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Tips for Preparing for the Exam

I often am asked, “how do I prepare for the exam?” and since the next sitting of the exam is coming up, I thought I would share some of my tried and true study techniques used for when I was preparing for my certification exam. I hope you find this information helpful!


Competency Guidelines: First and foremost, I would download the competency guidelines given by the examination body. These guidelines are everything the exam will test you on and inside you will find an examination blue print which will tell you the percentage amount of questions you will find in each category. You can download the competency guidelines for the MLPAO MLA/T exam right here! Once I had those guidelines, I would utilize it to take all my notes from school and start organizing and compiling those to build my very own study guide. For example: If there is a statement in the competencies telling me I need to know the definitions of the following; mean, mode, median, coefficient of variance, standard deviation, accuracy and precision, then I would write on a piece of paper for that section each of the definition as per what my notes said from school or even the definitions from one of my textbooks. I would do this for every category and every statement within the competency guidelines. I knew I had covered every topic and it was a great reminder of things that I may not have remembered from the beginning of the year.


Start Studying as soon as possible: This is probably the most difficult part about preparing for the exam. You don’t want to be cramming at the last minute especially if you will have other commitments like family obligations or a job. The toughest part is being diligent about carving out some time to prepare. This may mean finding time away from your family are taking some time during your break at work. When you download the competencies, you will start to realize there is a lot of material to review and if you wait to start studying you begin to feel anxious, overwhelmed and may even start doubting yourself. You don’t want this! I started studying as soon as I could and even if that meant for a half an hour each day at the beginning and then increasing the time each week up until the exam date. If you are writing in March – you should start immediately!


Flash Cards: With some of the topics, I noticed that there was an opportunity to build my own flash cards to help remember the material especially because I am a visual learner and being able to use colour and pictures on the cards would increase what I would remember. For example, remembering all the different media plates for microbiology. I would draw a picture and label the name of a plate or take a picture of that plate and put it on the front of the card and then on the back of the card I would write out all the information that I needed such as; is it selective, differential etc., how is it stored, what are the ingredients, how is it incubated and what types of bacteria would grow on it depending on what sample type was being plated? The great thing about these cards is that I could bring them anywhere and study or if I had some study buddies, we could use them to test each other. I never purchased or used other people’s flash cards and that is because, I didn’t make them, and you seem to remember things better when you prepare them yourself! I also recommend this for the different blood collections tubes and then you can even organize them in the order of draw!


Study your hardest area first: Everyone has a favourite topic and usually an area that they find a bit more difficult. For me I found Microbiology to be my favourite and I found Chemistry to be the toughest. So, what I did is start with Chemistry. I knew I needed extra time to fully understand definition, concepts, troubleshooting etc. and for some reason I found it harder to remember with Chemistry than similar things within Microbiology. If I needed extra help from a friend or one of my teachers, I had enough time to go to them for the help. By starting there first, I allowed myself to build and maintain my confidence throughout my studying. This is very important!


Take breaks: Everyone needs to take a break! Breaks help maintain top study performance and can increase focus, reduce stress, and help students better retain information they learn. The break should be long enough to reduce the stress but short enough that you do not lose your focus! I used to break by watching one of my favourite shows – Survivor and then I would get back to it. Yeah, that’s right – I love Survivor.


Keep your routine: Another simple yet hard thing to do! Keeping your regular diet, exercise, caffeine/sugar intake and getting 7 hours of sleep can be a challenge! Let’s be real though, I didn’t always keep to my day to day when I started studying hard but what I did do was find the right time for me to study where I retained the most information and then developed a consistent routine. For me it was later in the evening/night – I am not a morning person! You will know what works best for you when you realize that you are not over tired or have little focus the next day when doing your other commitments. What I found was that if I didn’t get enough sleep before an exam, I would be irritable and every single noise made (i.e. from people shuffling papers, to someone sniffing or coughing) would drive me bananas and I couldn’t concentrate. That is the key – I couldn’t concentrate or stay focused on what I was reading because of all the outside factors. Once I learned that getting a good night sleep was the key, I was able to focus and block out any exterior noise/distractions and always did much better on my exam.


Stay positive: This seems simple doesn’t it? Well, I know I can sometimes be hard on myself. For instance, if I didn’t spend as much time on my safety studying or that if I had only studying for an extra hour every night I would have/could have done better. We all feel this stress when it comes to an exam, it’s an exam and you may have other outcomes depending on it like a job. You must remember the positives! You went to school, you made a study guide from the competencies, you have been studying for weeks if not months and you got this! Saying to yourself “I am going to fail” is you trying to protect yourself. But I can guarantee that if you are unsuccessful, you will still be upset no matter how many times you told yourself ‘I’m going to fail’! How about instead, you say to yourself “I am going to pass, I have studied hard, this is everything I have been working towards”! Staying positive decreases your stress and helps your overall health!


Of course, this isn’t everything and we would love for you to share with us your best studying tips below in the comments!


Happy Studying! You got this!

Tania Toffner, MLT, BSc

Manager, Professional Services

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