The State Board Practical Exam

Read Time: 5 Minutes
Expertise Area: All Career Fields
Career Stage: Student

Almost every state requires some type of practical exam upon completion of your beauty and wellness program. The state board practical exam is one of two exams needed to become certified in your state and launch your career as a licensed professional. Whether you’re in school and about to take your practical 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 state board practical exam questions.

What is the State Board Practical Exam?

The Format

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.

The Time

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.

Here are suggestions for your kit, no matter what your cosmetology specialty:

  • A dry storage container
  • Container of water
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant
  • First aid kit
  • Container labeled “Soiled Linen”
  • Container labeled “Trash”
  • Container labeled “To Be Disinfected”
  • Towels
  • Sponges
  • 4x4 gauze
  • Tissues, cotton rounds, cotton tipped applicators
  • Disposable non-sterile gloves

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? Check out our other exam study tips here.

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.

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