If you ask Michelle, a master hairstylist at a large nationwide salon chain in Kansas City, she will tell you that the day she took her cosmetology license practical exam was “the most nerve-wracking day of my life.” If you ask her how she felt after she got word that she passed, she will say, “It was this huge sigh of relief. I was so excited. It was like, ‘I did it!’” There is so much thought and preparation that goes into the cosmetology written exam and practical exam after you’ve earned all your training hours at cosmetology school. So how can you prepare for your cosmetology license exam so when you go in to take your written and practical you are confident, poised and ready to pass the exam with flying colors?
1. Get Organized
Though exam formats may vary from state to state, you will find similar concepts on all of them. The first thing to do is to find out your testing date, get it on the calendar, plan ahead and start studying. Make sure you know all of the supplies you will need, the time and location of the exam, and if you need a translator or non-English language cosmetology exam, make arrangements in advance. You need to provide your own models, so get that locked down. Get printed proof of your cosmetology training hours. The same Michelle we mentioned above said that when you’re packing your list of supplies to double everything. If you drop something in your exam, you can’t pick it up off the floor and keep using it, so come prepared with a backup of as many of your supplies as possible. And don’t leave anything off the list – if you’re unprepared for any portion of the exam, you’re automatically docked. Write a checklist well in advance so you can check it multiple times before going in for your exam.
2. Start Studying & Practicing
Just because these are hands-on skills doesn’t mean you shouldn’t crack open your textbook and practice like crazy. You need to know this material backwards and forwards from top to bottom. Some states offer cosmetology license exam study guides, others do not. Talk to your board of cosmetology to ask. Be prepared to answer any surprise questions, and make sure you absolutely know every angle of the services you need to do on that practical. Remember all your safety and sanitation training. No doubt you will be stopped in the middle of an exam and asked to handle an imaginary blood spill cleanup situation. Another thing to consider is the exam prep program at Salon Prep. It’s an excellent, thorough tool that you can use to review all the material you learned in cosmetology school, but also has practice exams you can take to drill yourself on the materials. Really an excellent resource to have in your kit!
3. Mentally Prepare Yourself
Get familiar with the structure of the exam. Written examinations typically last 1 to 2 hours. Practical examinations can last from 4 to 8 hours depending on your state for full cosmetology, and typically 2 to 4 hours for shorter exams like esthetics, nail technology and electrology exams. Typically there are short breaks, but make sure you are quick with your snack or potty breaks, because if you’re late returning to the exam room, you may not be allowed back in. Keep in mind that the practical exam is not one-on-one – you’re in a room full of people. So get a laser-like focus, just like you would in a salon. Get to the testing facility a little early so you have some time to review in your head, get familiar with the space, and most importantly chill. Which brings us to our next point…
A little bit of pressure can make people perform better, but too much stress before your exam and you could shut down. Since you started studying and practicing well in advance of your exam, there should be no need to “cram” the night before. Eat good balanced meals, stay well-hydrated and try to get a good night’s sleep the night before. (I know it will be tough to sleep when the next day is the first day of the rest of your life, but do your best!) Do something fun and relaxing to clear your mind if you can. If you do have to cram (tsk tsk), then don’t stay up too late. Studies show that you’re better off going to bed at a decent hour and waking up early to squeeze in some final review time, than you would be if you stayed up late to try and cram it all in.
You have worked so hard throughout cosmetology school to reach this point. You’ve done the work, put in the hours, studied hard – you have every reason to be confident. You know this. So psych yourself up and get excited about getting your cosmetology license and reaching that major life goal.
Here are a few pieces of advice from cosmetologists, barbers and other folks who have passed the test:
- “Take the practice exam over and over again. Grade yourself and retake only the questions you missed. Repeat this process until you miss none of them. The practice tests in the book are lifted directly for the exams. Everyone should get 100% on the written exam. The info is there for you. It just requires a bit of commitment, like everything else in life.” – Ivan Zoot from Chicago, IL @ZootHair
- “Just be calm and relax, and remember all your steps. Have 100% faith in yourself!” Aaron S. in Winston Salem, NC @ImMyOwnDamnFan
- “As a barber, learn your shears and master them. A lot of fine tuning comes from those and the razor.” Drew C. in Tampa, FL @darcc1313
- “The straight razor on a balloon is key. Don’t let hair color stay in too long.” Jason J. in Mableton, GA @Jaydice_Roll
- “Be confident.” – Nakia E. in Los Angeles, CA
- “Take advantage of your instructors’ knowledge. No question is a dumb question. Over study and attend as many hair shows as possible with that lovely student discount.” – Carey W. at Cali Spa in Fort Wayne, IN
- “Don’t freak out. You already know how to do everything, you just have to show it. As for the written, if you paid attention at all in school you will pass it with flying colors!” Austin Cut & Color
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