The cosmetology exam offered by the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) is a licensing exam used in thirty-eight states to grant licenses to cosmetologists. There are two forms of the cosmetology exam, a written exam and a practical, or hands-on, exam. Some states use the written examination, some states use the practical examination, and some use both. While the execution of each exam is different, the content is roughly the same. The practical exam tests your cosmetology knowledge by having you put it to use in a simulated workplace experience, whereas the written examination contains questions you must answer about all aspects of cosmetology.
The purpose of the cosmetology exam that is offered through NIC is to set a national standard for cosmetology practice. This ensures that customers going to a NIC licensed cosmetologist can expect a certain standard of quality and employers hiring a NIC licensed cosmetologist know they are hiring an employee who can deliver this standard of quality.
The written and practical cosmetology examinations are jointly owned by every state that is on the board of NIC. The content of the exam is developed by industry experts from across the country. Furthermore, the exam’s content is updated every three to five years in order to ensure that the exams remain up do date on ever-evolving industry standards and technology. Another perk of the NIC cosmetology exam is that most states participate in a reciprocity agreement. This means that if a cosmetologist earns his or her license after passing the NIC cosmetology licensing exam in one state, another state that also uses the NIC licensing exam will likely accept his or her cosmetology license without any further testing. This makes it easier for cosmetologists to find work where they want to live without having to go through extra administrative hassles.
The NIC written cosmetology licensing exam contains multiple choice questions and takes an hour and a half to complete. The written exam is available in several languages, including English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The written examination is usually offered as a computer-based test. This allows you to have more options for when and where you would like to take the examination. There are over six hundred testing sites in the United States where you can take the NIC computer-based cosmetology licensing exam. Computer-based testing allows you to receive your scores right away, as soon as you complete the exam. The exam format is designed to be intuitive, and also contains instructions on how to use the software that you can go over before you take the exam. The software also features a calculator.
The NIC practical cosmetology licensing exam includes common content such as hair shaping, hair coloring and lightening, chemical weaves, chemical relaxing, and thermal shaping. In some states you will be permitted to use a live model, and in other states, you will be permitted to use a mannequin head. The practical exam may also include elective content selected by each state. The elective content may include manicures and other nail services, blow-drying, using rollers to curl hair, facials, and pincurls. Check with your state to confirm what, if any, elective content you can expect to find on your cosmetology exam. However, gaining familiarity with all of the elective content can still benefit you in the workplace.
Both the written and practical examinations cost $15. If you take a computer-based exam, you will receive your scores right away, but if you take a paper-based written exam or the practical exam, you have several other options to receive your scores. The fasted way may be to download your scores from the internet. You can also have your scores emailed to you, faxed to you, or sent to you in the mail. Scores are available by five o’clock in the afternoon the day your answer sheets are received if you take the paper-based written examination.
What to Expect When You Arrive at the Test Site for the Cosmetology Exam
When you arrive at your testing site to take the paper-based written cosmetology licensing exam, you will need to have a piece of current photo identification in order to enter the test room. You will be required to sign in and show your identification when you enter the room. There will be one test administrator in the room, and at least one test proctor. If more than twenty-five people are taking the exam, there will be an additional test proctor. The exam administrator and the proctors will all be wearing name tags if you need to address them.
Once everyone is seated, the door to the exam room will be closed and the proctor will read instructions for taking the exam and go over the regulations and exam policies. Many items are not allowed in the exam room. A list of forbidden items will be read by the proctor. These items include purses or other bags, cell phones, other electronic devices, and any study materials or handwritten notes. There may be a table provided in the room where you can store these items if you have any of them in your possession at the time of the exam; however, it may be easier for you to plan ahead of time and leave any of these items at home or stored safely in your vehicle.
The proctor will also explain to you that talking or communicating via other means with other test takers is not allowed. The penalties for being caught conversing with others are high; you may not be allowed to take the exam and you may be reported to the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology.
The proctor will also explain the regulations for leaving the exam room if you need to use the bathroom during the exam. The proctor will tell you the location of the bathrooms and inform you of the proper check-in and check-out procedures. However, you are better off if you plan ahead and do not leave the exam to use the bathroom. The written cosmetology exam is only an hour and a half long, so you do not want to waste exam time in the bathroom. Since the exam is not excruciatingly long, you should use the bathroom in advance to avoid wasting test time.
When the test booklets and answer sheets are distributed, you will receive a different version of the test than the other test takers sitting near you in an effort to prevent cheating. You will need number two pencils to fill in your answer sheet. Pencils will be provided by the test center if you did not bring your own. When you fill in your answer sheet, be sure to stay on the correct question number. If you skip a question to return to later, mark the question number that you need to return to in your test booklet or on your scratch paper. Do not put stray marks on your answer sheet. Questions that appear to have more than one answer marked will not receive credit. There is no penalty for guessing on the exam, so you should attempt to answer every question, even if you are unsure of some of your answers.
If your state requires that you pass a state law exam as part of your written cosmetology exam, the state law exam will be administered first. You will receive your test booklet and answer sheet for the state law exam. Once this part of the exam is finished, your exam materials and any used scratch paper will be collected before any exam materials for the content portion of the exam are distributed.
During the exam, you cannot ask the proctor questions that relate directly to the exam. In order to ensure that all examinees across the country have an equitable testing experience, the proctor will not be allowed to answer these questions.
Security of the Cosmetology Exam
Security of the cosmetology exam is of utmost importance. You may perceive the security measures taken for the paper-based written cosmetology licensing exam to be strict, but they are implemented in order to ensure exam security. If any confidential material from the exam is utilized or shared in an improper manner, that portion of the exam must be recreated. Recreating the exam is an expensive and time-consuming process, since the exam content must be designed by industry experts and consistently kept up to date to follow recent trends and technological changes in the cosmetology field. Furthermore, maintaining exam confidentiality and security ensures that all licensed cosmetologists are properly prepared to practice in the field, and that no one who is not qualified is able to pass the exam, obtain a license, and practice cosmetology in a manner that may not be safe or appropriate for clients.
An exam administrator is responsible for receiving the exam materials. The exam administrator must order all exam materials at least one month before the exam date to ensure that they arrive on time, so it is important to sign up for your test date at least one month in advance in order to ensure that you are able to take the exam. Once the exam materials have arrived and inventory has been taken to ensure that the accurate quantities have been sent, the materials must be kept in a locked location. This can be a locker, locked box, locked closet, or even a locked room. Exam administrators, test takers, and anyone else is forbidden from copying any of the examination materials. The materials are intended to be used once during the examination and then returned.
When you receive your test booklet, the booklet will be sealed. Only the examinee can break the seal. If the seal of your booklet appears to have been tampered with when your receive your test booklet, notify the exam administrator immediately. If the seal of your exam booklet is intact, you will be instructed to read an examination agreement and then break the seal.
Everyone taking the exam will be seated according to a randomized seating chart. This is to mitigate any potential of examinees who are acquainted with one another from attempting to cheat on the exam. If the exam room has tables that are six feet long, only two people will be allowed to sit at each table. If the exam room has tables that are eight feet long, only three people will be allowed to sit at each table. This is to ensure that everyone has ample space and that it is difficult to see another person’s answer sheet or scratch paper.
When you enter the exam room, your identification will be checked at the door. Each exam room must have only one door that is used to enter and exit the exam through so that anyone going into or coming out of the room can be monitored. The door to the exam room will be closed while the exam is in progress, but it will not be locked. There will be a table in the exam room far from where the examinees will be sitting where prohibited items can be stored. Your best bet is not to bring anything into the examination room that is not allowed, but, for example, if you happen to have a forbidden electronic device with you, you cannot keep the device at your seat during the exam and will need to place it on the prohibited items table.
An inventory of the exam booklets will be taken at the time they are passed out to you and the other examinees. Inventory will be taken a second time when all of the examination booklets have been turned in at the end of the exam. When you leave the exam room, you will be required to turn in your examination booklet.
Tips for Taking the Cosmetology Exam
Preparing for the cosmetology licensing exam requires not only studying the material you will be tested on, but also familiarizing yourself with the test experience and ensuring that your body and mind are in the optimal condition to take the exam.
Once you have chosen your test date, create a study schedule. Your study schedule does not have to be rigid and you may decide to alter your study schedule as you proceed and realize which content areas you need to work on the most. However, roughly organizing the content you need to study and deciding when you will have time to do so will ensure that you do not find yourself stuck trying to cram for the exam at the last minute. You may want to first organize your study schedule based on the percentage of the exam’s content areas covered on the exam. Roughly half of the exam is about hair care and services. About 29% of the exam questions will cover scientific concepts related to cosmetology, such as the chemistry of the cosmetology products you will be using, human anatomy, and preventing infection. Nail care and services and skin care and services make up 9% and 11% of the exam, respectively. However, if you realize as you begin to study that you are very familiar with hair care and services and less familiar with nail care and services, you may want to concentrate more study time on nail care and services even though that content makes up less of the exam.
Develop some test taking strategies to use while you take the cosmetology exam. Think ahead of time about how you will pace yourself. You will have an hour and a half to take the written exam. However, you may not need to spend the same amount of time on each question. For example, you may know the answers to some questions immediately, and others you may need to spend more time ruminating about in order to come up with the correct response. The questions on the written cosmetology exam are multiple choice. If you are unsure of which answer is correct, try to eliminate one or two of the other choices. That will increase your odds of choosing the correct answer.
Be sure to get plenty of rest the few days before you take the test and to get a good night’s sleep the night before you take the cosmetology exam. Being well rested will help you concentrate on answering the exam questions without being distracted by exhaustion. You will also be able to think more quickly and clearly if you are not tired when you take the cosmetology exam. East a good breakfast or lunch the day of the exam, too. Your meal should include a decent amount of protein so that you do not get hungry in the middle of the exam. Being hungry while you take the test could distract you and can cause you to lose time or have trouble concentrating.
Allow plenty of time to arrive at the exam facility early. You will need to check-in before you start your exam. If the exam is offered in a location where you have never been, bring directions or a GPS with you so that you do not have trouble finding the exam site. Give yourself some extra travel time in case you have difficulty locating the exam site or encounter traffic or another delay. When you arrive at the test site, note the location of the bathrooms and drinking fountain in case you need them later.
If you need to use the restroom in the middle of the exam, you will be required to sign in and sign out of the exam room. The exam room should have a clock that is visible to all test takers so that you can see how much time you have remaining on the exam.
Content of the Written Cosmetology Exam
The written cosmetology licensing exam offered by the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology contains multiple-choice questions. Each question has four possible answers, and you have an hour and a half to compete the exam. The content of the exam questions is divided into four categories. Slightly over half of the exam questions are about hair care and hair services. The other categories of exam content include scientific concepts, nail care and nail services, and skin care and skin services.
The scientific concepts covered on the cosmetology licensing exam include concepts that will help you ensure customer safety and comfort. You will need a basic understanding of human anatomy, which includes cells, tissues, and body systems such as the skeletal system, the muscular system, and the circulatory system. You will also need to understand how ergonomics can be used to enhance the comfort of your clients as they sit while you perform services.
Some chemistry principles will be included on the cosmetology licensing exam as well to ensure that you know how the chemicals and products you are using are composed and how they can affect your client’s skin, hair, and nails. You will need to understand the pH scale of acids and bases and basic chemical reactions. You will also need to understand compounds, mixtures, emulsions, solutions, and suspensions as they relate to the products you will be using on your clients.
A general understanding of how electricity functions is also inherent to your clients’ safety, as you will use electrical devices in order to perform some of your services. You will need to know how electricity is used in cosmetology for light therapy and electrotherapy, as well as the proper safety procedures for these services. You will also need to know how to measure electricity and the difference between direct current and alternating current.
Maintaining a sanitary workplace is also covered under the scientific concepts section of the cosmetology licensing exam. You will need a general understanding of microbiology and infectious agents, including parasites, bacteria, and viruses. You will need to know the principles of immunity towards these agents and how to prevent spreading infection. Preventing spreading infection includes knowledge of how to properly disinfect equipment, how to sterilize equipment, and how to adhere to federal regulations regarding sanitation.
For the questions on the cosmetology exam that pertain to nail services, you will need to understand the basic structure of nails and how nails grow. You will also need to understand basic manicure and pedicure procedures. These procedures include how to consult your clients, various types of hand and foot massages, types of manicures and pedicures (basic or specialty), and safety procedures, including how to control and prevent infections and spread of disease from client to client or yourself. You will need to understand advanced nail services as well, which include artificial nails and pre- and post-service options. You also need to familiarize yourself with the equipment and supplies used to perform nail services on your clients.
The skin care section of the cosmetology exam includes questions on the anatomy and physiology of the skin. You need to know the layers of the skin, nerves and glands in the skin, types of skin, how skin ages, potential skin conditions, and the skin’s general function with respect to the rest of the body. Skin services you will need to know include facials, makeup application, and hair removal. You will be tested on temporary hair removal procedures, which include waxing, using depilatories, and tweezing. For facials, you will need to know how to properly perform a facial massage using friction, vibration, effleurage, petrissage, and tapotement. Facial treatments you will be questioned on include facial masks, exfoliations, and extractions. Makeup application techniques you need to know include color theory, corrective theory, and how to properly consult and advise your clients. Knowledge of equipment, supplies, and sanitation is covered as well.
Hair Care and Services Content on the Cosmetology Exam
Hair care and services make up the content of just over half of the written cosmetology licensing exam. Within this content category, you will need to have a good understanding of subcategories that include cutting, shampooing, coloring, chemical treatments, and artificial hair such as weaves, wigs, and extensions.
Trichology is the study of the health of the hair and scalp. Some questions on the cosmetology exam will relate to trichology. You should have a general understanding of analyzing hair quality, including the characteristics of texture, elasticity, density, and porosity. You will need to know about hair growth and hair loss. Hair loss is also referred to as alopecia. You should know the various kinds of alopecia as well as different treatment methods. You should know what happens during the anagen, catagen, and telogen phases of hair growth. Scalp disorders may also appear on the exam. You should know how to recognize scabies, dandruff, tinea, and pediculosis capitis, as well as whether clients exhibiting these conditions are eligible for cosmetology procedures.
Principles of hair design that you will need to know for the cosmetology licensing exam include an understanding of how facial shapes can affect the appearance of various hair styles. You should understand proportion, rhythm, harmony, balance, emphasis and contrast as they relate to hair design. You should also know the different elements of hair design, such as line, color, space, form, and texture.
You will need to know how to brush, shampoo, and condition a client’s hair for the exam. You may be questioned on different types of shampoos and conditioners, how to decide which type is best for which client, and how to properly execute the procedure of shampooing and conditioning. Some questions about scalp treatments may also appear on the exam. You should know all safety procedures affiliated with these processes.
Part of understanding hair cutting procedures is to understand how to discuss styles with your clients. The cosmetology exam may ask you about how to analyze a client’s lifestyle as well as facial and head shape in order to make suggestions for flattering haircuts that your clients will be able to manage. You should understand blunt, graduated, and uniformly-layered cuts. You will also need to know the different areas of the head, crosschecking a haircut for accuracy, texturizing a haircut, elevation, and the lines and angles of a haircut that form a cohesive shape. Haircutting tools that may appear on the cosmetology exam include combs, clippers, razors, shears, trimmers, texturizing shears, thinning shears, and taper shears.
You should expect some questions on the exam to cover hair coloring. These may include various types of hair color, how to recommend the best colors for various clients, how to apply hair color, how to lighten hair, general color theory, how to discuss your recommendations with your clients, and how to correct hair colorings that have not turned out as desired.
Under the hair styling content of the exam, expect to see questions on thermal styling, which includes blow drying and using curling and straightening irons. You may also see questions about styling long hair. Wet styling questions may cover finger weaving, pin curls, and using rollers to create curls. As usual, also expect to see questions about safety with regard to styling hair.
You will need to be familiar with chemical procedures for hair styling as well. Know how chemical relaxers work and the differences between various types of chemical relaxers. Also understand how permanent waving procedures work. You should know how to perform soft curl permanent procedures and how to select the right soft curl product to meet each client’s needs.
Artificial hair additions that you will be tested on include wigs and extensions. You should understand braiding techniques and how to advise your clients about the products that would look the best on them. Safety precautions for these services will also be tested.
Safety Procedures on the Cosmetology Exam
Each exam content area tested on the cosmetology exam will also include questions relating to safety procedures and cautions that must be taken in order to ensure your health and your clients’ health. Sanitation procedures apply across content areas, and will be necessary to understand with relation to nail care, skin services, and hair care and services. These procedures will help keep you and your clients safe, and will help mitigate a client’s concerns in the working world if you should ever be faced with a blood spill or sanitation incident.
Washing your hands before you work with a client may seem like common sense, but there are particular hand washing procedures that you must adhere to and may have to know for the cosmetology exam. Each time you wash your hands, you should use an antibacterial soap and wash your hands as well as your arms up to the beginning of your shirt sleeves. You should wash your hands before you see each client and after certain activities such as using the restroom, eating, drinking, or smoking.
Both dry and wet disinfection standards may appear on the cosmetology exam. You should know that to store dry equipment that has been disinfected, you should place the disinfected equipment in a container with a lid that is impermeable to any contaminants.
There are two types of wet disinfectants that you may need to know about. You need to use a disinfectant of a stronger strength for equipment that has come into contact with a bodily fluid in case of an accident. For any equipment that has come in contact with blood or another bodily fluid (in case of an accident), you will need to use a disinfecting agent that has been registered by the EPA as able to destroy both Hepatitis B and HIV. The equipment should be completely submerged in the disinfectant in order to ensure that no infectious agents have been missed by the disinfectant. All other equipment that has not come in contact with blood or another bodily fluid may be disinfected with a disinfectant that is registered by the EPA as detrimental to fungi, bacteria, and viruses. The equipment should be completely submerged in the disinfectant to ensure that it is sanitized properly.
Occasionally in the cosmetology field an accident can occur and blood can be spilled. This may be either a client’s blood or your blood, depending on the situation. The procedures for dealing with blood spills are intricate in order to ensure everyone’s safety. If a client accidentally bleeds, you should provide him or her with a liquid antiseptic and approved bandages to cover the injury. If you were injured, you should treat yourself this way. Disinfecting and covering the wound ensures the safety of everyone because it decreases the chance of the wound becoming infected or the blood from contaminating anything else. Anything that is contaminated by blood must be placed within two contamination bags and labeled as a biohazard. If you are treating a client who has become injured and spilled blood, be sure to put on a latex glove before treating the client’s wound.
If any injury occurs during the practical cosmetology examination, you will be expected to follow these procedures. The person administering the exam will also have to fill out an incident report and log the injury. If you are taking the written cosmetology exam, you may encounter questions that relate to these safety procedures. In either case, you will need to properly sanitize your equipment multiple times a day while working as a cosmetologist, and you may unfortunately encounter an incident with blood at some point during your career. Both the written and practical cosmetology examinations are designed to promote career readiness, so the safety and sanitation procedures you will be tested on are directly related to knowledge you will need to apply during the course of your career.