What is the PHR Exam?

All About the PHR Certification Exam

The Professional in Human Resources (PHR) is a certification for those who possess a combination of professional HR experience and a high school diploma or a college degree, as described in the chart below.

Eligibility Combinations for PHR Certification

Education Level Job Experience (Minimum)
Master's Degree 1 Year
Bachelor's Degree 2 Years
High School Diploma 4 Years

This credential is especially geared towards those with experience in program implementation and logistics and for those who are not in management positions (more senior HR professionals or managers may want to consider a SPHR, or Senior Professional in Human Resources certification instead).

If you meet these eligibility requirements, earning a PHR certification is a great way to demonstrate to your employers and colleagues that you are knowledgeable and dedicated to the field. However, before you can earn your PHR, you will have to put your skills and knowledge to the test by passing the PHR exam.

A Note on Other Exam Options

PHR certification is primarily for those who work in the United States. International candidates are encouraged to earn a PHRi (PHR International) or GPHR (Global PHR) certification, both of which cover materials that are more relevant for internationally based businesses and organizations. You may also demonstrate your knowledge of California's unique HR laws and regulations by earning a PHRca certification.

PHR Exam Format

The PHR certification exam is a computer-based test administered by the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) and Pearson VUE. It takes about three hours to complete, with 150 (mostly) multiple-choice questions and 25 pretest questions. It covers subjects pertaining to the technical and operational sides of human resources, as well as relevant United States laws and regulations.

Exam Subject Breakdown

  • 39% Employee and Labor Regulations
  • 20% Business Management
  • 16% Talent Planning and Acquisition
  • 15% Total Rewards
  • 10% Learning and Development

PHR Exam Registration

Generally speaking, you'll register for the exam during the PHR application process. Begin this process by creating a new account with HRCI, at hrci.org. Then, select the certification you wish to earn and complete the application. During this process, you can:

  • Opt in for special testing accommodations if required for a disability
  • Provide proof of eligibility. Usually this entails documenting your education and work experience on the application form. However, if you are selected for a random audit after submitting your application, you may be asked to provide educational transcripts and more information.
  • Purchase additional preparation materials from HRCI (optional)
  • Review HRCI's testing rules and policies
  • Pay for the exam. HRCI accepts most checks, money orders or major credit cards. As of 2018, the cost for a PHR certification is $395, plus a $100 application fee.

After submitting your application with payment, the HRCI will review your information and determine whether you are eligible. If everything checks out, the application will be approved and you can schedule your PHR exam. Scheduling the exam may be done online any time through Pearson VUE, but it's best to do this as soon as you are ready, as you must schedule the exam within 120 days of approval, and seats can fill up fast.

After you complete and pass the exam, you'll have officially earned your PHR certification! Your certification will be good for a period of three years. You can renew your PHR during this time by earning 60 continuing education credits or retaking the exam.

Prepare for the PHR Exam

Try Study.com's self-paced PHR Study Guides for a comprehensive review of exam materials that you can fit into any schedule. Our focused study guides include the:

Each guide covers all the major areas of the exam, from HR fundamentals and organizational policies, to employee rights and relations, laws and policies, compensation, safety & risk management, technology and more. The PHRca study guide also provides detailed information on the California-specific laws and regulations you'll encounter on the test. Fast-paced and interesting video lessons make studying fun, and the quizzes and full-length practice tests are included to keep you on your toes. It's easy to get started and set your own study schedule.

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