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Paul Carter

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How to pass your CIPD exams


Everyone has an opinion on how to pass the CIPD exams. Some people listen, some already know they are not ready, while others plot their own path to exam success. The case studies and questions are split between seen and unseen, but you need to open your eyes to the reality of HR academia months in advance.

If you don’t study, you may struggle to hit that 50% pass mark. So learn how HR makes a difference to business, research your case study topics and memorise HR theories to ensure you can celebrate results day, while other students face another six hours in the exam hall.  As peer-to-peer learning is all the rage, I have shared my revision tips on how to pass the exams.

If you read all the way to the bottom, you can find out if I passed…

Niki Chesworth, Evening Standard business section

A topical and informative HR and business newsfeed that you can read on the train after work.

Catchy headlines like ‘Freelancers plug the skills gap in the public sector’, ‘Power part-timers on the wanted list’ and ‘You don’t have to suffer in silence’ can be bookmarks in your mind map, helping you unlock your knowledge for questions on the war for talent, flexible working and bullying in the workplace.

The articles can also be used for the dissertation, presentations and showing your boss you know what’s happening in the HR world.

Also check out Anthony Hilton’s business articles on boardroom battles and global economics.

Professor Armin Trost’s YouTube lectures

A German HR professor at a German University who delivers his entertaining and informative HR lectures in English.

The students talk English too, making you even more aware of the competitiveness of the global recruitment market. His video lectures are a great example of how the traditional education model is changing.

I felt more engaged in my virtual classroom than I did at 60% of my lectures at university.

Tune in and absorb his analysis of performance management, social media, change management, retention, learning and development and much more. Click here to join his class. You won’t regret it!

McKinsey & Co and The Economist

HR professionals are often criticised for not knowing enough about business.

You need to be ready to challenge that perception as the CIPD exams will test your knowledge of micro and macro economics, business practices and politics. If you want to know about globalisation, technology, organisational design and the war for talent then search the McKinsey & Co website.

Don’t rely on your CIPD handbooks to keep up to date with current affairs as the business landscape would have changed before the ink has dried. Reading The Economist gives you a national and international perspective on business. If you belong to your local library you may be able to read it for free through the e-magazine service.

CIPD Podcasts

The ideal soundtrack for your revision or a relaxing bath after a tough study session.

CIPD presenter Philippa Lamb guides you through exam topics including the impact of immigration on the UK workforce; the role of HR business partners; building the best teams and aligning learning and development with business objectives. HR and business professionals join Philippa for the informative debates and the transcripts save you from having to rewind and pause to write down the key issues.

Click here for the CIPD podcasts.

CIPD handbooks and textbooks

Either you or your employer has paid for the CIPD handbooks and textbooks so make sure you use them.

Organisation design, McGregor’s X and Y theory, tight and loose labour markets and business ethics may be a mystery to you otherwise. I would rather have a five star exam than a five star rating on Amazon for ‘Never opened textbooks’.

HR websites

Everything you need to know for the HR exams has already been written. You just need to find it.

Don’t be the HR professional who never reads the trade press. Read the articles on CIPD, HRZone, Personnel Today, HR Magazine, HR Grapevine, businessballs, ACAS and many more to keep up to date.

Case Study investigation trail

If I were a betting man, I would stake my Civil Service bonus on a consultancy firm or think tank having already investigated the case study topics in your exams.

Knowing your subject and how HR teams addressed the case study challenges can help your pen flow as you combine ideas with background knowledge to present your recommendations and conclusions.

Multiple perspectives

After reading about the World Bank’s mission to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity, I watched Youtube videos of John Pilger and Bob Geldof share their views on the financial institution.

Playing them simultaneously, I felt like a DJ mixing corporate spin with polemics to gain the knowledge and confidence to reach my own conclusions.

Did I pass?

I passed both exams, but was expecting a double merit so am slightly miffed about only passing. Maybe I did not answer the questions properly? I’m not going to pay for feedback but will be reading the examiners' reports on the exams to look for clues on my performance.

My last tip is not to use STEEPLE or SWOT unless they are specifically requested. It would be good to read about your exam experiences so please share. Together we can help the next batch of students pass. Will they take any notice of our advice? It’s up to them!

One Response

  1. Well done on passing Paul, I
    Well done on passing Paul, I have to say I’m always bemused when I have heard other people saying how hard the current exams are, I have to disagree! Prior to 2010, the qualification scheme was called the Professional Development Scheme ( the previous incarnation was PQS, “Q for Qualification).

    This was a three-year course with most centres having four internally assessed exams in year one, covering Core Management subjects. This was followed in Year two by three elective subjects and were nationally set exams, year three was one elective and a module called core personal & development, which brings together all of the electives and core management and demonstrates how all are interlinked/connected. Again these were national exams. On top of that, you had to complete your management report. No one knew what would come up in the exams, an exam question would most probably be set on a People Management article that had caught the examiners eye, if the student hadn’t seen the article then it could be tricky to answer the question. The one golden rule was “answer the question asked, not the one you had been hoped had been asked! The pass rate was also 50% but the numbers of students passing were 50%! Some students would often be on the exam treadmill for five years taking resits. It was in its time one of the toughest professional qualifications. I do like the current format as it makes more sense, I only wish more colleges would offer the Advanced Diploma.

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Paul Carter

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