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How Soon Should I Start Studying for the IBCLC Exam?

Laptop computer with calendar filled with dates and highlights.

Ah, yes. You know you need to start studying for the IBCLC exam sometime, but how soon is “sometime”?

You’re feeling fearful that if you start too soon, you’ll forget what you learned. And if you start too late, you might not be able to cram in everything you need to know. Good points. Unfortunately, though, there is no “one size fits all” answer to how soon you should start studying for the IBCLC exam.

Literally thousands of people have asked me to answer this question. I respond by posing several smaller questions, which you can now ask yourself!

Have you taken the exam before and passed?

People who have taken the exam previously have a better understanding of the types of questions that might be on the exam. Hence, they’re probably more able to streamline their studying.

People who have never taken the exam frankly haven’t a clue about what questions they will face. They could benefit substantially from a review course. My online review course has the convenience of short audiocasts (and some other stuff)!

Have you taken the exam before, and failed?

It happens. Most likely, you will feel a need to be over-prepared. Hence, you’ll want to allot more time to study. Here’s some advice: Make the most of your study time. My Cure for Failure package helps you to sort out why you failed, how you can create a plan for more effective studying, and how to perform better on the big day.

Did you, or didn’t you, take a comprehensive course?

If you took a hodge-podge approach to acquire your 95 hours, you jolly well may find that you:

  • may not have been exposed to all 7 disciplines that the exam will test you on
  • need to spend a bunch of time retrieving and reviewing all the materials you’ve collected from multiple little-bitty courses that you’ve accumulated over a relatively long period of time.

On that last one, I predict you’ll spend several hours just getting yourself organized before hunkering down to start studying for the IBCLC exam.

Do you feel confident?

Some people know their content backwards and forwards. But they feel that just by putting in their hours, they will do better.

Some do what seems to me like over-studying, over-buying, over-reading, and everything else. But that’s what makes them feel psychologically “prepared.”

Okay, if that works for you, I understand. But just plan the time to actually do that.

Are you studying, or reviewing?

This is a critical point.

After having prepared thousands of people for the exam, I make a distinction between “studying” and “reviewing.” 

Studying means you’re attempting to master the material for the first time. You will need to learn new terms, learn ways to solve problems you’ve never encountered before, and much more. Sure, you can springboard a bit from the knowledge you’ve gained in previous courses, but for the most part, this is a new frontier. When you’re learning something that is entirely unfamiliar, you’ll spend time scratching and clawing for answers. This affects how soon you should start studying for the IBCLC exam.

Reviewing is entirely different. When you’ve already learned the material, you know it’s stuck in your gray cells somewhere. You aren’t scratching and clawing; you’re merely beckoning with a crooked finger and a nodding head, politely asking the information to come forth. You don’t need to allot as much time for reviewing.

The trouble is, most people — including those who are recertifying — delude themselves by attempting a sweeping “review” when in fact, they need to roll up their sleeves to seriously “study” material they never learned the first time.

Wondering if you need to study or review? Download our free list of more than 1,000 Lactation Terms You Should Know. All of those terms are what I call “fair game” for the exam.

Are you fast or slow on the uptake?

Be honest with yourself. Are you one of those people who can read something once, and know it forever? Or must you read something multiple, multiple times, and eventually you get it?

There’s no shame in being slow on the uptake. I’ve always been slow to learn new concepts, but once I’m set, I’m set. I just know that I need to give myself plenty of time.

It’s important to budget your time. But, until you can estimate how much time that is, you will likely struggle.

Which of these questions bother you the most, and how soon do you plan to start studying for the IBCLC exam?

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