SPHR Exam Changes: What Do They Mean for Me?

Changes are coming soon to the exam to earn a Senior Professional in Human Resources® (SPHR®) credential from HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®). If you are not yet an SPHR credential holder, you may be wondering what these changes mean. Let’s take a high-level look at the old SPHR, which expires July 31, 2018, compared to the new SPHR, which takes effect August 1, 2018:

SPHR Chart1

You’ll most likely notice a few things:

  • The new SPHR has five sections instead of six.
  • All of the section headings have changed.
  • Most of the percentage weightings have changed.
  • The Leadership and Strategy section has increased, emphasizing the importance of this section for senior HR professionals.

But what exactly does this mean? The best way to find out is to take a close look at the new 2018 SPHR Exam Content Outline, in effect August 1. The new exam has:

  • Fewer responsibility statements in each section.
  • Fewer words in most statements.
  • Less clutter, since the "PHR only" statements are omitted.
  • No separate core knowledge section at the end.

If you are already familiar with the current PHR and SPHR Exam Content Outline, combining both certifications and in effect until August 1, either because you have taken the SPHR before or you are using study materials that are based on the older outline, you may have a few questions:

  • Why is Leadership and Strategy such a big part of the exam? Recent results from a comprehensive practice analysis conducted by HRCI revealed this was — by far — the most important and crucial part of a senior HR professional’s responsibilities. Also, this section now includes part of what used to be Risk Management as well as some competencies that used to be in Human Resource Development section.
  • Are there any sections of the combined PHR/SPHR exam content outline, effective until August 1, that are not in the new SPHR exam content outline?The combined content outline included knowledge statements dealing with international HR and global mobility for the SPHR exam. Those statements are covered by other HRCI exams. The 2018 SPHR Exam Content Outline, effective August 1, no longer covers those areas.
  • What happened to risk management? It’s still there, but part of it — health, safety, security and privacy strategies — is part of Employee Relations & Engagement. Another part of it — analyzing and assessing organization risk management strategy — is part of Leadership and Strategy.
  • Why is the word "implement" removed from the sections? Results of the practice analysis study showed that a senior professional in human resources is primarily focused on designing, developing, analyzing and evaluating many of the HR program strategies, and the impact of those strategies on the organization. It is the operational-level professional in human resources who is primarily responsible for implementing and managing processes and procedures.

Here’s a look at some possible scenarios and how you might want to proceed:

I have taken the SPHR before and did not pass. Should I test before the new exam comes out or after?

That depends on you and your experience. Do you have experience performing most of the responsibilities on the current PHR/SPHR Exam Content Outline? If so, you may wish to test before the SPHR changes. If not, then review the new SPHR Exam Content Outline. If your current HR experience matches the new outline, then you may want to test in August 1 or later.

I haven’t tested before, but I have invested in study materials and/or classes that are linked to the PHR/SPHR Exam Content Outline in effect prior to August 1. Does that mean I have to test before the change?

No, you do not have to do so, but may wish to do so. The exams are based on the Exam Content Outline in effect at the time you test. They are not based on preparation materials or classes.

A colleague told me I should sign up for both exams and only take the PHR if I don’t pass the SPHR. Is that still a good approach?

A professional certification exam is not something you can just study for since you will be tested not just on knowledge, but on your ability to apply your knowledge in answering practice-based questions. If you are currently operating at a senior HR professional-level, then the SPHR exam is probably the only one you should take. However, if you are determined to take this approach, be sure to schedule both appointments prior to July 31.

What happens if I have a medical emergency that prevents me from testing by July 31?

If you must reschedule to take the exam August 1 or later, you will be taking the new exam. There can be NO exceptions, regardless of the circumstances.

I have HRCI Second Chance Insurance? Does this mean that I have to retest before August 1, 2018 if I don’t pass?

Second Chance Insurance gives you the ability to take the same level of exam after a 90-day waiting period. However, depending on when you test the first time, your retest may be based on the new Exam Content Outline. Make sure to review both documents at www.hrci.org/eco in case this happens.


SPHR exam content outlines occur every few years, but SPHR exams are regularly updated to reflect changes in HR practice. Therefore, even if you test more than once under the same exam content outline, you would have encountered different questions on different topics.

Best of luck on your exam. HRCI looks forward to welcoming you into our elite community of certified HR professionals in the very near future.

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