Before any esthetician can administer any type of skin care treatment, they first need to get their license from their state board. This means going through several hundred training hours – but more importantly, passing the written exam and practical exam administered by their state board. And despite estheticians not really administering medical treatment, the difficulty of the practical examination and written examination can often catch students unaware.
But how hard is the esthetician exam itself? While the specifics of your esthetics state board exam may be different depending on your state, all esthetics students should be able to pass by simply studying the curriculum. Combined with the various esthetician practice exams you can access online, getting your certification may be easier than you’d think.
What Is In The Esthetician State Board Exam?
The esthetics exam that an esthetician student will have to take is usually the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) exam. Most states use this specific test before they can make you a licensed esthetician.
And even the states that do not use this specific test use some variation of it as a basis for their own exams. Even if you move to another state to practice esthetic treatments, passing the NIC exam (or your state’s equivalent) will generally be accepted by other states as a valid substitute for their own requirements.
Keep in mind that the esthetician state board exam is a requirement to become a licensed esthetician, even if you’ve never attended cosmetology school. States that allow work experience to count towards getting your license will still require that you go through the esthetics exam, and transferring your license to other states will also involve one or more versions of this type of test.
How Many Questions Are There in the Esthetician State Board Exam?
The esthetician state board exam has two parts. The first is a written examination, which usually covers the science behind skincare and specific services. The second is a practical exam, which covers the most common treatments an esthetician will administer to their clients.
For the written examination, there will be a total of 120 questions that esthetics students need to answer before completion. The practical test will test less of your written knowledge and more of the practical applications of your training, though your examiners may still ask you some questions if they think it’s appropriate.
How Long Is The Esthetician State Board Exam?
The written examination will have a time limit of 90 to 120 minutes to complete. After which, examinees will need to hand in their papers and proceed to the practical examination of the state board exam.
The practical examination is usually divided into several sections, each with its own time limits. On average, you’ll be expected to take around 15 to 20 minutes per section to finish all of the procedures, though there are some which have no time limit.
What Are The Questions On The Esthetician Exam?
The exact list of questions slightly varies from year to year, but most cosmetology schools/beauty academies give you the necessary subjects to study. Client preparation, hair treatment, skin rejuvenation, work area prep, and maintenance are all included in the written and practical portions of the exams.
Here is a brief overview of what you can expect from each section, based on previous NIC exams:
1. Written Examination
The written examination of the NIC is a 120-multiple-choice exam that covers a wide array of topics about skin science and skin treatments. Typically, the questions fall under two categories:
a. Scientific concepts (55%)
This section tests the theoretical foundation esthetics students have learned about skincare and skin care treatments, which include questions like:
- Basic knowledge about the human anatomy, physiology, and how cells and tissue work
- Histology of the skin, including the structure of skin layers and hair follicles
- Infection control protocols, especially concerning areas like microbiology, safety procedures, and infection control levels
- The chemistry of cosmetic products and the proper ways to handle them in a practice setting
- Knowledge of body hair composition, from growth, abnormalities, and other ways to identify and treat hair-related conditions and concerns
b. Skincare treatments and related services (45%)
These questions all concern the day-to-day protocols that should be followed when administering esthetic treatments to your clients, from documentation to consultation:
- How to handle client records and documentation
- The proper analysis and diagnosis of cosmetic concerns of clients
- Specific treatment protocols regarding exfoliation, steaming, massages, and other similar services
- Hair treatments like waxing, tweezing, eyelash extensions, and hair removal
- How to properly apply makeup, taking into account the different facial anatomies of each patient including color theory
This written examination will test you on the foundations behind your treatments, how you interact with your patients, and the groundwork of working as an esthetician on a day-to-day basis. For many esthetics students, this part of the exam is somewhat easier to manage.
2. Practical Examination
On the other hand, the practical exam of the NIC is a focused overview of the key treatments that estheticians should be able to perform. Students will be tested on nine specific activities – though depending on the state board there may be more – and how well you conduct these treatments.
Here are the 9 activities that students will have to accomplish:
- Setting up your work area
- Client preparation: cleansing the face with products
- Facial exfoliation and steaming
- Facial massages
- Setting up new work areas on the same client
- Hair removal with tweezing and wax treatment
- Soft wax treatment
- Application of facial mask and post-facial aftercare
- Makeup application
- Safety protocols for blood exposure
This practical examination requires plenty of preparation and may involve either a mannequin or a live model that you can bring to the exam. Examinees will be expected to bring their own esthetician kits, which will be inspected once you get inside the testing area.
How to Pass The Practical Exam for Estheticians
There’s no one guaranteed way to pass the practical examination, though many test-takers and licensed estheticians will usually recommend staying calm since your treatments will be overseen by a panel of examiners. Aside from that, the training that you’ve received in your esthetician course, apprenticeship, or cosmetology school should be enough to get you by.
However, here are some things to keep in mind when going through the practical exam:
- Always maintain a safe working environment. Above all else, your examiners will monitor how organized and sanitized you can keep your work area, especially with disposing of used cosmetic products.
- Proper labeling and organization of your tools and products. Labels are particularly important for a safe working environment – make sure that everything you bring to your practice environment has been appropriately marked and/or labeled.
- The quality of your esthetician’s kit. Aside from the “to be disinfected,” “soiled items,” and “trash” containers, your esthetician kit should include EPA-certified products like sanitizer.
Again, keep in mind that the exact details of your practical exam will depend on the requirements of your state – but you should expect some combination of all the aesthetic treatments that you’ve learned during your training.
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Passing the esthetician exam is the best proof that you’ve mastered the essentials of skin care. With a combination of training, studying, and hands-on experience, any esthetician student will find that passing their examination can be easier than they’d think – as long as they prepare well.
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