My Experience Studying & Writing the NKE


I, like many parents, am currently decompressing from the last three months of assisting my two kids on how to become virtual home school savants, navigating their way through different platforms like Google Classroom and Zoom. Luckily, I am well versed in online education, having completed my Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations through Athabasca University in Alberta.

I was not only able to guide them from a technical standpoint, but was also able to help them begin to develop the organizational skills needed to keep on top of their studies. Don’t get me wrong, they are still young, so while I am ‘Mom Boss’, I had them help participate in building out their weekly calendar, for course work and assignment deadlines.

So, you know…. Teamwork and Accountability…

On top of that, I had my own studies to navigate. I recently wrote the National Knowledge Exam (NKE) for the CPHR designation this week. Once I receive my marks indicating my success, a submission of my university transcripts and a background check of my  applied work experience in Human Resources and Labour Relations, I should hopefully receive my official designation by the fall.

I wanted to provide future exam writers with some tips for successful study habits that will aid them in conquering the NKE.

1. Start Now!

First and for most, start early and be systematic in your approach when studying for this exam.

Just as I purchased my exam spot, COVID-19 had derailed or impacted people in many ways.

For myself, my job hunting dramatically ended as employers implemented hiring freezes and layoffs. My kids were suddenly home all day, every day, and in need of tutoring as they began to navigate their schoolwork. While I understand it is very trendy to implement projects with zero slack, my planned schedule was flexible enough to accommodate the additional load on my time and mental sanity.

2. Know the Available Resources

Gather and take stock of your resources. While this is not a sponsored article, I did purchase the CPHR recommended Captus Press Inc. NKE  Prep Course . This prep course has been designed to match the competency framework of the NKE exam. CPHR BC & Yukon also offers a virtual classroom, three-day prep course for the NKE that includes a handbook. Deadline to register for the virtual classroom is July 15, 2020. 

Pros- it includes audio and visual multimedia, a handbook guide that takes you through the different functional areas and 4 practice exams.

Cons- the only thing I found frustrating was that the online prep course – offered by Cactus Press Inc., provided a handbook that the handbook was not printable, or editable. If I wished to pay an additional fee of $86.25 (USD) I could have a copy mailed to me and with the COVID-19 mail delivery wait times…. my exam would probably have been over by the time it arrived.

Another great resource, is a textbook I used in university, Managing Human Resources, Eighth Canadian Edition by Belcourt, M., Singh, P., Bohlander, G., & Snell, S. This textbook is excellent and has a large glossary of HR terminology which is vitally important study material for the exam.

3. Plan & Take Action

Put your plan into action and know how you study best.

Personally, I am both a visual-spatial and kinesthetic learner, spending time writing notes and highlighting my topic points, one competency subject at a time.

For myself, a color-coded system of highlighting, acronym building and linking the topics to work experience I have done. All these tips and tricks allow me to retain huge amounts of information like perfect pictures in my mind.

Nine functional areas make up the competencies of this exam:

  1. Strategy
  2. Professional Practice
  3. Engagement
  4. Workforce Planning and Talent Management
  5. Employee & Labour Relations
  6. Total Rewards
  7. Learning and Development
  8. Health, Wellness, and Safe Workplace
  9. HR Metrics, Reporting and Financial Management

You need to be well versed in all nine. I am quite fortunate in that I have a full scope of employment background in all areas, however many writers I would imagine, do not. Do not skip studying for any area of the exam simply because you feel confident. 

4. Know Your Weaknesses – Focus

As you are getting closer to your exam date, look at your progress and monitor where your areas of strengths and weaknesses are. Reevaluate where you are concentrating your time if you are still having difficulty with certain concepts. Perhaps you need to change the approach of how you study that one area.

Complete as many multiple-choice, practice questions as possible as this will prepare you with the NKE format. A great way to decide if you are ready for this exam is to be able to answer the question without even looking at the multiple-choice responses.

Please do not forget to read the CPHR Code of Ethics, Mission Statement, Vision and Values. This is located on both the National and Provincial website and in my opinion highly integral to understanding the importance of why the integrity of the Human Resource profession practice is essential, in becoming a strategic business partner for an organization.

Exam day, you bring nothing but a bottle of water in a clear container and that is it. No need to stress about the time limit of three hours, it provides A LOT of time.

5. Celebrate 

After you walk out of the exam, take a deep breath and celebrate.

That was a lot of work you put into preparation for the exam and you deserve to be proud of your accomplishment. I happen to live in the Okanagan Valley, which is home to some of the most beautiful wineries in Canada, but hey…. you do you…

Looking Back

Reflectively, when I look at my study plan, it was well executed with the resources I used to prepare. While the Captus Press Inc. NKE Prep Course was a pricey expense, it did provide a full return on investment with how well prepared I was.

My approach of systematically attacking each competency separately allowed me to budget my time accordingly to the learning objectives. Knowing how I study best as a spatial and kinetic learner, was important for effectively absorbing the information.

I am satisfied with my overall experience and I am confident in my success in the exam, although it will be several weeks until I receive my official results. However, if I had to pick one item I would have changed, looking back over this exam process and my time in university, I would have purchased stock in Sharpie Highlighters. I feel certain that I sustain the company on my organizational, color coding habits alone.

Good luck to future CPHR, NKE writers and I look forward in becoming more involved with the Chartered Professional in Human Resource (CPHR) organization in future.


Amanda Smith is a member of CPHR BC & Yukon who is based in Kelowna, B.C. This Past June Amanda took the next step towards earning the CPHR designation – writing the National Knowledge Exam.

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