As I mentioned in my last blog, because the nail school did not provide practice client services due to COVID the second semester of nail school focused on preparingfor the California state board examination. Which in my case was not entirely a bad thing. For those of you who may not be familiar with state cosmetology examinations I will provide a high‐level review of the situation in California. However, it is my understanding that the format is similar in most other states in the US.
At this time most states require licensing to legally provide manicuring services. I understand there may be some states that do not presently require formal licensing; however that status is always subject to change and I do not wish to report incorrect information here. If you are considering becoming a nail technician I recommend you contact the board of barbering and cosmetology (or equivalent agency) in your state for more information.
The first step is to complete a nail training program and/or participate in an approved apprenticeship program. The amount of required training hoursvaries by state; but is generally in the range of 150 to 500 hours. (California requires 400 hours.) The second step is to pass a licensing examination (in states that require a license). While some states have their own examination protocols, most states utilize one or both of the written examination and practical examination formats developed by the National‐Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology’s (NIC).
At the time I took the California licensing examination the written portion consisted of 100 multiple‐choice questions. The written examination is composed of two main parts: Scientific Concepts (40%) and Nail Technology Procedures (60%). The Scientific Concepts portion covers such topics as sanitation and physiology; whereas Nail Technology Procedures covers more of the how‐to procedures. Candidates are allowed 120 minutes to complete the written examination and the minimum passing score is 75%.
The practical examination was recently expanded (as of July 1, 2021) to include seven main sections:
1) Work area preparation for initial client
3) Work area preparation for second client
4) Nail tip application
5) Sculptured nail
6) Removal of sculptured nail
7) Blood exposure procedure.
Each section is timed and performed on a pre‐prepped mannequin hand before an observing proctor. The total amount of time the practical exam lasts is 110 minutes; not including the time for reading instructions.
In California, manicuring candidates are permitted to apply for an examination date after they have completed 60% of their training hours. This time may seem early, but it is not really since it takes so long to receive a scheduled examination date. In my case, although I was projected to complete my training in late December 2020, I applied for an examination date two months prior in late October. Ultimately, I received an examination date for late April 2021; four months after graduation. Fortunately the nail school allowed me to refresh my written and practical skills in class prior to my scheduled examination even though I had graduated from the school in December 2020. Any readers contemplating attending a nail school are advised to inquire regarding the school’s policy on pre‐examination refresher classes. Because cosmetology schools are often evaluated on the percentage of students who successfully pass the licensing examinations, it is in the school’s best interest to support their students.
So, back to me. Several weeks after graduating nail school I finally received my official notice of the scheduled examination date; and contacted the school to avail myself of the school’s refresher classes. I dusted off my dog‐eared Milady textbook and replenished my nail supplies, including the odorless monomer. (I don’t think anyone actually knows why candidates are required to use odorless monomer during the examination. I suspect once upon a time someone thought it was a good idea and no one has bothered to challenge the requirement. I will say, it is very frustrating to wait for the acrylic to cure when precious minutes are ticking by.)
And then I went into hyper‐drive. Each week I went to class 2 – 3 times to participate in mock practical state board exams; and the other days I stayed home to review, review and review the Milady textbook. (One can only read so many times that the blood flows from the right atrium to the right ventricle through the open tricuspid valve, etc until you’re convinced you’re having a heart attack.)
I will admit that when I resumed the mock practical exams with the other students I felt like the village idiot. I just could not keep up and kept making mistakes. And it did not help that many of the steps of the practical exam seemed to have little or no relation to what I actually did when I interned in the nail salon. (Why am I pretending to dip this plastic hand into an empty water bowl?) But eventually the pieces started to fall into place. I remembered which tools went where and stopped knocking implements to the floor. More importantly, I managed to complete the steps within the allotted time. Gradually I started to feel I would not be kicked out of the examination room for being a complete muggle.
Finally D‐Day arrived. The day I both anticipated and dreaded. During the days and weeks leading up to the examination well meaning folks would advise “It’s ok if you don’t pass both parts. You can always retake the test.” But I had no plans to retake the test if I failed. I knew I had worked as hard as I possibly could to this point and doubted anything would change during a subsequent attempt. So I had no backup plan if I did not pass. Failure was not an option.
The Southern California testing site is two counties north of where I reside; and requires driving through Los Angeles. So I drove up the night before and stayed in a nearby hotel. Leaving nothing to chance I rehearsed the practical exam in the hotel room and rechecked my supplies. I even drove by the testing site the evening before to make sure I knew how to get there. And I am glad that I did because the testing site is located in a non‐descript office building which I actually drove past the first time without realizing it.
My testing site in Glendale, CA
The morning of the test, I arrived early; but so did practically everyone else. At nail school it was drilled into us to arrive early – not five minutes early, but early early – at least 30 minutes. A candidate would be fine if she arrived on time. But, if something happens, like traffic, etc and you are late – you’re not getting in. You may as well turn around and go home.
So I checked in and submitted my paperwork and presented my identification. And I learned they take your picture for the license at registration. Why they could not take my picture AFTER I passed the tests I do not know. Somehow I managed to smile for the camera; but it was a pretty weak smile. I find it difficult to smile when butterflies are break dancing in my stomach.
After check‐in I was directed to the written examination room, even though it was not yet the scheduled time. Which was a pleasant surprise since it gave my brain something to do beside worry about the butterflies cavorting in my stomach. I actually found the written examination to be relatively easy; although I would not know for certain if I passed until the end of the day. Since every test can be different my fortunate experience may have been due to the luck of the draw. So maybe I was lucky. Although it has 100 questions, the written exam is very broad so there are not a lot of questions in each category. So even if someone is somewhat weak in one area, e.g. anatomy, if they are strong in the other categories the candidate will most likely be ok. Plus many of the questions are really common sense. My advice is to read the questions carefully and do not rush through them. The test even allows candidates to mark questions they wish to return to for a second review.
After completing the written examination I had some time to kill so I walked a few blocks to a nearby shopping mall food court. Although the butterflies were still there, I did my best to ignore them and crowd them out with fast food. I think I partially succeeded.
Soon it was time to return to the non‐descript office building. When I arrived I initially thought I was early until I turned the corner and saw 20+ candidates, test bags in hand, already lined up and standing in the hallway. I walked the length of the hallway and turned yet another corner until I finally found the end of the line. So, bag in hand, I took my place and told the butterflies to mind their own business.
If I were to attempt to describe the décor and atmosphere of the testing site office I would say it is not unlike spending the day at the DMV. But without the luxury of those colorful hard plastic chairs. Plus candidates are not allowed to bring in any items such as books, cell phones, snacks, watches or weapons. I cannot help wondering what incident occurred that made it necessary to specifically add weapons to the prohibited list.
So, like a day at the DMV, more waiting ensued. While surreptitiously observing my fellow candidates, which was made more difficult by the fact that many of them were unsurreptitiously watching me, I idly wondered how much longer the wait would be and glanced at my wristwatch. I am sure my “eek!” was audible to those around me as I realized I still had my watch on. I grabbed my bag and fast walked to the elevator and down to the parking garage. Fortunately the roundtrip did not take long and I was back in the hallway in a few minutes. Expecting on my return to stand at the end of the line, I was pleasantly surprised to see my previous spot was vacant and in fact the nearby candidates gestured to me to resume my original place. Although saving my spot was unnecessary, since we were all going to get in, I was pleased by the candidate camaraderie being displayed.
Finally an official appeared to initiate the next phase…
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Originally posted on NAILS Magazine