PHR / SPHR Changes for 2018

by | Oct 26, 2018

New Content Outlines & Question Formats for PHR & SPHR Exams

For more than 40 years, the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) has drawn on the collective worldwide expertise of thousands of Human Resources practitioners, researchers, academics, and certification professionals to codify a standard HR Body of Knowledge (HRBok) describing the knowledge, competencies, and accepted practices within designated content areas that have been defined and validated through an extensive HR practice analysis process.

“The practice analysis reveals that today’s HR professionals must be change agents who are 100 percent integrated into the business,” said Amy Dufrane, Ed.D., SPHR, CAE, the CEO of HRCI. “Today’s HR practices require more holistic strategies—not just HR strategies—that drive people, innovation and, ultimately, business outcomes through customer delight.”

Continually updated to reflect the evolving role of HR professionals in the workplace, the HRBoK serves as the foundation from which [1] Exam Content Outlines are created for each specific HRCI certification exam and [2] exam questions are developed and peer-reviewed for technical validity and applicability to current HR practice and applied job knowledge.


Effective August 1, 2018, two significant changes have taken place:

1. There are separate and distinct Exam Content Outlines for the PHR and SPHR exams.


  • The new PHR Exam Content Outline reflects a greater emphasis on the HR professional’s role in the employee experience as well as the business decision-making process and use of data to make well-informed decisions.
  • Five functional areas are defined for HR practitioners in management or professional-level roles: Business Management, Talent Planning and Acquisition, Learning and Development, Total Rewards, and Employee and Labor Relations.


  • The new SPHR Exam Content Outline reflects an increased emphasis on a senior HR professional’s responsibility for developing workforce strategies that are aligned with desired business outcomes.
  • The five functional areas are Leadership and Strategy, Talent Planning and Acquisition, Learning and Development, Total Rewards, and Employee Relations and Engagement.


2. The tests no longer consist of all multiple choice questions! New AITs (Alternative Item Types), representing a minority of questions, are now interspersed throughout the exam. HRCI describes these AITs as follows:

  • 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 (or Matching). 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, and require you to integrate facts from different subject areas.

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

As you can see, much change is afoot in the PHR & SPHR world of certification! 

For more information, visit HRCI’s 2018 PHR and SPHR Exam Content Outlines FAQ webpage @

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