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Quick Guide to Preparing to Pass After Failing the IBCLC Exam

Woman on laptop studying to pass after failing

I’ve lost track of how many people — mostly strangers — I’ve helped to pass the IBCLC® exam after failing. Here’s a common thread. They think they can pass the next exam by re-doing what they did to prepare for the previous exam.

That just totally does not work.

For sure, you’ll need to study. But you need to do more than study. Chances are, you’re a stranger, too, but I’m going to skip the niceties and give you some straight talk.  

1. Look in the mirror

In this life, and certainly for this exam, you must take responsibility for what you do or don’t do. What you’ve done or not done.

Even as a business owner, I ask myself at least once a week, “What was it about my leadership that resulted in this outcome?”

More generically, I ask myself, “What was it about my preparation that led to this outcome?”  

Almost always, it’s because I didn’t have a plan, or a big enough plan, or the right plan. That’s true whether I’m a business owner, a home cook, or a traveler.

Owning our own stuff gets us a better result next time. This includes passing after failing.

2. Sign up for the next IBCLC exam

In most cases, you’re probably better off getting up, brushing yourself off, and taking the exam again soon. Don’t let failing keep you down.  

I can give you four good reasons for signing up now.

  • The exam won’t get any easier.
  • You’re unlikely to get better at recalling what you already know.
  • The IBLCE gives you a 50% discount on the exam fee. See these details.
  • You still have several months to study.

3. Consider it a problem and do problem-solving

I’ve already spouted off about how silly I think it is to call something like this a “challenge.” We don’t have a challenge-solving process.

But we have a classic problem-solving process and I encourage you to use it.   

4. Seek help from others

When I talk to people who have failed, I find that most had no plan, an incomplete plan, or the wrong plan.

After having helped dozens of candidates to pass after failing the IBCLC exam, I came up with 5 reasons that explain all exam failures. The person couldn’t or didn’t:

  1. become exposed to the right material
  2. understand the material
  3. retain the content
  4. apply the content
  5. perform

In the vast majority of cases I’ve seen, exam candidates didn’t expose themselves to the right material. And if that doesn’t happen, the other 4 factors don’t matter.

It is incomprehensible to me how anyone, especially a first-time test-taker, could possibly imagine what’s on that exam. So how can they expose themselves to the right material? Much less actually study it?

That’s why, when people call for help, here’s the first thing I ask:

“Did you take one comprehensive 95-hour course?”

(And no, having two 45-hour “comprehensive” courses and a communications course would not be the same thing.)

With a few rare exceptions, almost all tell me, “No.”

Even a wimpy 95-hour course is better than picking out your own hours as you go along. (The “hodge-podge” approach, as I like to call it.) The instructor who created the course knows more about it than you do.

If someone has failed, I try to find cost-effective resources that plug their specific knowledge holes. But some candidates have so many holes that I recommend taking my non-wimpy, kick-ass 95-hour Lactation Education Course to help them pass after failing.

5. Make necessary changes

In recent years, I’ve completed an “After Action Report” for myself each week. I figure out what went well (WWW) that week, and what needs improvement (WNI).

I encourage you to go to the honest plant with your WWW and WNI.

Do some problem-solving. Get some professional help. I offer free help for the asking. What’s the hitch? Nothing. You just have to ask. Send a short email to to take the next steps.

I also offer special resources especially for those who have failed the exam. They will help identify where you went wrong and regain the courage to try again with confidence!

I’m passionate about helping mothers to reach their breastfeeding goals. But I’m every bit as passionate about helping professionals to reach their professional goals. I’m showing you my outstretched hand. Please reach out to me.

How are you preparing to pass after failing? Have you already reached out to my office? We’re standing by to help you!

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  1. Jan Marcott

    I’m unable to open a link under Important Structures in the neck and trunk. The link in question is under Basic Anatomy and Physiology. The link is: // pharynx-and-esophagus/

    Please advise.


    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Jan, thank you for letting us know. I’m away at a 3-day workshop, but I did forward your request to our office. We test all of these links before we launch the course, and we check periodically, but as you might imagine, links can and do change without warning. Thank you for speaking up! I will be gone again tomorrow but I am confident we can straighten this out for you shortly.

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