Tips on studying for the IBCLC exam

I wrote down all my studying methods and resources just after I took the LC exam, but was superstitiously unwilling to post anything until I knew I passed. (Plus, who knew if it was good study advice or not??)

It's now a long time since I found out that I had passed, but I'm trying to work through my backlog of half-finished posts and realized that this one has just been sitting forgotten for months! I did my best to finish it up with what I still remember about my studying. So if you're preparing for the IBCLC exam, here are my study suggestions:

Breastfeeding and Human Lactation (4th ed), by Jan Riordan and Karen Wambach
and the 4th edition study guide/CD-ROM

This book is excellent. I like the arrangement and division of the chapters, the clear writing, the in-text research citations (so you can see what the most recent support literature is) and the overall comprehensiveness. The accompanying practice tests are also good. The CD-ROM has one for each chapter, so you can study a chapter and quiz yourself, or take the tests beforehand and find out where your weaknesses are.

My main complaint about the book is that, I think because there are different contributors to different chapters, it sometimes contradicts itself. The tests sometimes contradict each other as well. That makes it hard to figure out what the "right" answer is, especially in situations where there probably isn't one "right" answer, but people are still trying to set a general guideline or recommendation and aren't setting the same one.

In general though, almost everyone seems to use Riordan to study. I wish we'd had this for our LC class textbook, and the current year's class is using it. If I had it to do over, I'd have started studying this chapter-by-chapter a lot earlier so I could have really drilled in each subject.

Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice, edited by Rebecca Mannel, Patricia J. Martens, and Marsha Walker, published by the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA).

This book is set up in an "outline" format that makes it easy to quickly move through information and get the clean, simple facts. I found that if I read the Riordan + this book for each topic that I focused on, I felt like I was on solid ground: two different takes on the same information by leaders of the field. I will definitely use this book in my practice as a guide and reference.

My main complaint with this book is, again, contradictions! Understandable in a field that still has a relatively small research base, but it is frustrating to have chapters contradict each other. It's also a little harder to study from as the blueprint for the IBCLC exam doesn't match up with the chapters - they have an outline for which chapters go with which parts of the blueprint, but it will be a little bit each from chapters 5, 6, 8, 14, 20, and 21, and you have to find them. So it's good if you're looking to find a specific set of information (for example, cranial nerves) but to get an overview of all of anatomy & physiology you're doing a lot of skipping around.

Comprehensive Lactation Consult Exam Review, by Linda Smith

I borrowed this book and the paper tests were already all marked up, so I just used the two full-length tests on the CD-ROM. Many people told me that the tests were helpful in that they were harder than the real test; in practice, I found that they were about AS hard as the real test (or at least they felt that way). I no longer remember what my main complaints, if any, were about this book, although I'm sure I had at least a couple!

Other practice:

Health e-Learning practice tests: A lot of people seem to sign up for these online, with the added benefit that you also get access to their forums to discuss the topics and the answers. I liked that they had photos; since the photo-based part of the exam has increased, I felt like it was important to get practice with that.

Flashcards: I used the old-fashioned index card method, but I just got an Android-based smartphone and came across a flashcard app called "AnkiDroid" that I think would have been helpful. You can make your own deck (also share decks and download other people's), and it will automatically bring hard cards up more frequently, and push ones that you've mastered to be less and less frequent. (Also, it's harder to drop all over the floor and spend a long time picking up and putting back in order.)

General sharing and support:

- The IBCLC2B Yahoo group was worth joining for asking questions and sharing study advice
- Studying in a group with other people planning to take the exam was good for keeping us all on track. For a while we had one person assigned to make a study guide for each part of the exam blueprint, then that kind of fell apart. After that, we would generally assign a chapter or topic, then quiz each other on it. We also took practice exams together and discussed the options.
- The main piece of advice that I got from experienced exam takers was that an answer involving advanced technology is rarely the right one, because this is an international exam meant for people in societies with various levels of technology. If one of the answers to a question is "Get the mother a double electric pump", it's probably not the right answer. I was also advised not to overthink the questions... don't get caught up into thinking "Well, but it doesn't say how many weeks gestation this baby was born at, and if it was X then I would answer Y..." Just use the information you're given to pick the best answer.

If you're planning to take the exam, good luck! I found it challenging but not so hard as to be terrifying. Start studying early and you'll feel much better when exam day arrives!

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