The Professional in Human Resources (PHR) exam is offered by the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) for HR professionals who want to improve their careers. While it’s not necessary to take the exam, research shows that certified HR professionals typically earn 10% to 15% more than their non-certified counterparts and are up to 30% more likely to get promoted within five years.
Due to the time and cost of taking the exam, HR professionals often turn to exam prep courses to ensure that they’ll pass the first time. We looked at nearly a dozen prep providers and chose the best based on quality, ease of use, variety of study formats, cost, and more. Here are our top picks.
Best Overall : BenchPrep
BenchPrep was created in 2009 by Ashish Rangnekar and Ujjwal Gupta as a Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) prep mobile app. Since then, the founders have created over 325 learning programs for more than six million students. We chose it as the best overall because it’s the number-one selling PHR certification prep option from HRCI and offers convenient, on-the-go test prep from any platform.
BenchPrep’s HR Learning System is an online, mobile-friendly exam prep course designed by senior HR executives and instructors with over 50 years of experience. The platform uses algorithms to help students get prepared quickly. Users simply enter the date they want to take the exam and BenchPrep generates a personalized study plan with daily goals and tasks.
BenchPrep’s HR Learning System includes 60 instructional videos, over 1,000 practice questions with answer explanations, over 700 interactive flashcards, diagnostic assessments, full-length practice exams, reports highlighting the student’s strengths and weaknesses, and a discussion forum for collaborating with other students.
BenchPrep also offers an iOS and Android app making it easy for users to switch platforms and pick up where they left off. Students get extended access and free updates to the course until they pass the exam.
BenchPrep’s HR Learning System is available for a one-time purchase of $349.
Runner-Up, Best Overall : HRCP
Human Resource Certification Preparation (HRCP) is designed by former HRCI Board member David Cherrington (DBA, SPHR) and Laura Middleton (SPHR, SPHRi, SHRM-SCP). We chose it as our runner-up because it was developed by an HRCI insider and offers exceptional self-paced online exam prep at a premium price.
HRCP offers two different online self-paced courses. Both contain over 20 hours of interactive lessons, instructors assigned to assist in creating study schedules, bonus tutorials and review sessions that show students how to apply for the exam, as well as boot camp overviews of key content.
The HRCP’s E-Learning Self-Paced Prep Course: Print Edition comes with over 900 pages of hardcopy content covering the five functional areas tested on the exam, over 600 HR QuikStudy Flash Cards, more than 800 practice questions with answers, feedback, and page references, as well as an online guide with study and test-taking tips.
The E-Learning Self-Paced Prep Course: Print and Online Edition contains over 900 pages of content covering the five functional areas tested on the exam in a web-based format, electronic flashcards, over 800 practice questions with answers, feedback, and page references, an automated text reader, and an online guide with study and test-taking tips.
In addition to its paid online course, HRCP offers a free 20-page PHR practice exam. The company also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee and will offer a full refund to students who bought the course and failed their exam.
The E-Learning Self-Paced Prep Course: Print Edition is available for an $800 one-time payment, and the E-Learning Self-Paced Prep Course: Print and Online Edition is available for a $900 one-time payment.
Best for Accessibility : Mometrix
Mometrix started in 2002 with the goal to help test-takers focus on what they need in order to pass their exams. The company offers 3,500 products that cover over 1,500 different standardized exams and are available on every major digital platform. We chose it as the best for accessibility because it offers a seamless experience across all devices with a combination of videos, text, practice exams, and more.
Mometrix’s Online PHR Certification Course is adapted from its PHR & SPHR Exam Secrets Study Guide and contains 47 lessons with videos. Students also get access to 349 electronic flashcards and five full tests with over 700 practice questions and lesson reviews that can be taken over again to help build confidence.
Best of all, Mometrix’s courses are designed to be viewed on any desktop or mobile device, and it's easy for students to mark lessons complete so they can know where they left off. The online course offers a short quiz at the end of each lesson to help students determine if they’re ready to move on.
Mometrix’s Online PHR Certification Course is available for a subscription price of $99.99 per month and comes with a seven-day money-back guarantee.
Best Value : Pearson
Pearson Education is one of the world's largest learning companies and operates in 70 countries around the world with more than 22,500 employees. Its uCertify platform offers over 400 self-paced, mentor-guided, and instructor-led online courses. We chose it as the best value since it offers a comprehensive, online PHR exam prep course for a very competitive price.
Pearson’s PHR exam prep course combines academic peer-reviewed content with an accessible and flexible platform and covers all the objectives of the PHR exam. The engaging uCertify learning platform can be accessed online from any computer, tablet, or smartphone and is designed to appeal to just about any learning style.
The lesson portion of the course includes over 11 lessons, 30 exercises, 60 quizzes, 704 flashcards, and a glossary of more than 704 terms. The test prep part of the course offers over 48 pre-assessment questions and 100 post-assessment questions. Finally, students also get over 32 videos totaling close to two hours.
Pearson’s PHR exam prep course is available for a one-time fee of $120.
Best for Self-Paced Learning : Distinctive HR
Distinctive HR was created in 1996 by David Siler, a leader in Human Resources, to help students prepare for HR exams with multiple learning resources, including textbooks, audio files, videos, lectures, flashcards, and quizzes. We chose it as the best for self-paced learning since it offers a variety of exam prep resources students can use to build their own study plan.
Distinctive HR’s 2020 PHR/SPHR Self-Study Course is available either as a printed manual with audio and video CDs or as a download with printable PDFs and downloadable videos and audio files. Both courses are compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux systems.
Each course includes a text-based study guide and audio files that explain HR topics in plain English and include information on each of the five exam areas. Additional audio files offer test-taking tips and tips for understanding strategic questions on the exams. Students also get access to an online learning portal (LMS) with sample tests, training games, interactive flashcards, and videos for one year after purchase.
Distinctive HR’s 2020 PHR/SPHR Self-Study Course is available in print form for a one-time fee of $419 or in downloadable format for $375.
Best Instructor-Led : HRReview
Founded in 2004, HRReview offers live online exam prep courses and free practice exams for multiple HR exams. We chose it as the best instructor-led option because it offers a comprehensive live online course with a midterm exam, a free audio coaching session, and unlimited online final exams.
HRReview’s Start Smart Course for PHR/SPHR covers each of the five functional areas with a one-week break and midterm exam after the third session and a final practice exam. The course meets for three hours one night each week for six weeks. The live online interactive sessions let students participate and ask questions, and each session is recorded for later review.
The course also includes the PHR Workbook Package which contains exam tips and hundreds of multiple-choice questions with detailed explanations for each answer. Also included is the AudioReview package with recorded terms and definitions, electronic and downloadable flashcards, a free audio coaching session, unlimited online final practice exams, and the Human Resource Management Essential Perspectives ebook.
HRReview’s Start Smart Course for PHR/SPHR is available for a one-time fee of $899. Additionally, students who don't pass their exams can audit the next live online course for free.
What Is the Professional in Human Resources Exam?
The PHR exam is issued by the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) and is a requirement for obtaining PHR certification. The exam covers five functional areas, including business management, talent planning and acquisition, learning and development, total rewards, and employee and labor relations. The exam costs $395 plus a $100 application fee, takes three hours, and consists of 150 scored questions (mostly multiple-choice) and 25 pretest questions.
Before taking the exam, an individual must have at least one year of experience in a professional-level HR position plus a Master’s degree or higher, two years in a professional-level HR position plus a Bachelor’s degree, or at least four years in a professional-level HR position plus a high school diploma.
PHR vs. SHRM-CP Exam
An alternative to the PHR exam is the Society for Human Resource Management Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) exam. Although SHRM has only been around since 2014 (as opposed to HRCI, which has been around since 1976), it is currently the largest HR membership organization focused on professional development.
The PHR tests a professional’s knowledge of HR-related responsibilities within each of five functional areas: business management, talent planning and acquisition, learning and development, total rewards, and employee and labor relations. By contrast, the SHRM-CP exam tests a professional’s HR knowledge as well as behavioral competencies across six topic areas: leadership, business, interpersonal, people, organization, and workplace.
In order to take the SHRM-CP exam, an individual without a bachelor's degree must have four years of experience in an HR role. Candidates who have completed less than a bachelor's degree only need three years of experience in an HR role.
On the other hand, candidates with an HR-related bachelor's degree need one year of experience, and those with a non-HR bachelor's degree must have two years of experience in an HR role. Finally, those with an HR-related graduate degree must be working in an HR position, while those with a non-HR graduate degree must have one year of related experience.
While more and more candidates are hedging their bets by pursuing certifications from both SHRM and HRCI at the same time, it remains unclear whether one certification will emerge above the other. Since both demonstrate a candidate’s expertise in HR knowledge, it seems to be a personal matter of deciding which one is right for each professional.
What Do PHR Exam Prep Courses Include?
PHR exam prep courses cover all five functional areas of the exam using a variety of review materials, including videos, audio, print or electronic study guides, flashcards, quizzes, and practice exams.
While most of the courses we reviewed come in a self-paced online format, others offer live instructor-led courses. Access to these course materials tends to end at the completion of the course.
Most PHR prep courses are available for a one-time fee and provide access to the materials until a student passes their exam. Only one course that we reviewed offers a monthly subscription with access to materials only while the subscription is active.
What Is the Cost of a PHR Exam Prep Course?
Online PHR exam prep courses can run between $120 and $800, while live, instructor-led courses start at $800 and can cost as much as $1,600. In addition to the $100 application and $395 PHR exam fee, HR professionals are required to earn 60 recertification credits over a three-year period or retake the exam to maintain certification. Credits can be earned through seminars, online materials, webinars, books, online courses, and conferences or by showing evidence of professional accomplishments, like implementing a new program at work, serving as a volunteer HR expert, or conducting original HR-related research.
How Much Do Certified HR Professionals Earn?
In a 2018 survey of 102,000 HR professionals, 36.4% had at least one HR certification. Of those, 16.9% were PHR certified.
While those with PHR certifications don’t see as dramatic an increase in earning potential as those with other certifications, PHR does seem to be a valuable stepping stone for other certifications.
The following examples show the salary difference between HR professionals with any type of HR certification vs. those with none and the percentage increase:
- HR Manager: $69,500 vs. $60,000 (15.8%)
- HR Administrator: $50,000 vs. $43,300 ($15.5%)
- HR Director: $90,000 vs. $80,000 (12.5%)
- HR Assistant: $39,500 vs. $35,400 (11.6%)
- HR Generalist: $54,500 vs. $50,000 (9.0%)
Is Taking a PHR Exam Prep Course Worth It?
Professionals who have failed the PHR exam once already can likely benefit from taking an exam prep course. Most of the courses we reviewed offer some sort of self-assessment tools that make it easy for students to find and fill the gaps in their knowledge.
Also, while many professionals feel that they know the material presented in the PHR exam, they may not be the best test-takers. At a minimum, taking a practice exam can go a long way to showing exactly how the PHR exam is structured and run.
How We Chose The Best PHR Exam Prep Courses
We reviewed almost a dozen PHR exam prep providers and focused on the ones that were highly regarded by trained human resource professionals. Because everyone learns differently, we focused on courses that offer a variety of learning styles (text, visual, audio) as well as options for live, interactive courses.
We also gave preference to classes with a high degree of accessibility, focusing on providers that offered courses that could be started on one device (a desktop computer) and picked up later on another (a mobile device).
In the end, finding the best PHP exam prep course depends on an individual’s learning style and whether they prefer to learn at their own pace or in a structured live course. Passing the PHR exam is an important step in helping HR professionals take their careers to the next level.