Tips for Studying for the IBCLC Exam


I wrote down all my studying methods and resources just after I took the LC exam… but I had no idea whether it was good study advice or not at the time. Finding out that I passed was a moment I’ll never forgetĀ (frantically scrolling through the list on my phone in a CVS the night before a friend’s wedding, and then saying with awe “I. Am. An IBCLC.”)

So if you’re preparing for the IBCLC exam, here is what I used (note – some editions may be a little out of date – update as needed):

Breastfeeding and Human Lactation (4th ed), by Jan Riordan and Karen Wambach and the 4th edition study guide/CD-ROMĀ (There is also an updated 5th edition out, although it’s less clear whether it includes a study guide.)

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 challenge with the book is that, I think because there are different contributors to different chapters, it occasionally contradicts itself. 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, and 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) (Note that I am linking to the previous edition; the newer edition is out of print and INSANELY expensive right now. The newest edition should be out later in 2018, so you may want to get an older one for now, borrow the new one instead from someone, and/or just wait on the newer one.)

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.

Again, this book has some contradictions – understandable in a field that still has a relatively small research base. 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 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). Good preparation either way!

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 had increased, I felt like it was important to get practice with that.

Flashcards: I used the old-fashioned index card method, but there are also flashcard apps (like AnkiDroid for Android phones). You can make your own deck (also share decks and download other people’s); 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 – now there are some large Facebook groups that would probably serve the same purpose!
– 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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