Taking the IBCLC Exam? Ten Test-Taking Tips

ibclc exam test taking Sep 18, 2023

Congratulations to those of you who are getting ready to take the IBCLC exam this year.  As an IBCLC who has taken the exam four times (!) in my 30+ years of practice, I know the amount of studying and worrying that can take place in the months and weeks before the exam.   Not to mention the clinical experience that sometimes takes years to complete.   So my “hats-off,” to you as your test day is just around the corner. You’ve got this!

Based on my personal experience with the exam, I would like to offer you some basic test taking tips. Please keep in mind that everyone has a unique way of handling test-taking, and that these are just some tips based on general test-taking research and on my personal experience.  I hope they help you -

1.  Take a “dry-run.”  If you are taking the IBCLC exam at a testing center, take a drive to the center on a day and time that matches the day and time of your exam.   Testing on a Tuesday at 10 am?   Drive to the center the week before on Tuesday and plan to arrive at 9:30. Determine typical traffic.  Figure out parking.  Walk into the building and see exactly where the center is located.   Doing this ahead of time will familiarize you with the area and will decrease your anxiety on the day of the exam.   Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early in case there are any issues like traffic or weather delays.  Also, be sure to know if a mask will be required. If you’re taking the exam at home, practice setting up, and make sure you have thoroughly reviewed the IBLCE Live Remote Proctoring (LRP) Information (https://iblce.org/live-remote-proctoring/ ).  IBLCE provides a complete checklist for the day before and the day of the exam.

2.  Do not try to cram at the last minute.   Quit your studying two days before the exam.  Let’s face it, you’re probably not going to learn something new now, and even if you do – it’s likely to be more confusing than helpful.   You’ve probably heard it said that the first answer you choose is most likely correct?   That’s because it’s the first time you’ve brought it up from your memory.   If you study the night before or the morning of – you’re bringing that memory up prematurely, and it might not come back to you as quickly at actual exam time.   If you’re trying to keep your brain sharp, do a crossword puzzle or read a book – but stay away from exam related material.

3.  Do something relaxing the day before the exam.  Whether you like to walk, or read, do yoga or listen to music – do it on the day before the exam.   These activities will help to relieve stress.   It’s a well-known fact that when stress is high, performance suffers.

4.  Night before: Lay out everything you need for the exam.  Phone, keys, IDs, clothes, snacks etc.  Plan to get a good night’s sleep.   That may be easier said than done, but at least go to bed at a reasonable time – shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, the REM stage of sleep is when your brain processes new information that you learned and commits it to memory. This is vital to doing well on exams.  And don’t forget to set your alarm.

5.  Morning of:  Eat a decent breakfast.   I know, seems like everyone is intermittent fasting these days. But today?  Eat your breakfast.   The Food and Nutrition Action Center notes that missing breakfast can cause visual problems and slow memory function, while eating a full breakfast leads to fewer errors.   Consider a healthy breakfast w/ some “brain foods,” (blueberries, eggs, almonds, oranges for example).  Coffee or no coffee?   That depends.  If you’re a routine daily am coffee drinker – don’t vary from that.   But overdoing the caffeine is not helpful.   Drink your morning coffee or tea, then switch to water.  Staying hydrated has been show to improve exam grades!

6.  Dress in Layers.  If you’re going to a test center, you never know if it’s going to be hot or cold there.  On one of my test days the weather was unusually warm.   I thought I was dressed appropriately in light clothing and with a sweatshirt in case the test center was cool, but unfortunately I forgot to consider my feet, and I wore sandals that day.   My feet were FREEZING from air conditioning and it was uncomfortable and distracting.   So just be sure you are wearing appropriate clothing from head to toe!

7.  Rest Room: When you get to the test center, scope out the restroom and use it before you start.  Enough said.

8.  Once the test begins:  Take a deep breath and slowly let it out, shake out your shoulders and jump in.   Read the question, and before you look at the answer choices, anticipate what you think the answer will be.   Then look at your choices and see if your answer is there.  It is?  That’s probably the correct answer.  Now let’s say the first question has you stumped – you’re going to be thinking, “Uh-oh…”  I suggest you move right on.   Skip any question you are struggling with.   Answer the easy questions first.   This allows your brain to have some “wins,” and it will help to calm your nerves.   You are allowed to go back to questions you didn’t answer.   By the time you get back to those questions, you will be less stressed and the answer may just pop out for you.

9.  When you don’t know the answer.  Again, take a deep breath.   Keep in mind that there are some strategies that will help you to make a choice. First, try to eliminate at least 2 of the 4 choices.   Typically you can eliminate answers that contain words like “always, never,” or “must.”  Now you’re down to two answers. Next, re-read the question slowly and really try to determine what exactly they are asking you. Carefully look for qualifying words such as “except,” or “what would you do first.”  Once you’ve determined what is being asked, think about how you would answer the question yourself if there were no choices.  Then look at the two answers again – which one is closest to what you think?  At this point, you’re just going to have to choose.   Be sure to answer every question.

10.  Take as much time as you need.  Some folks are fast test-takers.   Others need more time.  When you’re at a test center there may be people who finish and get up and leave and you’re only half way through!  On the other hand, you might be the one finishing before everyone else. Either way, you might be thinking, “Uh-oh!”  Do not let this worry you.  The time it takes to complete the exam has nothing to do with your knowledge.   It might be based on reading speed, exam taking experience, or exam-anxiety.  You do you. Don’t worry about the other people in the room.  

So that’s it - the exam is over, and now you should give yourself a BIG pat on the back.   You’ve done all you can to prepare, you’ve taken the test, and now you wait for the results.   Think about all you’ve learned, and how you’ve already been able to help breastfeeding families.  I think I can speak for those of us who’ve been in the field for few years (or decades) – we are HAPPY to welcome new IBCLCs into the field – they keep us sharp, and help us to know that breastfeeding support and care will continue to be available for years to come.     We look forward to hearing your positive results.

                                                                Best wishes to you all!



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