The Evolution of SHRM Certification: Part II – Changes to Exams | Rare Techy


SHRM certification is designed to reflect the most relevant HR skills in today’s world. The documents and exams that make up the program are continually being improved and revised. To accomplish this, SHRM conducts a practice analysis every few yearsA comprehensive and systematic research study of employment-HR trends and worldwide events to ensure HRM certification is current.

This two-part article discusses the results of SHRM’s most recent practice analyzes and changes based on these research efforts that will take effect in May 2022.

Last month, Part I discussed updates to the SHRM Body of Applied Skills and Knowledge (SHRM BASK) and eligibility requirements for candidates who wish to take the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams. Part II, below, discusses research on changes in the length and timing of exams.

Adjustments are required in the duration and timing of the exam

Feedback from people who took the SHRM certification exam showed the need for two types of adjustments: the length of the exam (ie, the number of questions asked) and the time limit (ie, the number of minutes allowed to answer the questions and complete the exam).

In the test development field, the term used for the number of questions a test-taker must answer correctly in order to pass the test is the “standard” or “cut score.” Candidates who do not meet the standard or cut score fail the exam. “Speed” is a term used to describe the extent to which the timing of an exam changes a test-taker’s performance.

In response to examiner feedback, SHRM determined how to optimize and make adjustments to the length and pace of the exam. Once any adjustments are made, we will determine how the tests’ reliability, validity, pass rates, and scoring accuracy will be affected.

The goal was to preserve the reliability and validity of each SHRM certification exam while giving most examinees an adequate opportunity to answer all questions within the allotted time.

External research studies have been conducted on exam length, speed, accuracy of scoring, and pass rate.

Number of questions scored

SHRM’s current certification exams have 130 scored questions. At present, 80 percent of the test takers complete the exams with time to spare.

According to research studies on length and speed, reducing the number of scored questions to 110 results in virtually no change in test reliability or validity. Also, the percentage of test takers who complete the test with time remaining will increase to 90 percent.

According to research studies that incorporate these factors, reducing the number of scored questions does not change the accuracy of scoring and pass rates. Exams will continue to be scored accurately. Calculations show that pass rates for both exams are likely to rise due to fewer questions, with the largest increase expected for the SHRM-SCP.

Unscored field-test questions

Effective with the May 2022 testing window, each SHRM certification exam will have 134 questions. Of these items, 110 questions will be scored and 24 questions will be unscored or “field-tested”. The field-testing process, in which we regularly add and remove exam questions, helps us keep the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams fair and up-to-date.

Before new questions are officially added to an exam, they are tested “in the field.” Several field-test items are mixed into the exam in each window, but examinees’ answers to these questions do not “count” toward their final scores. As the examiners do not know which questions are scored or unscored, it is crucial to answer all of them.

After closing the testing window, we analyze the performance of the field-test items. After several review cycles, items that meet our performance standards become operational as scored questions on subsequent exams.

110 of the 134 questions on the next SHRM certification exam will be used to calculate the examinee’s score. 24 Field-test items are not part of that calculation. However, in the long run, those items will play an important role in SHRM’s development of future exams.

Exam time

Effective May 2022, the total testing time for each SHRM certification exam is three hours and 40 minutes, divided into two equal sections of 110 minutes each. Our research shows that 90 percent of test takers complete both sections within the allotted time and have time left in each section.

The original time limit for the exams was four hours, but the new shorter time is suitable due to accelerated learning (see above).

Candidates must complete the first section of the exam and clear the flagged or unanswered questions before proceeding to the second section. Each section must be completed independently; Candidates cannot switch from one to the other. The clock runs continuously during each section, and a test-taker may take an unscheduled 15-minute break.

Therefore, SHRM recommends that examinees who complete the first section of any remaining exam take their unscheduled break before proceeding to the second section.

Two types of exam questions

The SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams are based on information described in the SHRM BASK, which includes nine behavioral competencies and one technical competency. HR expertiseIt is divided into 14 HR functional areas.

Both certification exams have two types of questions: 1) knowledge items, which assess candidates’ knowledge and application of knowledge; and 2) situational assessment items that assess candidates’ problem-solving, behavioral, and decision-making skills.

Scored questions and unscored field-test questions on exams include knowledge items and situational judgment items.

The HR-specific knowledge items (KIs) cover the SHRM BASK’s 14 functional areas of technical competency. The Basic Knowledge Items (FKIs) cover nine behavioral skills. Each knowledge item has one correct answer and candidates will get credit for selecting it.

Situational judgment items (SJIs) present realistic work-related situations followed by four possible strategies or courses of action to solve or solve the problems posed. All four options May Work effectively, but candidates get credit only for choosing the answer that describes the best or Most effective Strategy or course of action (as determined by a panel of experienced HR professionals).

Overall, half the questions on each SHRM certification exam cover HR functional areas (50 percent KIs) and half the questions cover behavioral competencies (10% FKIs and 40% SJIs).

Part I This article appeared in the January 20, 2022 issue Certification Update.

Nancy A. Woolver, MAIS, SHRM-SCP, is vice president of certification at SHRM.


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