It happens. Not everyone passes the IBCLC® exam the first time. At least a few times each season, my team and I are asked: “I failed the IBCLC exam. Can you help me to pass it next time?”
In almost every case, the person asking doesn’t know why they failed this time, or how they can ensure they succeed next time. With a few rare exceptions, these are people who have not taken my Online Lactation Exam Review or comprehensive Lactation Education Course, so I try to do a do a little history-taking.
Hence, to help them figure out how succeed in earning their IBCLC® certification after they have failed the IBCLC exam, I rely on a core set of questions.
1. How did you complete the 95 hours of lactation specific education?
Most IBCLC exam-takers choose one of two approaches to meeting the requirement for 95 hours of lactation specific education. They either take a 95-hour comprehensive course, or they use a “hodge-podge” approach.
“Hodge podgers” pick up 5 credits here, 2 credits there, and so forth until they reach the 90-credit mark. They’re eligible to take the IBCLC exam, but seldom are they prepared for it.
It’s human nature to be drawn to the information that seems interesting rather than that which is necessary but possibly less exciting. But attending a “hodge podge” of smaller lectures or events puts one at risk for failing the IBCLC exam.
Sure, you can acquire the 95 lactation specific hours. But it rarely — if ever — does that give you the full range of information you will face on the IBCLC exam.
The candidate’s best strategy is be at least exposed to exam-relevant information in a comprehensive course. (Whether or not they retain that information is another story.)
2. Did you take a review course?
I have taught thousands of aspiring IBCLCs in my review courses over the years. While not everyone needs a review course to pass the exam, attendees often tell me that the course helps them structure their study time, or how to review the pertinent material.
However, a “review course” only works if you are reviewing the material — not if you’re seeing it for the first time! A review course is not a magic bullet, and it’s not a replacement for a comprehensive course.
It’s also helpful if you cannot find the time and the discipline to review topics — especially those that aren’t typically encountered in routine clinical care.
3. What active learning/reviewing strategies did you use?
Although often attributed to Confucius, it was probably Xunzi who first said,
“I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.”
Perhaps a better translation would be:
“Seeing leads to better retention than hearing alone, but true learning and retention is most likely to occur when it is put into action.”
Therefore, I encourage IBCLC exam candidates to use active learning strategies throughout their journey to the exam.
Of course, working in the clinical area is an ideal way to experience active learning!
It’s critical to master the terminology for decoding in-depth questions.
Certainly, practice exams are a popular and effective active learning strategy. We’ve noticed that people who have successfully completed our practice exams almost always pass the IBCLC exam on their first try.
The exact strategy you use probably doesn’t matter, but I urge you to find and use multiple active learning strategies.
4. Do you know the topics you’ll face on the IBCLC exam?
It sounds silly to register to take an exam without knowing what it will be about, right? Some people do, and that can be a reason they failed the IBCLC exam.
I once asked a caller what sorts of topics she would expect to find on the exam. To my utter astonishment, she began talking about the IBLCE Pathways. I explained that the Pathways are the means to qualify for the exam, but do not reflect the exam content.
She felt bewildered. Just months away from her exam date, she had never looked at the IBCLC’s Detailed Content Outline.
Many people think the exam will cover positioning and latch with maybe a few problems like yeast or tongue-tie thrown in. Some assume that it will mostly address strategies for communicating with and counseling the breastfeeding mother.
The exam does address those topics, but exam is actually much broader. It includes such issues as pharmacokinetics, public health policies and issues, childhood development timeframes, and more.
A good chunk of the exam is also photo-based, so being familiar with how to handle photo questions is key.
5. What do you do day-to-day?
Although it may feel like it, no one spends all their time studying for the exam. I always ask people, “What do you do in real life?” Their response helps gauge their ability to answer questions that they’re likely to face on the IBCLC exam. Or it might help to pinpoint some learning gaps related to why someone has failed the IBCLC exam.
For example, some candidates may acquire most of their clinical hours doing telephone counseling for mothers with older infants. They have handled issues such as tandem nursing, biting, and nursing strikes.
They may be completely prepared for questions on those topics, but completely unable to answer questions about a wide range of other important topics, such as newborn jaundice, characteristics of premature babies’ oral reflexes, and more.
6. How are you on recall, and on knowledge application?
Let’s say you’ve learned a lot of facts, concepts, or principles about lactation management. You can easily recall the temperature needed to achieve Holder pasteurization, which type of T cell is most affected with HIV, and how the size of the molecule affects a drug.
But you can’t stop there. A majority of exam tests how well candidates apply the facts in clinical care.
Think of IBCLC exam questions as having three parts:
- the timeline (the baby is so-many hours/days/weeks/months/years old, or the mother is so-many weeks pregnant or postpartum)
- the situation
- what would you do in that situation
Again, a practice exam comes in handy here. The results reveal a lot about the questions you missed, such as whether you didn’t know foundational information, or whether you knew the information, but could not apply it.
Many — or most — of the questions on the IBCLC exam are situational in nature.
7. How much test-taking savvy do you have?
Most of us do not possess a natural ability to take tests. If you find yourself overthinking a question or reading too much into it, take heart. You’re not alone.
When I sit for the exam, I sometimes second-guess myself. A photo of a healthy baby captures my attention as I keep looking for what’s wrong. Or I “know” the right answer immediately but think that my instant response signals that I’ve missed something less obvious.
If you’ve failed the IBCLC exam, you’ll want to think these through before you take your next step. We have some great resources to help you! Start on your journey to success today!
How will you prepare in order to succeed the next time? Tell me in the comments below