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Building a Firm Foundation for Your IBCLC Exam

Woman laying bricks to create a firm foundation.

I admit, sitting for IBCLC® exam can make me feel like a ton of bricks are being thrown at me for four solid hours. It’s grueling. But bricks are famous for providing a firm foundation. So, try to build a firm foundation for your exam.   

As journalist David Brinkley said:

A successful [person] is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.

I stand by what I said ages ago: Terminology is key to studying for the IBCLC exam. This shouldn’t be a big secret, but few people take it seriously.  

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

As you try to build a firm foundation for your exam, you’ll need to know your strengths and weaknesses. One of the simplest ways to do that is to determine if you know the meaning of a term likely to appear on the exam.   

Otherwise stated, you cannot possibly answer a test question if you don’t know what a word in the question means.

How are you doing with terms so far?

In case you just blew by my last sentence, let me give you a reality check. How are you doing with words like lactoferrin or T cells?

How can you check your understanding of more lactation terms to see how if you have a firm foundation for your IBCLC exam?

  1. Download our list of 1000+ lactation terms. You won’t need to know all these terms for the exam. But you don’t know which ones they will throw at you!
  2. Put a circle next to any term you feel you unable to define.

Don’t overlook terms, and don’t delude yourself

When I revised my 95-hour online Lactation Course. I found myself talking about nutrients. I paused.

I’ve completed two college-level nutrition courses. But I asked myself, “Do I really know what a nutrient is?”

See, that’s the problem. Is lactoferrin a nutrient, or something else? We all spout the marvels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in human milk, but I wondered: Are PUFAs an actual nutrient, or what? I mostly knew.

Having a firm foundation for your exam means more than “mostly” knowing.  

Find definitions for terms you don’t know

I won’t say it’s impossible for me to provide definitions for all of the lactation-related terms I know, but — it would take weeks or months for me to complete that task! Unless you can sit with me on my back deck while I create that resource, here’s what you can do in the meanwhile:

To start building a firm foundation for your IBCLC exam, try using Google. However, be forewarned!  Not all of the sources on the Internet are completely accurate. (Many or most are good, but often not entirely accurate, or not accurate within the newborn/infant/child context or within the pregnancy/lactation context.)

After looking up definitions, keep them handy. Use 3 x 5 cards and arrange them in a box. Or use an electronic solution.

Get our Guide to Decoding Lactation Photos Course which gives definitions for multiple terms. Use the “matching” exercises and tackle the quiz at the end of each of the 18 chapters.

Use the terms in context

That firm foundation for your exam isn’t firm enough until you can use terms in context.

Force yourself to write a paragraph about each unfamiliar word. If you can’t write a short paragraph (75 words or so) you have not mastered the context. Otherwise stated: You don’t really know that word.

See if you can determine where that word would likely fall in the IBLCE “disciplines.” This isn’t entirely necessary, and some of the words could go in more than one discipline, but if you do categorize the words, it helps you to know which discipline you’re weak in.

Now, go back to that list of 1000+ terms, and put a checkmark in the circle you made when you started.

Before the bricks get thrown at you, do you feel you can build a firm foundation for your exam? 

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