June 30, 2021

What to Expect From Your Cosmetology State Board Exam

Are you a cosmetology student or graduate studying for the cosmetology state board practical exam in California? Sitting for your state board licensing exams is the last step to becoming a licensed cosmetologist. You’ve put in the work and now it’s almost time to start your career as a cosmetologist!

Here at Salon Success Academy, it is our goal to help prepare our students for their futures in the beauty industry. We’ll help you prepare to sit for your state board exams by teaching you the technical skills you need to pass and by helping you review. If you’re ready to start your cosmetology journey, call us at 1(877)987-4247!

What to Expect From Your Cosmetology State Board Exams

Each state has different requirements for both its written and practical exams. Before hitting the books, you’ll want to know what your state requirements are to help you better prepare. In California, you will take The National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) for both your written and practical exams.

NIC-Cosmetology State Written Exam

The NIC-Cosmetology State written exam is a 90 minute multiple choice exam that is separated into the following categories:

  • Scientific Concepts (30%)
  • Hair Care and Services (40%)
  • Skincare Services (15%)
  • Nail Care Services (15%)

Like most exams, the best thing you can do to prepare is study. Be sure to use any study guides or resources given to you by the school. You can also find studying material online, like these NIC-Cosmetology state board exams flashcards.

NIC-Cosmetology Practical Exam

The NIC-Cosmetology Practical Exam is where you’ll be able to show all the practical skills* you learned throughout beauty school. While it is normal to feel nervous, remember that this is what you’ve been working toward and you should feel proud of how much you’ve learned! The practical exam is separated into these categories:

  • Set-up and Client Protection
  • Thermal Curling
  • Haircutting
  • Chemical Waving
  • Hair Lightening Application and Color Retouch
  • Relaxer Application and Relaxer Retouch
  • Additional Services (Per State)

Each state has different requirements on what topics need to be passed off during the practical exam portion. Before your practical exam we suggest checking out the NIC website for your state’s specific requirements. This way you’ll have a better understanding of what to prepare for.

At Salon Success Academy, we are here to help you pass your exam and become a licensed cosmetologist! Our instructors are prepared to give you a step-by-step walkthrough of the practical portion of the cosmetology state board examination. Our goal is to help you feel confident and prepared for this exam because we want you to succeed!

Cosmetology State Board Review

Watch our video to see what you can expect from the state boards in California!

Instruction varies from teacher to teacher, as well as from test examiner to test examiner. We understand that every person teaches the practical examination portion of the state board just a little differently. If at any time you are uncertain of what you should do, we recommend that you follow the guidance of your cosmetology instructor because the state board examiner will instruct you to do the same.

Cosmetology state Board Timecodes

If you’re looking for specific topics of learning, here’s a helpful list of timecodes so you can skip through the video to get to your desired topic!

  • Introduction: 00:04
  • Work area and client preparation, and set up of supplies: 03:23
  • Thermal curling: 09:51
  • Haircutting: 16:53
  • Work area, new client preparation, and set up of supplies: 37:18
  • Chemical waving: 47:19
  • Demonstrate saturation and test curl: 58:35
  • Break: 01:02:39
  • Chemical waving (continued): 01:02:50
  • Predisposition test and strand test with simulated product: 01:06:47
  • Highlighting with foil, virgin application with colored simulated product: 01:10:54
  • Hair color retouch with colored simulated product: 01:17:46
  • Virgin hair relaxer application with colored simulated product: 01:22:36
  • Cleanup: 01:25:21
  • Blood exposure procedure: 01:29:51
  • Basic facial: 01:33:01
  • Facial breakdown / nail setup: 01:49:36
  • Sculptured nail: 01:53:20
  • Conclusion: 02:05:53

Candidate Information Bulletin (CIB)

Please reference the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology Practical Examination Candidate Information Bulletin for full official instructions. Visit www.nictesting.org and www.barbercosmo.ca.gov for the most current bulletin before testing.

Here is the PDF version of the bulletin.

Start Your Beauty Journey Today!

Are you looking to start a career as a cosmetologist? Salon Success Academy offers hands-on training in cosmetology, as well as flexible class schedules, extensive State Board preparation, and financial aid options.*If you would like to learn more about the cosmetology program at Salon Success Academy, fill out the form below or call 1(877)987-HAIR now!

If you’re interested in learning even more about cosmetology, check out a few of our other helpful resources!

Useful Cosmetology Blogs

When preparing to sit for your upcoming exams, it is important to use your resources. Check out these useful blogs for you as you prepare for your exam and your new career!


*Financial aid is available to those who qualify
*All services are performed under a licensed professional

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