Cosmetology State Board Exam: How to Prepare
After beauty and wellness school, just one thing stands in your way of becoming a practicing beauty pro: your state board licensing exams. This guide answers all of your questions about licensing in the beauty industry, provides proven study strategies when preparing for your state board exams, and addresses all of your beauty school testing and cosmetology state board exam questions.
Milady | July 21, 2023 | 20 min read
Almost every state requires a practical exam as well as a written theory exam upon completion of your beauty and wellness program to launch your career as a licensed professional. Whether you’re in school and about to take your cosmetology state board exam for the first time, are transferring state licenses and need to test in your new state, or are getting a second license, this guide will answer all of your questions about licensing in the beauty industry.
Table of Contents
- State Board Practical Exam
- State Board Theory Exam
- State Board Exam Study Strategies
State Board Practical Exam
What is the State Board Practical Exam?
A test proctor will administer the test and has specific communication regulations with the test takers. Talking is not allowed. If you ask a question, your test proctor is not allowed to coach you. Your practical test will require you to bring your own supplies, appropriately labeled. Some states require you to bring a model and others allow the use of a mannequin head. These rules are quite strict and are in place to ensure all test applicants are treated equally and there is no room for dishonesty.
The practical exam will have several parts. If you are testing for esthetics, you may be tested on facial cleansing, microdermabrasion, chemical exfoliant application, body treatments and makeup application. As a hair stylist, you could be tested on blow drying, finger styling, hair coloring, roller placement and more. A nail technician can expect to be tested on manicures and nail application. The proctor will provide verbal instructions for taking your exam and you must follow the instructions carefully, beginning when instructed and stopping your service when the time limit is up, whether you are completed with your service or not. During your exam, the proctor will be watching to ensure you have performed your treatment according to accepted standards of care, followed infection control protocols and kept your treatment area safe and clean.
Plan on the test taking an entire day. Each section is timed but if you finish a section early, you will not move ahead to the next section independently. Your entire testing group will move from section to section together.
Where Do I Take The Practical Exam?
Each state has a process that has been set up to facilitate the ease of licensing. Some states authorize the school to perform the state practical exam and report the results to the licensing agency. Other states hold practical exams on specific dates at large testing locations. Check with your state licensing agency and school to find out where your practical exam will take place.
What Do I Need To Take The Practical Exam?
You will need a test kit for your practical exam. Your test kit should include bags for items that need disinfecting, bags for items that should be put in the trash and bags for soiled linen, as well as the items for performing each treatment. The supplies must be labeled. Some states require manufacturer’s labeling only and others allow personally labeled containers. Remember hand sanitizer and disinfectant and a hair cover for your client or mannequin. Bring enough linens. Your practical may include testing in several skills, such as makeup application, waxing, hair curling or waving, or tapering with the use of clippers so pay close attention to ensure you have every supply you will need. Your kit needs to be well organized and you should be familiar with the location of all of your supplies.
As for what not to bring the day of your practical exam, keep your cell phone and personal items at home or safely hidden in your car. You will not be able to take your cell phone or other personal items into the testing area and only some testing centers provide lockers to store your belongings. Our pro tip: bring your essentials and leave the rest locked in your car.
How Should I Study For The Practical Exam?
All students preparing for a state board practical exam will usually have practice practical exams in the classroom. These will be timed by your instructor and will give you a taste of the real deal. You can also contact your state board or licensing agency to see if they have a list of the procedures covered during the practical exam. Take this list and create your own test kit to practice on your own. Still need help?
Do I Have To Retake My Practical Exam When I Move?
Some states may require a second practical exam that pertains to the rules and regulations of the new state. You will have to research which agency is responsible for administering the practical exam in your new state and find out if you need to retake the practical exam.
The state board practical exam is just one part of your licensing exams; you will also have to take a theory or written exam to become fully licensed. As long as you take the time to practice your techniques, research your state’s guidelines, and prep your exam kit, you should be prepared to pass your practical exam and be one step closure to licensure.
State Board Theory Exam
What is the State Board Theory Exam?
The Theory exam is a written (digital or in a booklet-testing format) that students must take in order to get licensed and begin working as a beauty and wellness professional. Most states require completion and passing of at least one written exam. This exam confirms your knowledge on the basic science and acknowledged best practices of your field of study. For example, skin and hair anatomy and histology has scientific concepts that are universally true no matter what state you live in.
Thirty-eight states are contracted with the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology or NIC. NIC provides standardized valid exams, both theory (written) and practical in thirteen different skills, including cosmetology, nails, barbering, and esthetics. Tests are in English, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
NIC tests typically allow 90 minutes for completion. Breathe deep and thoroughly consider every answer. The questions are not set up to be “trick” questions. If you study thoroughly, there’s no need to stress.
Where Do I Take The Theory Exam?
The responsible state agency will have specific information about the testing process. In an effort to decrease costs, some states have outsourced the state exam to a third party. For example, in Washington state, you can take your theory (written) exam at a Department of Motor Vehicle Office, while in Oregon you must take your test at the Board of Cosmetology. Some testing centers require an appointment and others are walk-in, where you can pay and take the test at any time. Verify the process with your state’s testing agency and if you need help, always ask your beauty school for guidance.
What Do I Need To Take The Theory Exam?
Before the day of your state board theory exam, you need to know what supplies and information you should have ready for testing. Here are some common supplies needed and things you should think through:
- State-issued Photo ID: You can expect to have to provide photo ID at your test when you arrive.
- Acceptable Form Of Payment: Before you sit for your theory exam, contact your state licensing agency to find out what form of payments are accepted. Most agencies will take a debit or credit card, and some do not accept personal checks.
- School Information: Your application for testing may require you to list your school’s information so have that on hand the day of your test. This might include your school’s name, address, phone number, etc.
- School Transcripts: Prior to testing there is typically a coordination between the school and the state agency to authenticate your education via official transcripts. If you must provide a sealed copy of your transcripts, make sure you don’t break the seal on the envelope! If the seal is broken, your transcripts become invalid.
- Testing Tools: If the test is the old-fashioned fill in the circle, you will need a #2 pencil. Bring at least two pencils, an eraser, and a pencil sharpener if this is the case.
As for what not to bring the day of your theory exam, keep your cell phone and personal items at home or safely hidden in your car. You will not be able to take your cell phone or other personal items into the testing area and only some testing centers provide lockers to store your belongings. Our pro tip: bring your essentials and leave the rest locked in your car.
How Should I Study For The Theory Exam?
All students preparing for a state board theory exam should take practice tests to conquer test anxiety and get comfortable with the testing process. The best part? With a practice test, you can take as many exams as you need to feel at ease for the real thing.
Do I Have To Retake My Theory Exam When I Move?
Some states may require a second written exam that pertains to the rules and regulations of the new state. The second exam may deal with your knowledge of the length of time your license is valid or the number of continuing education hours required to renew your license.
The governing body that controls the state exam process may be slightly different in each state. Some states have a board of cosmetology that regulates the state exam process. Other state exams are performed under the rules of the board of health or with the board of education. You will have to research which agency is responsible for administering the theory exam in your new state. Your school will certainly be a resource for you for this first step after graduation from your program.
The cosmetology state board theory or written exam is just one part of your licensing exams; you will also have to take a to take a practical exam to become fully licensed. As long as you take the time to study, research your state’s guidelines, and follow our state board test prep tips, you should be prepared to pass your theory exam and be one step closure to licensure.
Cosmetology State Board Exam Study Strategies
Schedule Study Time
Set aside the time in your schedule to prep for your tests. Form a study group with fellow graduates to review or block out time in your week to read through old class notes and take the chapter exams in your Milady Standard textbooks. Also, try to take the test as soon after graduating as possible. Taking the test as soon as you can after completing your program will keep the material fresh in your mind will give you a greater chance of passing than if you delay. Procrastinating out of test anxiety will not increase your odds of passing so make a plan and stick to it.
Take Practice Tests
Use Milady’s Online Licensing Preparation to prepare for your theory/written exam and for cosmetologists. This state board practice test tool comes in two formats: print and digital. Based off the Milady Standard books you used in school and formatting that resembles state exams, it keeps track of incorrect answers and shows reasoning for correct answers, helping you learn as you go.
Get enough rest the night before. Some essential oils and a calm night routine and limiting caffeine may help you feel well rested in the morning. Make sure you eat something healthy before your test too. You don’t want a blood sugar crash in the middle of testing!
Double Check Your Supplies
Make sure you have your ID and the correct supplies needed for both the theory and practical exams.
Choose Your Outfit
This might seem silly, but having the proper clothing for your test might dictate whether or not you pass. Wear comfortable clothing with closed toe shoes. Leave the high heels at home; you need to be on solid footing, especially during your practical exam.
Be on Time
If you are a person who runs late, this is not the date to take chances with traffic. Do a practice drive to the testing center, if necessary, to ensure you know the way and you are comfortable with the drive.
Listen to All Instructions
The testing environment is designed to keep distractions to a minimum but make sure you listen closely to any instructions. Just one mistake could cost you.
Read the Test Through First
For the theory or written exam, focus on each individual question. Take deep breaths and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Pace yourself. If you don’t know the answer, you can return to the question later.
By preparing yourself both mentally and physically for one of the most important days in your career, you set yourself up for success and help eliminate stress. Take your time, study hard, and good luck!
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