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Didn’t Pass the IBCLC Exam? 5 Ways to Make Sure You Pass This Time

There are only five reasons why people fail. I’ll show you how to make sure that failing the IBLCE exam doesn’t happen to you this time — or any time.

It happens. People sometimes fail to meet their goals. It’s disappointing, but you can — and almost certainly should — try again. However, hit your pause button before you send in your application to take the IBCLC exam again. First understand why you failed before so that you can prepare differently this time.

There are only five reasons why people fail. I’ll show you how to make sure that failing doesn’t happen to you this time — or any time.

You weren’t exposed to the content

Being exposed to the right content is the first and most critical aspect of passing any exam. But how can you make sure you do this?

Certainly, a good first step is to review IBLCE’s Detailed Content Outline. But honestly, I’ve never met any exam candidate who could look at that outline and clearly tell me the exact content they need to study.

What’s more, most aspiring IBCLCs collect their 95 lactation-focused hours here and there, going to a conference on whatever topic du jour catches their attention, or is convenient to attend. Most focus on the “90 hours” requirement. Maybe you did, too. It’s easy to let the “95” distract from the fact that it’s supposed to represent learning about the many different topics that will be on the exam.

With no previous exam experience, and no expert guidance, how could you possibly study the topics that are likely to appear on the exam? How could any candidate prepare to pass a comprehensive exam without taking a comprehensive course?

When I first taught my Comprehensive Lactation Course in 2009, I spent about 100 hours planning the course, to ensure it covered IBLCE’s outline. I’m talking about just planning the course; that doesn’t include making slides or handouts, or delivering the course! IBLCE has revised its outline since then, and I keep updating my course to make sure it covers the topics the exam will cover.

The IBCLC exam is a high-stakes, career-critical exam, so don’t take chances. Take a comprehensive course to ensure you know what it’s about.

You didn’t understand the content

Being exposed to the exam topics isn’t enough. You also need to be able to make sense of the material in a meaningful way.

Once you’ve been exposed to the topics, you may be able to re-state, list, recognize, describe, and identify simple facts and concepts. But if you can’t relate that content to your prior learning, explain it to someone else, or summarize it in your own words, then you don’t fully understand it.

A great way to come to understand material is to write out a relationship, an explanation, or a summary. I believe Dawson Trotman’s quote: Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and fingertips.

You didn’t retain the content

Maybe you were exposed to the right topics and understood everything right away. If you studied early, then gave it up sure that you were ready, you were probably surprised by your low score. Unless you can recall it, you’re doomed to a low exam score.

Research in the education field has shown, over and over, that people do not retain information when they simply watch a video or hear a lecture. Don’t be fooled by the claim that “adult learning principles” means having great photos. Seeing a video, looking at photos, or hearing a lecture doesn’t automatically create an effective learning experience.

What does result in information retention is to actively participate in your learning experience. Don’t take my word for it; ask those who have taken my courses. I hear it all the time. (Active learning is harder with an online-only program, but if an in-person course isn’t possible for you, check here.)

You couldn’t apply the content

Maybe retaining the relevant facts, concepts, or principles wasn’t the problem. Could you apply the content to answer to exam items?

Sometimes when I teach, I direct learners to put their pens down, stop memorizing, and just listen. I want them to grasp the clinical “so-what.”

The IBCLC exam will present you with short vignettes. Unless you understand how various circumstances affect the “memorized” information, you’ll have trouble passing the exam.

To prepare yourself for the exam, get clinical experience, and plenty of it, in a variety of settings with a variety of clients in a variety of circumstances. When you’ve gained knowledge with real-life mothers and babies, you can draw on it when you’re faced with exam mothers and babies!

You couldn’t perform

You were exposed to the material, understood it, remembered it, and could apply it in the clinical area. But you didn’t get the right answers on the exam — at least not often enough to pass. What happened?

Often, it seems to come down to what item-writers call “distractors.” Remember, there’s a reason why item-writers call those other options “distractors.” It’s because these options that distract you from picking the right answer!

Or, it may be a problem of testing anxiety. That’s common! Try this hypnosis CD on Exam Success. Whether it works or not, let me know.

All the exam gurus insist that your mindset is a major determinant in your exam score. It may sound corny, but never underestimate the importance of a positive mindset on the day of the exam.

The IBCLC exam is a career-critical, high-stakes exam. Even if you passed, you can learn how to do better by learning where your preparation could have been stronger.

Still unsure what tripped you up? Give us a call. We can help you figure out how to succeed this time.

Whether you passed or failed when you took the IBCLC exam, what’s one thing you didn’t expect about the experience, something that caught you off-guard? How would you have prepared for it? Tell me in the comments below!

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  1. Jill Stancil

    What does result in information retention is to actively participate in your learning experience. Don’t take my word for it; ask those who have taken my courses. I hear it all the time. (Active learning is harder with an online-only program, but if an in-person course isn’t possible for you, here are some ideas to try.)

    As I read through your content, I tried to follow the links. The link at the end of this paragraph took me to an ERROR message several times. I followed the other links successfully, so I thought this might be an error ya’ll could correct. I searched your site for “Active Learning” and did find a page with 6 fine suggestions.
    I haven’t taken the exam or failed the exam recently; I just like to read your suggestions for gems that I can share with those in my circle of influence.

    Jill Stancil

    • Marie

      Oh, Jill, I’m so sorry! We’ve had a few odd quirks with the web site lately. Okay, this is specific information, and we are going to pursue this with a vengeance, although the office is semi-closed today because of the holiday, so it may take a little longer.

      I suspect that the link about active learning goes to a blog that got corrupted or something. We can probably do a re-post, but thank you, thank you for letting us know!

      Jill, I think we are going on 18 years now…it’s always good to hear from you, even if it’s because I messed up!

  2. Rosepp

    Marie, I am so sad that I failed the exam for the 3rd time. I have been a LLL Leader for 7 years, get constant calls, emails, texts, visits. I have every book to study. I have your book how not to fail this time and here I failed again. 🙁

    Trying to get into a medical setting for more clinical experience is close to no chance. I am a medical assistant but practitioners do not allow MA’s to help with lactation.

    Do you have any advice at all what I could do to improve? I’m not the best test taker regarding anxiety but I was VERY confident this last time after the test. I was 90% sure that I passed. I was so happy.

    Thanks in advance for any advice you can give.

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Rose, I’m so sorry that this post somehow escaped my notice. I just saw it. I apologize for the delay.

      I’m sorry to hear you failed. Please call my office: 703-787-9894. We are here all this week (but we will be closed between December 24 and January 2.) I could talk with you. If I’m not here or I’m unavailable, several people on our team are very experienced and very knowledgeable. Any of us would be happy to help you. We have a brief questionnaire, and that helps us to identify where your weaknesses are.

      If you are truly motivated and persistent, you can do this! As the old saying goes, “Failure is a good teacher.” You can still make the save here, Rose! Let me help.

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