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36 Most Frequently-Asked Questions about the IBLCE Exam

It’s amazing – Whatever city I am in, whatever course I am teaching … in different cities, across the years, the people I talk with seem to ask the same questions about the IBLCE exam.

Questions about eligibility for the exam abound, and I’ve covered them elsewhere. But questions about the IBLCE exam itself swirl around (1) exam rules and computer-testing, (2) exam format, (3) exam content, and (4) exam matter

IBLCE exam rules and computer testing

Many people have questions about the IBLCE exam rules, and specifically about computer testing. You might not have thought of all of these questions, but maybe you should!

1. I live in Canada. Am I allowed to take the IBLCE exam in Michigan (United States)?

Yes. The IBLCE is an international exam. According to IBLCE, the same exam may be taken in any country where the test is administered. You do not need to take it in the country where you live.

2. I speak Spanish. May I take the exam in Spanish?

Yes. The IBLCE is an international exam. According to IBLCE, the same exam may be taken in any country where the test is administered. You do not need to take it in the country where you live.

3. Are test-takers allowed to bring a snack or drink to the IBLCE exam?

No. No food or drink is allowed in the room. In fact, almost nothing is allowed in the exam room. I’ve been allowed to keep my glasses, but I’ve been required to lock up my purse, my watch, and any other personal items. I have some serious beefs about what is allowed, which I’ve described here. I was so mad I wrote a formal letter to the IBLCE. Grrrr ……

4. Are test-takers allowed to bring a calculator into the exam room?

No. Although I do recall making a few simple calculations in order to answer a question or two, I’ve never felt the need for a calculator. I’m somewhat arithmetic-challenged, so if the calculations had been difficult, I am sure I would have remembered!

5. Do they give you scrap paper?

No, but they do give you a small dry erase board. So, if you needed to do a simple math calculation, you could write it out — or any other information you might want to visualize.

6. Does the computer stop the exam after you correctly answer a certain number of questions (like with the NCLEX exam)?

No. And let me say this: The IBLCE exam is nothing like the NCLEX exam! The only commonality is that they both have questions on the computer. There are no other similarities that I can identify.

7. Can you go back to a question you are unsure about?

Yes. You have the opportunity to “flag” a question you are unsure about. A word of warning, however, don’t flag too many! It can be a psychological downer to have all of the flagged questions on the IBLCE exam pop up at you after you have completed all of the others. If you have test anxiety, try to help yourself ahead of time, and try to avoid anything that increases your anxiety!

8. Can you change an answer on the IBLCE exam after you have marked it?

Yes, you may. However, there is good science to show that unless you are absolutely sure you made a mistake, you should not change your answer to questions on the IBLCE exam. Your first, gut reaction is always best.

9. Is there an opportunity to write comments about the IBLCE exam during the testing period?

No, that was available when IBLCE gave the exam on paper, but is no longer available.

10. I have never taken an exam on a computer. I’m already a nervous wreck just thinking about it. Is there anything I can do?

Yes, the exam is administered at a testing center. Honestly, I had never taken a computerized exam until a few years ago, and I found it very easy to manage.

11. Is there a penalty for guessing?

No, and you should feel free to guess if you don’t know!

Questions about the IBLCE exam format

If you don’t have questions about the IBLCE exam format, you should!  You need to know how to deal with it when you sit for the exam.

12. How many hours are allotted for completing the exam?

The IBLCE says “4 hours,” but that is, in my opinion, a bit misleading. To me, the “4 hours” language is very misleading, as I’ve described here.

13. Is there a break between the two sessions of the exam?

I suppose that depends on how you define “break.” You must complete Part I before you have access to Part II, so in that sense, yes. However, unless you have a pre-approved permission for a medical/health need, your time will be penalized for taking a ‘break” (i.e., getting away from the exam room).

14. How many questions are on the IBLCE exam?

There are a total of 175 questions on the IBLCE exam. You should answer all questions.

15. Are all of the questions on the IBLCE exam in a multiple-choice format?

Yes. The vast majority of exam items have four options — the right answer, and three other options. Occasionally, you will see three or five.

16. Are there very many clinical scenarios on the exam?

Again, I suppose that depends on how you define “clinical scenario”. It is very common to find a question with few sentences describing what’s going on with the nursing couplet, followed by a question. There are also some “sequential” questions where you answer a question about the couplet, and then, you must answer a follow-on question about the same couplet. How many are there? I don’t know, but I can see where you might interpret this as a clinical scenario.

17. How many pictures are on the exam?

That’s tough to say. The last time I took the exam, IBLCE said “about 100” and I faced 102 images. This year’s information says that “about half” of the items are image-based. Further, not all images are “pictures”. I’ve seen charts, diagrams, drawings, and more. All are “fair game” and can be answered by picking one of the options given.

18. How many of the IBLCE exam pictures are from The Breastfeeding Atlas?

None. However, I think anyone is crazy to go to the exam without using The Breastfeeding Atlas. The authors have included hundreds of photos, and unless you are very experienced, it’s likely that you’ve never seen some of the conditions in clinical practice. You need to recognize the image of that clinical condition.

I feel so strongly about the helpfulness of The Breastfeeding Atlas that I have written a workbook that practically forces the learner to distinguish one condition from another and to recognize the clinical management implications. Lots of written learning exercises are in the Workbook. You can get these resources separately, or save some money by getting them together.

19. What is the quality of the pictures on the exam?

It depends. To be fair, I’d say the quality of the photos has improved substantially over the past years, but I cannot tell you that they are all crisp and crystal clear. They aren’t.

20. How large are the pictures?

I’m guessing, but I’d say about 2 inches by 3 inches or so. We’ve had people tell us that to the best of their recollection, the photos on the IBLCE exam are about the size of the ones that we use on one or more of our computerized Practice Exams.

21. Can the pictures be enlarged?

Apparently not. I did not enlarge them, and I’ve asked colleagues to see if they could enlarge them, but so far, we have all been unsuccessful.

22. When you take the IBLCE exam, do you look at the pictures first and then the question, or the question first and then the photo?

Great question. Someone who attended my free Five Keys live webinar asked, and I wrote up my answer here.

IBLCE Exam Content

Of course, I can’t tell you what the questions are. But I can assure you that you need to know all of the topics and the words on the Detailed Content Outline are all likely to be on the exam — hormones, polycystic ovarian syndrome, WHO growth charts, autoimmune disorders, documentation, research, and much more. Therefore, you should check the document.

However, questions about the IBLCE exam presentation of the content are fairly easy to answer. Here you go:

 23. Are weights written using the American (pounds and ounces) or metric (kilograms and grams) system? Are temperatures written in degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius?

According to PearsonVue, the computer-based testing vendor contracted with IBLCE as of this writing, “the IBLCE examination includes both US and metric weights and measures. Metric measurements are noted first with US measurements noted second in parentheses, e.g. 3.74kg (8lb. 4oz.).”

24. Are drug trade names or generic names used on the exam?

I have seen only the generic names, never the trade names.

25. What kinds of things are shown in the pictures?

Anything is fair game, but for the most part, I would say breasts, infants, milk, lesions, pathological conditions, equipment are likely. People ask me, “what about…what about…what about…” and my answer is frequently, “Well, it’s fair game!

You’ll see the IBLCE’s Detailed Content Outline promises, infants aged from birth until “12 months and beyond”. However, I don’t recall seeing any questions on the IBLCE exam about children more than about 2 years old.

27. What are the hardest parts of the exam?

That depends on who you ask! Historically, though, the section where most people lose points is on the research section. I strongly recommend flashcards so that you can easily master research terms and all other terms, for that matter.

28. Are there any questions on the IBLCE exam that use the “EXCEPT” construction?

Yes, but in my experience, the number of “except” questions has substantially diminished each time I’ve taken the exam. You should anticipate only a small handful of these “backward” questions, as I like to call them.

29. Does the exam include “MOST,” “LEAST” and “FIRST” questions?

Yes, most definitely! And it is hugely important for you to learn to deal with them! I estimate that about 25-30% of the exam items use these qualifiers. It is most noteworthy to spot these, and to know how to deal with qualifiers.

30. Is there a penalty for guessing if I don’t know the answer?

No, go ahead and guess! You might be right!

IBLCE exam results

Questions about the IBLCE exam abound with worries about exam results! Understandable. The answers I’ve provided may not be to your liking, but to the best of my knowledge, the answers are accurate.

31. How long does it take to get your exam results from IBLCE?

Historically, several months. Most recently, the people who tested in the first week of October got their results about the third week in December, and that was about the quickest I can recall.

32. What is the passing score for the IBLCE exam?

The passing score varies from year to year based on IBLCE’s statistical analysis of the exam items. The passing score in 2013 was 69.7% and in 2014 it was 71.4%. See IBLCE’s explanation of how the passing score is calculated.

33. Of those who take the exam, how many pass?

The pass rate varies from year to year. See IBLCE’s website for more information.

34. How will I know what I got wrong on the exam?

You will not know the exact items that you missed. However, you will get  a breakdown from IBLCE that describes how well you performed in each of the topics. (We give you that information on our Practice Exams, too.)

35. What should I do if I took the IBLCE exam and failed?

Get help! I’ve looked at failure statistics over the last 25+ years. Hundreds of people fail each year. Several months ago, a nurse who had taken the exam four times, and had failed, called for help. I felt sure I could help her. Later, she called to say she passed on the fifth try! It can be done! For her–and for many– one thing can make a difference.

36. What one thing could make the difference between passing and failing?

I have no statistical data to support an answer. However, I have prepared nearly 5,000 exam-takers in the last 14 years, and I can tell you with certainty, I’ve consistently observed one pattern that seems to consistently predict success versus failure. It seems to be attributable to one thing which you have control over!

What I’ve noticed

When someone calls our office and says she has failed the exam, here’s the first question we ask: Did you take a comprehensive 95-hour course? With rare exception, the answer is No. What might explain this? Well, it only makes sense to take a comprehensive course if you are preparing for a comprehensive exam. Hence, preparing for a comprehensive exam is very different from preparing for an end-of-course or end-of-semester exam.

What you can do

If you still have questions about the IBLCE exam, please reach out. Our highly knowledgeable and friendly team can help you to find ways to pass the IBLE exam. Or, sign up for one of our free webinars or any of our other free resources.

The fact that you’ve read this post from start to finish empowers you to take control of the situation. You can do this! Contact me at if you have questions. If you found this post helpful, forward it to a friend who is taking the exam!

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  1. Cammie Wine

    Thank you for number 34! I took the review course in Dallas in April and loved it! I find myself getting more and more nervous as the date of testing quickly approaches, and I appreciate these tips very much!

    • Marie

      Arshdeep, nice to hear from you! In answer to your question, yes, you may plan to take the exam after graduation. However, you will need to meet all of the requirements, and simply holding a degree from a medical college is not enough. I have several short videos on how to become a lactation consultant. Let me answer these comments first, and I’ll see if I can send you the link for the free videos. They are short, but so far, I’ve had excellent feedback on them.

      Edited to add: Here is the link for the “Becoming a Lactation Consultant” videos:
      Please let me or my staff know if you have any questions!

    • Marie

      Arshdeep, so sorry I’m behind here, I forgot to give you the link. This makes it so simple:

      If you view the YouTube there, be sure you download the handout/worksheet that goes with the video. (The link is right there on the same page.) It will very much help you to get a plan together for yourself. If you’d rather, you can attend one of our free webinars (but for some people, the time isn’t convenient.) The free webinar is basically the same information, but you have a chance to ask questions because I present it live. MOST people have questions, and I’m happy to answer questions right on the webinar. So feel free to browse or view or sign up for the free webinar or whatever works best for you!

  2. Tanti Usong

    This morning I send you an email about purchasing the IBLCE Exam Review. I plan to take the test in October 2018. When is the deadline for the exam registration?

    Can I purcase the Exam Review now and use it till October 2018?
    Please let me know what I should do.
    Thank you,
    Tanti Usong

    • Marie

      Absolutely! We don’t know who needs more time, so you may use (and re-use) the review material if you are slated for the October exam. However, after many years of doing exam prep, I’ve found that often, people underestimate how much prep they need. Please feel free to call us at 703-787-9894 to discuss which resource would be best for you. You’re also welcome to sign up for our 5 Keys to Exam Success (free webinar) even if you’re not testing until October. It’s

    • Marie

      Tanti, I’m sorry, I didn’t see your other question there about the deadline for exam registration. The upcoming deadline is May 15. HOWEVER, keep in mind that means that you must have all of your requirements finished by May 15. If you do not have all of your requirements done by then, you will need to meet the next deadline, which is November 15. You might find this blog helpful, and I would encourage you to subscribe to my blog and read other blogs that have to do with the process. We also have some free resources which might be helpful for you, and you are welcome to call us (703-787-9894) if you need some guidance on what might be helpful for you.

  3. Tanti Usong

    I would like to know if the “All-Inclusive Exam Study Package” is the right one for me to purchase. I’d like to discuss this with somebody, I did call the number you gave me twice, and I sent a text message to Linda too, but no respond yet.

    Would it be possible for somebody to call me please?
    Tanti Usong

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