How the Exams are Structured

HRCI exams include a variety of item types with various difficulty levels. Candidates must respond to all parts of an item correctly to receive credit for the item. No partial credit is awarded. To ensure items and exam forms are fair, all items are pretested (but not scored) in a live testing environment to make sure they meet HRCI's quality standards. The passing score a candidate must achieve takes into consideration the various difficulty levels on the exam form.

There are 2 main categories of item types, traditional multiple choice and alternative item types:

  • Traditional multiple choice 
    • These items contain a stem (or premise) and four (4) answer choices including only one (1) correct answer.
  • Alternative Item Types
    • Multiple choice, multiple response 
      • These are like multiple choice items except there are two or more correct answers. The item will tell you how many correct options there are.
    • Fill in the blank
      • You will be asked to provide a numeral, word, or phrase to complete the sentence.
    • Drag and drop
      • You will be asked to click on certain pieces of information and drag them with your cursor to place them in the correct position.
    • Scenarios 
      • Scenario questions present typical HR situations, followed by a series of exam items based on the scenario. These scenarios require you to integrate facts from different subject areas.

Exam items may be phrased in the form of a question, as a statement or as an open-ended sentence.

In all cases you should select the best correct response. In this case, best means that a panel of HR subject matter experts would agree to this judgment. Some answer choices are distractors, which are written to look correct, but are not the best answer. This is done to assess your ability to make the right decision based on an actual workplace situation.

All questions are classified based on one of the following cognitive levels:

  • knowledge/comprehension: recalling factual material, such as definitions
  • application/problem solving: applying familiar principles or generalizations to solve real-life problems
  • synthesis/evaluation: combining different elements and using critical thinking skills to solve a complex problem

Only our practice-based exams - the PHR, SPHR, GPHR PHRca, PHRi, and SPHRi - include application and synthesis-level exam items.

The performance data of every exam item, as well as every exam form, is carefully evaluated based on several statistical measures which are industry standard. Items that do not meet HRCI's rigorous standards are revised and pre-tested again or are discounted for that exam. This continuous review of items ensures that every exam is valid and reliable.