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Practice Exams: 12 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang for Your Buck

Woman in burgundy searching for practice exams on a laptop.

Buying practice exams to prep for the IBCLC® exam? Look for those that give you the biggest bang for your buck!

You may have followed me around long enough to have heard me say that practice exams are a proven exam prep strategy. However, not all practice exams are created equally. Here are 12 questions to ask yourself before you make a purchase.

1. Does it include all 175 items on all 7 disciplines?

If it’s truly a “practice test,” I want it to look and feel like the real exam. That means I want the same number of items (“questions”). I want to sit there and sweat through all of them so that I can learn to manage my time appropriately.

Otherwise, I don’t think I’d even classify it as a true practice exam.

Our practice exams include questions in each of the specific disciplines of the IBCLC Detailed Content Outline.

2. Are these straight recall items or real application-level items?

This is where exam-preppers get into real trouble. I’ve had these conversations with people so many times. Here’s how the conversation goes.

Person: I’ve taken several practice tests. I’m getting like 95% or so on each one of them. I guess I’ll do okay on the real thing.

Marie: Really? I’m not so sure. Do you think you’ll get like a 95% on the real exam?

Person: Um, no, probably not.

Marie: Hmm, why not?

Person: Well, none of my friends have gotten a 95% on the real exam.

Marie: I’m with ya there. I’ve talked to literally thousands of exam-takers, and no one has ever told me they’ve achieved a 95% on the real exam. So, if you’re scoring that high on the practice exam, maybe it’s because the practice exam is just straight recall.”

Person: Oh. What do you mean?

What I mean is this. Any comprehensive, career-critical exam will give application-level items. By definition, that means that the exam items involve more than one concept. Knowing just one fact or one concept won’t be enough.

Often — although not always — an application-level item is constructed by using qualifiers in the stem. That’s important, because it is often the key to determining the right response from the wrong response.

3. Do the practice exams have photos or images?

Check it out, because the real exam has images as well as text. Most are clinical photos, but there are also other images (e.g., graphs and more).

We offer Practice Exam A & C which have about the same number of photos/images as you would find on the real IBCLC exam. That is, about half.

Our Practice Exam B does not have photos, at least in part because we feel the text-only items are more difficult.

4. Will you see which ones you got wrong?

Check to see if the practice exam shows you which questions you got wrong. Some will only give you a score letting you know the total number of questions you got wrong.

5. Will you be told the right answer?

I know. This seems crazy. But some practice exams simply don’t provide the correct answer for each question on the practice exam. That makes no sense to me — how do you learn from a practice exam unless you learn the correct answer? But it’s true, some practice exams will not show you the correct answer.

From the IBLCE webpage:

Test-takers will receive a report at the conclusion of the practice examination … IBLCE does not make the items or answers available to test-takers following completion of the practice examination.

6. Will you see which “discipline” your wrong answer is in?

Being able to identify the items you answered incorrectly is helpful. But what’s even more helpful is knowing where those items are in relation to the disciplines.

For example, many people do poorly on the pharmacology and toxicology discipline. If so, that tells you that you need to spend more time learning material related to that particular discipline.

7. Do you get the rationale of the correct answer?

If I’m confident of my answer, I don’t need to know the rationale. I assure myself that I’m right, and I move on.

The trouble comes when I have pulled together a few facts, concepts and assumptions, stirred them together, and simmered them until I came up with an answer. But truth is, I didn’t really know the answer, so I need the rationale to understand the right answer.

Sometimes, I don’t have the remotest clue. I just guessed! So, I want the practice exam to tell me why that’s the right answer. (And yes, one of my first-grade teachers diagnosed me as a “why” learner, and I still am!) 

8. Do you get the rationale for the wrong answer?

It’s just important to know why you got something wrong as when you get something correct. Seeing the rationale for the correct answer helps you to see where you went wrong in selecting your answer.

9. Do they give you a time limit?

Our practice exams are timed, just like the real thing. But we realize that you may have distractions or responsibilities (your kids!) that make it impossible for you to go straight through. Hence, you can start and stop the timer, save your work, and come back later.

However, we encourage you to set aside at least one block of time when you can work straight through to mimic the actual test time limits.

10. How long do you have access to the practice exam?

Some practice exams give only a short time frame in which you can use what you’ve purchased. I admit, for a number of practical reasons, we considered that model. But we decided against it.

We encourage people to use the practice exam early in their prepping experience. Then, take it later, and see if they do any better.

This isn’t possible if you buy a practice exam that limits the amount of days that you have access to it.

11. Can you re-use the exam without paying again?

Some practice exams are a one-and-done for the price. If you want to retake the practice exam, you will need to purchase it again.

You can retake our practice exams as many times as you wish. You can reset and reuse as often as you like, as well as shuffle the questions. All 3 practice exams are available for $149 in a convenient package, or you can purchase them as stand-alones.

Again, read the terms carefully, and be an informed consumer.

12. What does it cost?

Notice I didn’t mention this first. Many people buy on price, and that’s just not good criteria.

That being said, I feel confident that our practice exams are highly cost competitive.

As you shop for practice exams, look for those that are similar to the real exam (number of test items, reflective of the 7 disciplines, and so forth) but different in the sense that they give feedback that will enable you to improve your test-taking abilities. 

To help your quest to find the best practice exam, I am offering a free resource to anyone who signs up as a Marie’s Insider. It’s free to sign up! Once you become an Insider (the opt-in page can be found here) you will have access to “Questions to Ask When Purchasing Practice Lactation Exams,” a helpful guide to record comparisons between different practice exams.

Are you looking for a practice exam to help gauge your study progress? Have you already found the right practice exam for you? What did you look for? Tell me in the comments below!

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  1. Jean Gloria

    Hi Marie I have enrolled to your practice exam and I have done it.I am doing also another practice exam book that our lactation consultant gave to me this week. I am planning to repeat your practice exam next week and see how much retention I have and planning to do keep repeating the practice exams until my examination. I was enrolled also to your 90 hour course.Should I go back and read or listen to that course or just do the practice exams?I have the Atlas 6th edition from my work that I have not open.For now I finished your practice exams and practice exams book that our lactation consultant gave me and planning to repeat it on my days off.Do you have any other recommendation .
    Thank you
    Jean Gloria

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Good for you, you’re doing this NOW. Leaving it until the last minute can be worse than nothing because if you don’t do well, it just increases your anxiety. I do wonder though…twice you referred to my “practice exam” and I actually have 3 of them. So just wanting to make sure you are aware. In answer to your question about the course. Here’s what I recommend. Look at all of that topics in the 90-hour course. Look at the ones you feel that you are least confident of. For example, I find that people really have trouble with hormones; if that describes you, go and re-do that topic. Look at ALL of the topics, and identify maybe the top 10-15 that you feel least confident of, and review them. And continue the practice exams yes; the more the merrier. I would strongly recommend my Marie Biancuzzo’s Guide to Decoding Lactation Photos: A Continuing Education Workbook

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