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Can a First-Time Test-Taker Skip a Comprehensive Review?

Woman in lavender sweater sitting with a laptop computer.

Those who are taking the IBCLC® exam for the first time often say, “Oh, I’ve got my 95 credits, I’m good here,” and assume they don’t need to review. Can they skip a comprehensive review? Sure, anyone can add or skip anything. The question is, how will it affect their ability to pass?

I can think of at least 5 reasons why skipping a review puts you at risk for failing the IBCLC exam.  

You “know” your stuff but can’t retrieve the information

In all likelihood, you’ve learned something. Maybe a lot. The information went into your brain.

But being exposed to the information, and grasping it is one thing. Retrieving that information is something entirely different. Especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve taken your lactation education courses, it’s tough to keep what you’ve learned at the forefront of your mind.

Think twice before you skip a comprehensive review.

You assume you know your stuff, but you don’t

Okay, there’s just no easy way to say this. So, I’ll be blunt.

People who acquire their 95 hours with what I call the “hodge-podge” approach don’t have a clue as to what’s on the exam. They picked out those hours.

I’ve said so many times, especially to people who have failed the exam:

It’s human nature to pick out the hours we find interesting, cheap, and convenient. Trouble is, the IBCLC exam is boring, expensive, and tough.

Is it too late to help yourself? NO! Not at all!

My Online Lactation Exam Review can help anyone, but especially those who have never taken a comprehensive lactation education course.

Then, there’s another whole layer of “not knowing”.

Recently, a woman called me and said that she had been an IBCLC for 20 years and had just failed the exam. I reminded her that 20 years ago, first-time candidates were required to earn only 45 hours, and the exam was based on a blueprint somewhat different than today’s detailed content outline for the exam. In my view, that could have been her undoing.

You haven’t taken a comprehensive exam in a while — or maybe ever

For a minute, let’s just say you know the information needed to pass a comprehensive exam. Let’s assume the information is up there in your head somewhere.

The question is — can you use that knowledge to pick the right answer, and pick the right answer within the allotted time frame?

Over the years, I’ve seen totally smart people who struggle because they haven’t taken a comprehensive exam in 5, 10, 20, or 40 years. Or maybe never! Here are the killers for them:

  • Concentrating for 4 hours. It’s very hard to stay focused for all of those hours, especially because the exam is literally a deal-breaker or a deal-maker for many candidates.
  • Budgeting exam time. You can’t monkey around with one test item for more than a minute or so. There are 175 items on the exam. You are allowed a total of 240 minutes for the exam. Do the math. That means you have only 1.37 minutes per question! If you spend too many minutes trying to figure out the answer to one question, you might not have time to finish all the questions.
  • Not understanding the “anatomy” of a test item. Personally, I think this is a central concept that helps people focus on what matters.

Remember that if you skip a comprehensive review, you could be setting yourself up for failure. And just to remind you, if you enroll in my Online Lactation Exam Review, you can get the Exam Star that include 50 practice questions that will help you to overcome some or all of those issues.

You haven’t mastered test-taking strategies

I’d love to tell you that test-taking is all about knowing the information. It isn’t.

I find that most people have a terrible time dealing with test items that have qualifiers. I honestly don’t know but off the bat, I’d guess at least half to one-third of the items on the IBCLC exam have qualifiers.

Another killer is that candidates sometimes pick an “answer” that is a true statement, but it doesn’t answer the question. I’ve addressed that issue, and other places where you might lose points on the exam.

Why do I feel so sure that people haven’t mastered test-taking strategies? Well, because I have given tests to literally thousands of people. People who are first-time test-takers, and others, too! I’ve seen people who have been IBCLCs for 10 years or 20 years, and they still stumble.

I’ve seen it when I’ve taught live, and when I’ve offered online tests, and people call, asking why their answer wasn’t correct. This happens. Really.

Research in the education field has shown that taking practice exams is a strategy that works.

You’ve never taken an exam that requires you to interpret images

Yep, decades ago, this was news to me, too!

The first time I took the IBCLC exam, I’d taken hundreds of tests in undergraduate and graduate school. But I’d never had to deal with photos.

On my last IBCLC exam, I had to interpret images on about half of the questions I faced. However, I distinctly remember that one year, I had 102 image-based questions on a 175-item test. That’s about 58% of the questions!

Before you skip a comprehensive review, consider this. People who don’t do well with the text-only test items tend to do even worse with the images. Here, I’d strongly recommend investing in The Breastfeeding Atlas. Photos in that publication won’t be on the exam, but it will behoove you to get very familiar with those photos of anomalies, infections, equipment, and more in the book. 

I’m often asked whether test-takers should look at the photo first or read the text. There is definitely strategy in what to look at first, and how to look at the photos along with the question being asked.

You don’t fully understand how a career-critical exam is different  

Hear me, loud and clear.

Career-critical, comprehensive exams are different from other exams. Hence, how you prepare for them should be very different.

Perhaps you’ve taken college courses and faced final exams. Those are designed to determine your mastery of the academic material. Those types of exams are designed to prove whether or not you grasped and recalled the information from a book or a course. It’s about recalling information.

But, on the IBCLC exam, you won’t find simple recall questions.

The main intent of the IBCLC exam is to determine whether you are safe to do your job. This is a career-critical exam to determine if you can apply your knowledge and skills.

I daresay that all comprehensive, career-critical exams have test items written at the application level. Maybe, you’ve had little or no experience with application-level test items.

So, when I’m asked if a first-time test-taker can skip a comprehensive review, my answer is yes. But the real question should be, Should a first-time test-taker skip a comprehensive review,” to which my answer is a resounding no!

Buy the Exam Star package of my Online Lactation Exam Review, tackle the 50 practice questions it contains, and go with confidence that you can overcome these issues! Or, at least buy my practice exams!

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  1. Andrea Denbow

    You definitely need to take a comprehensive review. I have taken the test twice and passed. It is a great way to start your learning process because you don’t use a lot of the information you need to know on the exam and you forget the areas you are rusty with so you can concentrate on the areas you need to be sharper with on the exam. Marie is an excellent teacher!

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Andrea, I couldn’t have said it better! “You don’t use a lot the information you need to know for the exam…” and “forget areas you are rusty with…” Having taken the exam 5 times myself, it’s hard to me to imagine how people rely on just their “entry” eligibility requirements.

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