How to Find the Best SPHR Prep Course for You

Obtaining the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) credential demonstrates your skill in HR management and sets you up for more lucrative job opportunities. It’s a challenging exam, and passing it requires extensive study. A SPHR exam prep course is the best way to prepare. It guides you through all the key topics in an organized way and reinforces the material with practice questions and tests. There are many programs out there, so to simplify the search, we put together this guide to the best SPHR prep courses.

We compared 17 of the most popular SPHR prep courses to determine which offer the best value. In the interest of making useful recommendations to everyone, we only focused on online courses. You may want to explore what in-person programs are available in your area as well. We spoke to former students of each course and compared their study materials, student support, hours of instruction and overall comprehensiveness.

Three companies stood above the rest. HR Certification Institute (HRCI) was our favorite. As the creator of the SPHR exam, it’s in a unique position to offer deals on prep materials that you can’t find anywhere else. It also has the most realistic practice exams available. You may prefer one of our other finalists, however, so we recommend exploring all of your options before you make your decision.

A Full List of Every SPHR Prep Course Worth Considering

Our three finalists are listed below, followed by the other 14 companies we didn’t choose. Click on the links to learn more about each and to see what we had to say about our top picks.

The 3 Best SPHR Prep Courses

CompanyPricing Info
HR Certification Institute$45 - $1,019
CAI$1,199
BenchPrep HR$379

The Other 14 SPHR Prep Courses Worth Considering

CompanyLearn More
AziksaVisit Site
Brandman UniversityVisit Site
City University of SeattleVisit Site
Distinctive HRVisit Site
eCornellVisit Site
HR.comVisit Site
HRCIstudyVisit Site
HRCPVisit Site
HR ReviewVisit Site
MRAVisit Site
PivotUVisit Site
Portland State UniversityVisit Site
Southern New Hampshire UniversityVisit Site
Train Me TodayVisit Site

The Most Important Features: Accessibility, Study Materials, Support and Personalization

When evaluating each SPHR prep course, we focused on four main categories of features: accessibility, study materials, support and personalization.

Accessibility

Each of our finalists offers live online or self-paced SPHR prep courses that you can attend from anywhere with an internet connection. We looked at the access period for self-study materials and the number and flexibility of upcoming live online courses. Mobile-friendly programs were also a plus, though not a requirement. Price can be a barrier to entry for some as well. While we didn’t eliminate any companies based on their cost, we made sure that the materials they provide justify the price. We liked HRCI the best in this category because it offers self-paced and live online study materials that you can purchase individually or as part of a bundle. You can also save further by paying for your application and exam fees at the same time.

Study Materials

You learn new material from reading the study manual, attending the live online class sessions or watch pre-recorded video lessons. Once you feel you’ve grasped a concept, you can test yourself with practice questions, games and flashcards. Each of our finalists cover all six exam sections thoroughly, but CAI stood out the most here. Its courses include 36 hours of live instruction, a study manual, flashcards, videos, games and audio CDs. There are also badges you can unlock as you go to help keep you engaged.

Support

Most SPHR prep course material is easy to understand, but if you run into questions, it’s nice to have someone you can reach out to for support. BenchPrep HR gives all its students access to 24/7 email support and an instructor hotline. CAI students can chat with other students in a private study group or speak with their instructor during office hours. Both programs also include free course retakes if you don’t pass your exam after completing the prep course. HRCI also stands out for its Second Chance Test Insurance, which you purchase at the time of your initial registration. If you fail on your first try, you can take the test a second time without paying anything extra.

Personalization

Live courses give you the opportunity to get the one-on-one help you need, but this is more difficult with self-paced courses. BenchPrep HR was our favorite self-paced course because its diagnostic exams and analytics will help you build a personalized study plan tailored to your needs. It will even set you daily goals to help keep you on track. HRCI also deserves a mention in this category for its Build Your Own Bundle option that enables you to design a SPHR prep course with only the materials you need.

Choosing the Right SPHR Course Delivery Type for You

There are three main types of SPHR prep courses. The right one for you depends on your budget, schedule and preferences. We’ve outlined the pros and cons of each of them below.

  • Self-Paced: You purchase the course materials and study them at your own pace.
  • Live Online: You learn alongside other students in a virtual classroom.
  • Live In-Person: You travel to a physical classroom and learn alongside others.

Self-Paced

Pros:

  • Cheapest courses
  • Create your own schedule
  • Learn at your own pace

Cons:

  • Must be disciplined
  • Less personalization
  • Limited instructor support

Who It’s Best For

A self-paced course is best for independent learners who want the freedom to work at their own pace. It may be your only option if your schedule doesn’t permit you to attend a live class.

Live Online

Pros:

  • Join from anywhere
  • Personalized help available
  • Schedule keeps you on track

Cons:

  • Less interactive than in-person courses
  • Potential for technical issues

Who It’s Best For

A live online class is a good fit if you learn best in a structured environment, but you don’t live near an in-person course. The ability to join from anywhere also makes these classes popular among frequent travelers.

Live In-Person

Pros:

  • No distractions
  • Familiar classroom setting
  • High degree of interactivity

Cons:

  • Requires travel
  • No schedule flexibility
  • More expensive than online programs

Who It’s Best For

A live in-person course is the way to go if you prefer an interactive learning environment and don’t mind a bit of travel. We do not review these courses in this guide.

Full Reviews of the Best SPHR Prep Courses

HR Certification Institute Review

Best for flexibility and practice tests.

HR Certification Institute (HRCI) offers few SPHR study materials of its own, but it earned our top recommendation because of the excellent bundle deals it offers through its partnerships with other top test prep companies. You can earn discounts on textbooks and complete prep courses by bundling them with your HRCI application and exam fees, and optional Second Chance Test Insurance is available to those who are concerned about failing. There’s also no better resource for realistic practice tests. HRCI creates the SPHR exam, so you can be sure their practice questions are going to be very similar in content and difficulty to what you’ll face on test day.

What to Expect

HRCI offers two full-length SPHR practice exams that can be purchased individually or as a bundle. These exams are almost identical in content and format to what you’ll face on your real exam, so they can give you a very accurate estimate of your score. Start out in Exam Mode and complete the timed test. After that, you’ll see your score and a breakdown of how you did in each section. Then, you can switch over to Practice Mode where you can proceed through the questions without time constraints and view detailed explanations of each one. If you’re not sure whether you should take the SPHR or the PHR exam, there’s also a practice test bundle to help you decide. This contains two practice versions of each exam, so you can try both and see which one works best for you. These exams are available through your online HRCI account and you can take them as many times as you’d like within your 180-day access period.

You get the best deal if you bundle the practice tests with your $100 HRCI application fee and the $495 exam fee. This is only an option if you haven’t already signed up for the exam. HRCI also offers Second Chance Test Insurance at this time. This optional add-on costs $125 and ensures that you won’t have to pay your exam fee a second time if you need to retake the SPHR test. Not everyone will need this, but if you’re concerned about the difficulty of the exam, it could be a worthwhile investment. If you do end up needing it, it’ll save you $370.

HRCI partners with other top SPHR test prep companies, including our other two finalists — CAI (marketed as Distinctive HR) and BenchPrep HR — to offer complete test prep bundles. You can purchase these individually or with HRCI’s practice exams, and bundling them with your fees could save you over $375. You can view full details of each program, their costs and the bundled savings on HRCI’s website.

HR Certification Institute Details

CoursePrice
SPHR v1 Practice Exam$50
SPHR v2 Practice Exam$50
PHR/SPHR Package Practice Exam$80
SPHR v1 & v2 Practice Exams$80
SPHR Exam Prep Course Bundles$795 - $1,019

CAI Review

Best for student support.

CAI is your best choice if you prefer learning in a structured, instructor-led environment. It offers live online courses starting every few weeks as well as the occasional in-person course in North Carolina. In addition to the comprehensive study materials, you also get access to a private online study group for chatting with other students from your class and one-on-one help from your instructor during office hours. Groups are kept small, so instructors can work with each student on a personal level. This individualized attention comes at a high cost, but judging by the company’s over 90 percent first-time pass rate, it’s still a great value.

What to Expect

Live online courses are spread out over 12 weeks. Classes meet once per week for three hours at a time, usually in the afternoons or early evenings. Each course is held on a different day of the week, so you can choose the one that best fits into your schedule. During these sessions, your instructor will go over the key topics to be covered on each exam and take you through some practice questions and games designed to reinforce the material. If you’re not sure if the program is right for you, sign up for a free one-hour live preview webinar. There’s no need to enter a credit card. All you have to do is create a CAI account and register.

The course also comes with several self-study materials, including a textbook, audio CDs, practice questions, videos and flashcards. All of these are available online, so you can access them from wherever you are. The Learning Management System keeps you engaged with badges you can earn by completing certain tasks, like doing practice questions or chatting with classmates. You get a year’s access to these materials and you can review them as many times as you need to during this period.

You’re able to ask questions of your instructor during the class times or during designated office hours. These are held in the same type of virtual classroom as the regular class sessions. Your instructor will work with you one on one to clarify any questions or misunderstandings you have about the course material. If you need help outside of the class and office hours, try the private SPHR study group. It’s a great place to get questions answered and network with other HR professionals.

CAI Details

CoursePrice
PHR/SPHR Certification Study Course$1,199

BenchPrep HR Review

Best for independent learners.

BenchPrep HR’s self-paced SPHR prep course caught our eye thanks to its adaptive technology that builds a personalized study plan for each student. Its daily goals help keep you on track and the analytics measure your performance to show you where you need the most improvement. The program also comes with an impressive level of support for a self-paced course. Students can ask questions via email, phone or discussion forum, and there are live bi-weekly webinars covering key topics and test-taking strategies.

What to Expect

You begin the course with a diagnostic assessment to determine what you already know and which topics you need to review. BenchPrep takes your results and uses it to generate a custom study plan targeting the areas where you need the most improvement. The plan includes daily goals to keep you moving forward, and as you proceed through the course materials, you can monitor your progress through the day’s tasks on the progress bar. BenchPrep also tracks your progress over time through detailed reports.

Study recommendations may include watching pre-recorded video lessons, completing practice questions and full-length practice tests, reviewing flashcards or playing SPHR-themed games. All of these materials are available online through your BenchPrep HR account or through the company’s iOS or Android apps. Your information is synced across devices, so you can always pick up right where you left off. The course includes a year’s access to the materials, but if you can’t take the exam during that time or you fail it, you may be eligible for a free extension.

You move through the materials at your own pace, but if you need help, there are instructors standing by. Email support is available 24/7, and there’s an instructor hotline to assist with more immediate questions. You can get help from instructors and classmates by posting on BenchPrep HR’s online discussion forum as well. The company also hosts live bi-weekly webinars covering test-taking strategies and important topics that are sure to come up on the exam. These webinars are taught in a virtual meeting room, much like a traditional live online course. If you have questions, you can ask them directly through the chat box on the screen.

BenchPrep HR Details

CoursePrice
BenchPrep HR Learning System$379

Frequently Asked Questions About the SPHR Exam

We spoke to HR professionals who had recently taken or were planning on taking the SPHR exam to learn what questions they had about it. We’ve answered some of the most common ones below. If there’s anything else you want to know, reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help.

Should I take the SPHR exam or the SHRM-SCP exam?

For decades, HRCI served as the credentialing agency for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), and together they promoted the SPHR exam for senior HR professionals. But that all changed in 2014 when SHRM decided it was going to launch its own set of credentials. So far, HRCI has maintained the upper hand, but SHRM is gaining ground.

The fierce competition has left some people confused about which exam they should take. There is no simple answer. Each has its own pros and cons. We’ve outlined some of these below, so you can determine which exam is the best for you.

Requirements

Both credentials require a minimum amount of professional HR experience in order to be eligible to take the credentialing exam. For the SPHR exam, master’s degree holders must have at least four years of experience. Candidates with bachelor’s degrees must have at least five years of experience and those with less than a bachelor’s degree must be able to demonstrate at least seven years of professional experience.

The SHRM-SCP exam requirements are almost identical to the SPHR, except that if your college degree is in an HR-related field, you can shave a year off your required work experience. That means, if you have a master’s degree in human resources, you only need to have three years of professional work experience instead of four. If you have an HR degree, but you haven’t yet accumulated enough work experience to be eligible for a credential, you can save yourself some time by going with the SHRM-SCP exam.

Content

Both tests are similar in length and difficulty. The SPHR exam lasts three hours and contains 150 graded multiple-choice questions, plus 25 ungraded pretest items. The SHRM-SCP exam contains 160 multiple-choice questions that you must complete within three hours and 40 minutes. Pass rates for both exams are similar, hovering just above 50 percent for first-time test takers.

The real difference between the two is the way they present the content. Both ask questions that evaluate your skills as an HR professional, but the SPHR exam focuses more on definitions and facts while the SHRM-SCP test deals more with using that knowledge in real-world scenarios. Think about which style plays more to your strengths. You may want to take a practice test for both of them and see which one you score higher on.

Price

Registering for the SPHR exam is pretty expensive. You have to pay a $100 non-refundable application fee and a $495 exam fee each time you take the test, unless you sign up for the optional $125 Second Chance Test Insurance. SHRM, on the other hand, only requires a $300 fee for members and a $400 fee for non-members. Recertification fees are also cheaper with SHRM. Members only pay $100 while non-members pay $150. HRCI requires all its SPHR credential holders to pay $150.

Prep courses for the SPHR are generally cheaper than the SHRM-SCP, though the exact price difference depends on the type of program you’re looking at. The official SHRM-SCP online prep course costs over $800, while you can get a comparable course for the SPHR for less than $400. As the SHRM-SCP gains more traction, this may begin to change, but for now, it remains a costly eam to prepare for.

Registration

Both tests are administered at Prometric testing centers around the country. You can take the SPHR at any time once you’ve registered with HRCI and received your approval. The SHRM-SCP only allows you to take the test during certain windows — December 1st through February 15th and May 1st through July 15th. If you fail the SHRM-SCP exam, you must wait until the next testing window to try again while SPHR test takers can try again in as soon as 90 days.

Recertification

Both credentialing agencies require you to complete 60 credits of continuing education or retake the credentialing exam every three years in order to maintain your certification. SHRM limits you to a maximum of 30 self-paced credits while HRCI imposes no limits on this. HRCI does require that 15 of your 60 credits deal with business management, though. Think about how you like to learn best and what is going to be most convenient for you, as you will have to keep this up for as long as you wish to hold the certification.

How do I register for the SPHR exam?

Before you register for the SPHR exam, make sure you meet the experience requirements. That means at least four years of professional HR experience if you a master’s degree, five years if you have a bachelor’s degree and seven years if you have less than a bachelor’s degree. You must be able to provide proof of this work experience in order to receive your approval to sit for the exam.

Then, create an account with HRCI and fill out your application. If you’d like, you can sign up for prep course materials and Second Chance Test Insurance at this time. Once you’ve affirmed that all your information is honest and complete, you can submit it to HRCI along with your application and exam fees. HRCI will look it over and verify its accuracy. Then, it will send you a unique 16-digit ID code you can use to sign up for the test. You have a 180-day window in which to take it before your application expires.

The SPHR exam is administered by Prometric. The company has testing centers across the country. You can locate the nearest testing center to you on its website and choose the date and time that works best for you. If you need to cancel or reschedule, you can do so up until your test date. You won’t receive a refund for your exam fees if you cancel, though.

You must bring a valid, government-issued photo ID with you on the day of your test, and you should also be prepared for additional ID checks, like a fingerprint scan and a test-day photo. The exam is three hours long, but you should budget some extra time for arriving and checking in. You aren’t permitted to bring anything with you into the testing room. Your exam proctor will provide a secure locker where you can store your belongings until the test is over. For a full list of test-day procedures, visit Prometric’s website.

How is the SPHR exam scored?

The SPHR exam is a 175-question, multiple-choice exam. Only 150 of these count toward your final score. The remaining 25 questions are pretest items added by HRCI to determine the difficulty and fairness of the questions. The ones that pass may be added to future versions of the exam as graded questions. There is no way to know which questions are ungraded, so take all of them seriously. There is no penalty for wrong answers, so you should always make an educated guess if you don’t know.

Your raw score — the number of questions you got right — helps determine your scaled score. Scaled scores range from 100 to 700, and you must score a 500 or better to pass. Scaled scores are used because they create a more consistent rating system than raw scores. Certain questions are harder than others, but raw scores don’t distinguish between the two. A scaled scoring system enables the test makers to add different weights to each question, so you get more points for answering a difficult question right. The result is a fair grading system where a 500 score demonstrates the same level of knowledge on every version of the exam.

You receive your preliminary score report at the testing center as soon as you finish the exam. This will tell you if you passed and how you did in each key subject area. Your official score report is released approximately two to four weeks after testing and can be viewed online through your HRCI account.

What if I fail the SPHR exam?

You cannot take the SPHR test more than once every 90 days and no more than three times in a year. This only applies to the SPHR exam. If you decide you want to take another HRCI exam, you can do so immediately, provided you’ve paid the proper fees and your application has been approved.

Use your downtime wisely. Look at your score report and figure out which areas you struggled with. Review this material thoroughly before you attempt the test again. Take practice tests until you feel confident in your ability to pass. You may also want to consider signing up for a SPHR prep course if you didn’t take one the first time.

Once you’re ready to try again, you must resubmit your application and the exam fees again. If you paid for the Second Chance Test Insurance, you will only have to pay the $100 application fee on your second attempt. HRCI will approve your application and send you a new code that you can use to sign up for the exam.