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Preparing for IBCLC Exam: 6 Ways to Avoid Losing Points

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After helping thousands of people prepare for the IBCLC® exam, I’ve seen a lot of common mistakes and issues that test-takers seem to share. There are patterns of what trips up candidates. Here’s my advice to test-takers to avoid losing points.

Read the stem carefully

The exam item’s stem is what most people call the “question.” It may be worded in the form of a question, or as an incomplete statement. Read exactly what it says: no more, no less.

People often complain that the IBCLC exam is “tricky.” I cannot say that I love all of the exam questions! But I would not characterize the questions as “tricky.” Why so?

An exam item writer — the IBLCE committee or me, or anyone else — must be specific. If you ask, “Are you going to the game on Sunday afternoon?” I must know exactly what game you are referring to, and which Sunday you mean, to give an accurate response. That’s not a “tricky” question, it’s just a precise question.

Read the options carefully

I recall a question from a woman who was using my practice exams. She didn’t understand why an answer was incorrect. She read the word misfeasance as malfeasance. I replied to her question, pointing out that one option was, indeed, an example of the IBCLC’s misfeasance. She followed up with another question about the “wrongness” of this same thing.

Even after my explanation, her eye was still reading the wrong word. I cannot tell you how important it is watch these look-alike, sound-alike words!

Note the baby’s age

In the courses I teach, I’ve seen literally thousands of people trip on this.

The normal number of stools for a 3-week old is very different for an older baby. On the IBCLC exam, the age of the baby is often critical for determining the correct answer. Make sure your response is age-appropriate.

Stick to the WHO principles and directives

I’ve heard about someone who got all tangled up in an IBCLC exam question that pertained to a new mother who seemed sad and tearful. She didn’t like any of the options and sent a note to me saying that some famous psychologist who specialized in postpartum depression said that none of the options were correct.

She is overthinking this. The stem asked how to elicit more information from the mother. Three of the options were closed-ended questions; one was an open-ended question. For years, the communication principle put forth by the World Health Organization is simple: To elicit more information from the mother, ask an open-ended question.

Assume the “classic” case

If you find yourself saying, “It depends on if …”, HALT!

If it truly depended on that, the stem would have specified that.

Here’s a great example. Some astute dietitian often points out to me, “But there’s more than one type of galactosemia!” Okay, I know that. But on an exam, you should assume that the question is about a classic case of a condition, unless otherwise specified.

Don’t get stuck on a statement that is true.

Sometimes, an option is a true statement. That doesn’t mean it answers the question asked on the IBCLC exam.

Here’s an exaggerated but accurate illustration. I ask you, “What time is it?” and you tell me, “It’s 77 degrees outside today.” Okay, that’s a true statement! But it doesn’t answer the question.

I saw this with someone who got all messed up in a question about PKU. It was obvious that the exam-taker didn’t recognize how human milk compares to cow’s milk-based formula, which was the basic thrust of the question. She insisted that some babies can be breastfed. But that option wasn’t listed. Even if it had been, it wouldn’t have answered the question being asked.

Do not be fooled into thinking that you need only knowledge to be a successful test-taker. You also need to be a savvy in reading and responding to each exam item and using good test taking strategies.

How are your preparations going for the IBCLC exam? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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