After you’ve looked at the IBLCE’s Content Outline, the key is to identify the gap between your current situation and your goal—your learning gap. When preparing for the IBLCE exam, you want to focus on gaps in both knowledge and practice. (For practice, I draw from Kieran Walsh’s article, which I highly recommend.)
But how will you be able to recognize your learning gaps? How can know what you need to know? These seven steps can help.
1. Ask your colleagues.
Colleagues who are insightful, objective and genuinely interested in your success will be able to point out some specific areas of strengths and weaknesses. Ask them.Feedback might be role-related, such as “You are really good at interviewing clients, but you need to spiff up your physical assessment skills.”
Or, feedback might reflect your patient populations: “You seem very confident and thorough when you work with term babies, but you seem to have a little more trouble managing preterm babies.”
Getting candid feedback from colleagues can provide perspectives you don’t have. (Sometimes, this is called 360-degree review.)
2. Put observation to work.
Collegial feedback looks at a wide variety of behaviors, skills and interactions, whereas observation calls for more in-depth and real-time look at very specific interactions.
You might ask a colleague or mentor to observe you in action, or you could watch a video of yourself conducting a client interview, assisting a mother with positioning and latching her baby, or assembling parts of a breast pump.
Pick an instance where you suspect you may be struggling, and analyze what went well and what needs improvement.
3. Use formal data.
Use available data from the exam, if you’ve taken it before. What was your score? What areas were strong for you, and which were weak?
Also, consider gathering data from your patients, or clients. This may involve remarks from patients, or written assessments, such as surveys. For example, if you teach a prenatal breastfeeding class, you might ask the participants to complete a brief survey about your class, the information you provided, and your ability to answer questions.
You may be able to briefly survey patients who you provides bedside counseling, as well. Consider your setting and your options; depending on your workplace, you may need official approval before administering a custom survey. Plan this step with your supervisor.
4. Assess yourself, through journaling.
Journaling can enable you to recognize both your learning needs and how your feelings can be obstacles or facilitators of your learning. It’s a good activity for tracking your progress towards your learning goals, too. Journal entries might logically include, “Today I had trouble doing…” or “I have finally mastered…”
Journaling gives you the opportunity to identify patterns of learning needs. For example, if 40% of what you write in your learning journal pertains to choosing, assembling, teaching, and cleaning breastfeeding equipment, that’s an indicator that you need to learn more about equipment. If 40% of your journal pertains to helping mothers find nutrient-dense foods that they enjoy eating, well, that’s a very different matter.
5. Review critical incidents.
I am about as self-taught as any nurse I’ve ever met. Most of my learning came from analyzing the critical incidents I encountered in everyday practice. Critical incidents can be situations where there was an especially bad outcome, a good outcome … or even a surprising outcome!
The primary purpose of reviewing a critical incident is to discover what contributed to the outcome. For example, very early in my career, I took care of a mother whose medical history included third-degree burns on her chest and subsequent skin grafting during her adolescence. When we met, I had no idea if she would be able to successfully breastfeed.
I promised her nothing, but enthusiastically helped her and her baby. Much to my astonishment, she was able to breastfeed her baby, very successfully! I learned not to overlook basic (but modifiable) techniques that can be used under unusual circumstances, and I recognized that I needed more information on how milk production and milk ejection actually work.
The gap in my clinical practice experience led me to realize a gap in my knowledge!
6. Be sure of the exam content.
Yes, yes, I keep saying this, but it’s so true: You must know what topics the IBLCE will test you on! Read the Exam Content Outline. Tackle any topic that you don’t fully understand. What do I mean by “fully understand”?
Try this: Set a stopwatch for 3 minutes. Choose a topic from the outline, like “Nipple variations.” Start talking about the topic. You do not need to articulate your thoughts in any logical order, or with any real point. You just need to keep talking without stopping. If you cannot talk about a topic for at least 3 minutes, you have a learning gap.
7. Take practice tests.
Practice tests are great tools for helping you identify learning gaps. Good ones both challenge you with IBLCE-exam-style questions and provide analysis of what you missed and why. This rationale is important for accurately assessing your learning gaps, which are likely linked to one of three obstacles: (a) never being exposed to the material, (b) having been exposed to it, but forgotten it, or (c) being unable to apply certain knowledge to a set of specific circumstances. (This last one—the application piece—can bring you around to assessing your practice gaps, as I described earlier.)
Assessing your learning needs is the foundation for determining what you need to move ahead. If you wanted to go on a trip, you would make sure that your car’s gas tank was full and you had adequate air in your tires. If they weren’t, you would fill the tank or tires, right?
The same is true for the exam. As you set off on the journey to IBLCE exam success, take the steps necessary steps to ensure you have what you need to meet your goal. Only then can you fill your brain with what it needs to help you reach your professional destination!