Have-I-Gotten-Myself-Into” phase. This is a good thing. Remember, there is no growth in comfort. Being uncomfortable is a sign you are pushing passed what you already know.

Knowing what to expect on exam day is key in helping reduce test anxiety and getting over that uncomfortable feeling. There are two methods available to take the exam, either in-person or remote. If you take the exam in-person, you’ll want to visit the testing facility ahead of time. It’s important to get an idea of how long it’ll take you to get there and you don’t want to be late! There is a set of security protocol you’ll be asked to follow upon your arrival. The testing center administrator will ask you for a valid form of identification. You’ll be asked to sign a logbook and you will be assigned a personal locker. You cannot bring ANY personal belongings into the testing room.

You are only permitted to have your ID. Before entering the testing room, you will be scanned with a metal detector wand and asked to turn your pockets inside out. Then, the administrator will walk you to the computer on which you’ll be taking your exam.

If you decided to take the exam remotely, it’s a slightly different series of steps. Security is still very tight! Before your exam day you’ll need to run a system “readiness” check on which ever computer you will be using for your exam. You’ll also have to download and install the ProProctor Application. Before you begin your exam, you’ll need your testing location to meet a set of environmental requirements all available on

Plus, before your exam can be launched, you must complete a self-check in process. During this process, like the in-person check-in, you’ll need to provide a valid form of identification. When that is complete, a Prometric Readiness Agent will greet you and guide you through additional security checks. Once these are complete, your proctor will launch your exam and observe you throughout the testing process. Note, you will be able to speak with and send messages to your proctor.

Your exam experience is broken down into the following segments: a confidentiality reminder, an introduction & tutorial, 110 minutes for the first section, another 110 minutes for the second section, followed by a brief survey. Once you’ve completed the survey, you’ll receive your preliminary results. With all your hard work and dedication, picture the word “pass” on that computer screen.

You will find a way to overcome that uncomfortable feeling. Know what to expect on exam day, stick with your plan, and rely on your community when needed. You got this!

7. Understand the SHRM BASK®

The SHRM BASK® is an acronym that stands for Body of Applied Skills and Knowledge®. It is a behavioral competency-based model that was developed with the help of thousands of HR Pros, like you. Both the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certification exams are rooted in this model. The information in the BASK® drives the exam and anything from it may be on the exam. Every student should start their preparation by reading and understanding the Body of Applied Skills and Knowledge®.


This model has 9 Behavioral Competencies (illustrated at the top), which are segmented into three clusters — Leadership, Interpersonal and Business. It’s important to understand how we use these competencies as HR Pros while completing work-related functional activities.

The 14 functional areas make up the bottom of the model. They are also separated into clusters. These functional areas make up the technical competency. In other words, these are the different facets of HR we need to know and understand to be in the HR Profession also referred to as our “HR Expertise”.

The technical competency has three HR Knowledge Domains — People, Organization and Workplace. The 14 functional areas fall into those domains.

In summary, the SHRM BASK® encapsulates the primary behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities we must demonstrate as HR Pros to support both the performance of our workforce and overall organization.

8. Use SHRM’s Materials

Timeline for SHRM Certification Exam

SHRM is the source for the SHRM BASK®, the SHRM exams, and the SHRM Learning System. When it comes time to select preparation materials it doesn’t make sense to go anywhere else other than the source, SHRM.

  • SHRM developed the SHRM BASK®
  • SHRM manages the SHRM-CP & SHRM-SCP exams (based on the SHRM BASK®).
  • SHRM manages the SHRM Learning System (aligned to the SHRM BASK®).
  • SHRM partners with specific Education Partners (like HR Jetpack).

The SHRM Learning System is the only system containing practice questions that were previously on the exam. The SHRM Learning System is also optimized each year to incorporate current legislative changes.

HR Jetpack is an official SHRM Education Partner. Because the SHRM Learning System is the best system to prepare for the SHRM certification exams, we include the SHRM Learning System in our SHRM Certification Exam Open Preparation Program.

Before registering for a SHRM Certification Exam Preparation Program, ask the organization if they provide the SHRM Learning System. If they are hesitant, move on.

9. Build Your Stamina

Getting ready to take your SHRM Certification exam is very much like training for a marathon. Let’s review the similarities.

The average marathon runner completes the grueling 26.2 miles in about 4 hours. You are given about 4 hours to complete a SHRM Certification exam.

It takes between 12 to 20 weeks to train for a marathon. You should give yourself a solid 12+ weeks to prepare for a SHRM Certification exam.

If you were going to run a marathon, would you simply get up one day and pound out 4 hours of running? Nope. You would take the 12 to 20 weeks to build your stamina before race day.

It is the same for a SHRM Certification exam. Would you simply get up one day and sit for a nearly 4-hour HR certification exam? Nope. You would take the 12+ weeks to build your stamina before exam day.

So, how do you build your test-taking stamina? You MUST spend extended periods of time answering practice questions. Answering a question or two a day is a good practice, but it’s like training for a marathon by sprinting every day. You also need to incorporate “long runs” to build up your ability to focus for long periods of time.

All of our students begin with a pre-test. This pre-test is important for three reasons. First, the results provide a baseline for current knowledge and understanding in all the key areas that will be tested on the exam. Second, it includes retired exam questions. It’s a great way to get a feel for the real exam experience. And lastly, taking the pre-test helps build mental stamina and sets the tone for the rest of the preparation.

Our program contains over 2,700 practice questions. There is plenty of opportunity to take those “long runs”. In the last three to four weeks before your exam, we recommend building several hours of test-taking time into your study plan. The SHRM Learning System (included in our program) takes it to another level by providing a practice exam with questions that were previously on the actual SHRM-CP and SHRM SCP exams. This practice exam is designed to closely mimic the real exam. It’s the closest experience to the actual exam available.

Building your test-taking stamina is one of the most important parts of preparing, yet it’s the most overlooked. Don’t make this common mistake. Start building your mental stamina early!

10. Get Ready the Night Before

It’s the day before your exam. Should you take the day off from work to study all day? The day before your exam can be nerve wracking, but cramming won’t help. Instead here are a few activities we’ve gathered from instructors and students to help you ease the anxiety.

  1. Be Organized. Whether you’re taking the exam remotely or at a testing facility, it’s important to prepare yourself both physically and mentally. HR Jetpack Instructor, Cheryl Brown Merriwether, recommends before you go to bed, lay out the clothes you will be wearing on test day. Prepare your breakfast in advance. If you’re taking the exam in-person, plan on getting to the testing facility early and if from home, have your testing environment ready for security inspection. Most importantly, set your alarm!
  2. Focus on Your Health. Do something to relax and relieve any stress like taking a light walk, stretching, or even going to an exercise class. Consider meditation. Also, eat a good dinner. Stay away from coffee, tea, or any beverage that contains caffeine. Several of us on the HR Jetpack Team love chocolate but we don’t recommend eating it the night before your exam.
  3. Visualize “The Pass”. Stay positive and keep the right mindset. The mind is a very powerful tool. Visualizing yourself in the testing center and correctly answering the questions is a great way to refocus your anxiety on a successful outcome. Use the nervousness for good, not evil.
  4. Get a Good Night’s Sleep. The previous three recommendations are all helpful in getting a good night’s sleep. Avoid naps, sleeping aids, and stimulants. Make an appointment with yourself to get ready for bed a little earlier.

BONUS: Know The Proficiency Indicators

What is the most overlooked, yet essential aspect of preparing for the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams?

Proficiency indicators!

When we first use the term proficiency indicators with students, we’re often asked, “what is a proficiency indicator?”.

Professionals are expected to have a certain level of expertise or “proficiency” in each competency, sub-competency and functional area. The word “indicator” is just as the name implies, “an indication” of expertise expected for that competency, sub-competency or functional area.

You will find the proficiency indicators in the SHRM BASK summary document. This document defines the competencies, sub-competencies, and the corresponding proficiency indicators. There is one set of proficiency indicators for ALL HR Professionals and another set of proficiency indicators for advanced HR Professionals.

Start by reading everything in this document to get an understanding of how it works. Understanding the proficiency indicators will help you in at least two ways.

First, they are the key to correctly answering Situational Judgment Items which most HR Professionals find to be the more difficult questions on the exam.

And, secondly, understanding the difference between the proficiency indicators for “All HR Professionals” versus “Advanced HR Professionals” will help you determine which exam to take, SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP.

If your current role relates to more of the proficiency indicators found under “Advanced HR Professionals”, then you will most likely want to apply for the SHRM-SCP.


Pursuing your SHRM Certification will not be easy. The journey will feel long and tedious but certainly well worth it when you add those lovely credentials to your resume and online profile. In addition, research has shown Human Resources professionals earn more money when they up their game by getting certified. We know money isn’t everything, but it sure helps.

One more shout out to our students, instructors and members for sharing their feedback and advice so we could, in turn, share it with you. We know you can do it and following these best practices will help get you there. Above all else, remember to keep at it and you will make it happen!

NOTE: SHRM-CP®, SHRM-SCP®, SHRM Learning System®, and SHRM BASK® are registered trademarks of SHRM.


Christina Danforth

Christina A. Danforth, SHRM-SCP & SPHR, launched HR Jetpack in 2016 to support the development and professional growth of her fellow HR colleagues. She started her HR career in 2002. After obtaining a Master’s in Business Administration, Christina joined United Technologies Corporation (now Raytheon Technologies). She moved across the US with assignments in Labor Relations, Staffing and HR Management. Christina also served as an HR process leader in Performance Management, Change Management, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

During this time, she discovered a passion for supporting the development of her HR peers. Christina began teaching the SHRM Certification Exam Prep Course in-person and online. Several years ago, she set out on her own to support and educate HR Pros around the globe. HR Jetpack has now celebrated years as a top ranked SHRM Education Partner having been recognized as one of the top SHRM Learning System providers. With 100s of students earning their SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP Certification and helping many others keep their hard-earned HR Certifications with its recertification credit program, HR Jetpack is dedicated to the career development of HR Professionals. Christina currently resides in Massachusetts, and continues to focus her time and energy on helping Human Resources Professionals succeed!