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Using Course Objectives to Improve and Streamline Your Course Study

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Not infrequently, someone asks, “Marie, I signed up for your 95-hour course, but I know it’s a big undertaking! How can I streamline studying for a course that’s so huge?” Well, it can be daunting. I have two main answers.

First, if you’re taking my course, use the Completion Guide we provide. This fairly easy-to-use tool will help you to budget your time and stay on track.    

Second, use the course objectives. Now before you dismiss learning objectives as just a bunch of baloney, lend me your ear! Well-written objectives are just the ticket to help you streamline studying for a course. (Notice I said “well-written.”)    

Let’s say the assignment is to read an entire page or watch an entire video. That doesn’t mean you need to know every scrap of information you just consumed. Don’t make it any harder (or any easier!) than what the objective is asking for. The word used in the learning objective will tell you the depth of understanding and focus on what you’ll need to answer the end-of-chapter test items.

Knowledge level

Knowledge-level objectives are limited to remembering facts (or less frequently, remembering concepts or principles.) Here, you can rely on simple, rote memory.  

Typical knowledge-level objectives include words like recall, list, name, state.

These objectives are foundational. If you can’t state the definition of a word, (a fact) it will be difficult or impossible to move on to a higher-level objective. If you don’t know that “mastitis” is an inflammation and/or infection of the breast (fact) it’s unlikely that you’ll be able learn how to solve the problems it presents (analysis).  

Comprehensive level

Comprehension-level objectives require that you grasp the meaning of the material. If you can describe signs and symptoms and the usual course of treatment for mastitis, you have comprehension.  

Typical comprehension-level objectives start with a word like discuss, describe, report, locate. 

If you’re trying to streamline studying for a course, here’s a hint. In my courses, many or most of the end-of-chapter questions will reflect a comprehension-level objective. When you focus on the objective, you’ll be able to prove that you’ve not only remembered the basic information, but you’ve also grasped the meaning of that information.

A word of warning: Personally, I believe that an objective that starts with “discuss” should specify “in terms of …” Otherwise, I think it’s a very unclear objective.

Application Level

Application-level objectives require you to use learned material in real-life situations. In general, an application-level objective requires you to handle two separate concepts in a real-life situation.

Typical application-level objectives include relate, interpret, apply, use.  

All or nearly the items on the IBCLC exam are at the application or analysis level. Also, most of the items on my practice exams (not included in the courses I offer) are also written at the application level.

Here’s an example of an application-level objective. You might need to know how many wet diapers a baby would have one week after birth. To pick the correct answer, you’d need to know what’s normal for urine output (concept) at a particular point in time (concept). To do that, you need to relate two separate concepts.

Application-level items are easily created by having qualifiers in the stem. Test-takers often complain to me that these are “tricky” questions, but actually, they aren’t. And, I can tell you with absolute certainty that you’ll see plenty of those on the IBCLC exam! They are carefully constructed test items to see if the candidate can apply or analyze facts and concepts.


Analysis objectives are about taking existing information and asking the learner to do a breakdown of that information. It’s very frequently about solving a problem.

Typical analysis-level objectives start with words like distinguish, differentiate, compare, contrast, prioritize, solve, determine, examine.

Here are examples of analysis-level objectives.

  • Differentiate between typical signs/symptoms of mastitis versus engorgement.
  • Distinguish normal from abnormal voiding and stooling patterns in terms of color, volume, frequency, consistency, and odor for ages newborn through 2 years old.
  • Prioritize teaching objectives for parents who have limited attention spans.

I’ll say it again: All or nearly all the items on the IBCLC exam will be at the application or analysis level. (Same for my practice exams.)


Evaluation level objectives are basically about making a judgment call. Typical evaluation-level objectives include appraise, rate, revise, estimate.

To help you streamline studying for a course, let me say this: I honestly don’t recall giving any evaluation-level objectives in my courses. You’ll get some evaluation-level items on the IBCLC exam. But my guess is — not many.


This is the opposite of analysis. Here, you’re putting information together. You’re making something new out of nothing. Typical synthesis-level objectives include compose, prepare, design, formulate, create, manage.

Again, I don’t think you’ll see much of this level of learning in a lactation course, or even on the IBCLC exam. Why so? Because it’s very difficult to use multiple-choice exams for this level of learning.

If you find yourself wading in these last two “deeper” waters, you’re probably working too hard.

The key is to determine what level of difficulty you need to conquer.

In the next post, I’ll give you some practical tips to help you use the learning objective to anticipate the test item. Stay tuned!

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