Passing the National Esthetician Exam on Your First Try



If you’re here to begin researching how to prepare for the NIC-Esthetics Exam, then you’ve come to the right place. You’ve taken a proactive approach to preparing for the exam, which tells me you’re the kind of person that also has big career plans as an esthetician.

You’re almost there.

The NIC-Esthetics Exam represents the last qualifying step you need to take before beginning your career.

The National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) is the leading national authority on the evaluation of estheticians preparing for a state license. As such, it is the sponsor of the two nationally recognized NIC esthetician examinations: The written exam and the practical (hands-on) exam.

Most states – currently 31 – require you to pass the NIC’s written/theory and/or practical esthetician exams to earn your license. For those states that do not require the NIC exams, chances are you will be taking a similar test based on the NIC exam model.

Enter Zip:

If you are moving from one state to another and want to become a licensed esthetician by reciprocity, it is likely that your new state’s board of cosmetology will consider the NIC esthetician exams to be equivalent to their own.

Always make sure to double check with your state’s board of cosmetology to see which tests are needed – laws regarding state exam requirements can change on occasion.

NIC Esthetician Examinations by State

Once you have been cleared to test by your state’s board of cosmetology, you must register for your written/theory and practical exams. Registration takes place either through third-party testing agencies contracted by the state or directly through your state’s board of cosmetology.

All states that license estheticians are listed below along with the testing agency the state contracts and the exam(s) the state requires (written, practical, both – or neither for states that have their own exams).

Registration through DL Roope Administrations:

  • Idaho – both exams are NIC
  • Maine – both exams are NIC
  • New Hampshire – both exams are NIC
  • West Virginia – both exams are NIC

Registration through Ergometrics – National Testing Network (NTN):

  • Kansas – does not use NIC exams
  • Virginia – does not use NIC exams
  • Washington – both exams are NIC

Registration through ISO Quality Testing – IQT:

  • Vermont – both exams are NIC, written is through IQT, practical is through PCS

Registration through Pearson VUE:

  • District of Columbia – does not use NIC exams
  • Indiana – does not use NIC exams
  • Massachusetts – does not use NIC exams
  • Pennsylvania – both exams are NIC
  • Wisconsin – does not use NIC exams

Registration through Professional Credentialing Services (PCS):

  • Arizona – both exams are NIC
  • Delaware – both exams are NIC
  • Mississippi – both exams are NIC
  • Missouri – both exams are NIC
  • North Carolina – both exams are NIC
  • South Carolina – both exams are NIC, practical is through PCS, written is through PSI
  • Vermont – both exams are NIC, practical is through PCS, written is through IQT

Registration through Prometric:

  • Hawaii – does not use the NIC exam

Registration through PSI Services:

  • Alabama – both exams are NIC
  • Arkansas – both exams are NIC
  • Colorado – does not use NIC exams
  • Georgia – both exams are NIC
  • Illinois – both exams are NIC
  • Iowa – uses the NIC written exam (only the written exam is required)
  • Maryland – does not use NIC exams
  • Michigan – does not use NIC exams
  • Minnesota – does not use NIC exams
  • Nebraska – uses the NIC written exam (only the written exam is required)
  • New Jersey – does not use NIC exams
  • North Dakota – uses the NIC written exam, board administers a separate practical exam
  • Oklahoma – uses the NIC written exam, board administers a separate practical exam
  • South Carolina – both exams are NIC, written is through PSI, practical is through PCS
  • Tennessee – does not use NIC exams
  • Texas – does not use NIC exams
  • Utah – both exams are NIC

Registration and exam proctoring through your state’s board of cosmetology:

  • Alaska – uses the NIC written exam, board-developed practical exam
  • California – both exams are NIC
  • Kentucky – does not use NIC exams
  • Louisiana – uses the NIC written exam, and administers a difference practical exam
  • Montana – both exams are NIC
  • Nevada – both exams are NIC
  • New Mexico – both exams are NIC
  • New York – does not use NIC exams
  • Ohio – does not use NIC exams
  • Oregon – does not use NIC exams
  • Rhode Island – both exams are NIC
  • South Dakota – both exams are NIC
  • Wyoming – both exams are NIC

Tips That will Help Ensure Success on the NIC-Esthetics Exam

It is a good idea to arrive at your testing location with the appropriate forms of identification at least 30 minutes early. Electronic devices, including cellphones, are not allowed in the examination area.

The NIC offers both written and practical esthetics examinations in a number of different languages: English, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese. However, it is up to your state to decide which languages they will allow the exam to be taken in.

Passing the practical exam involves a significant amount of preparation as well as good performance on the day of your test.

When you arrive at your testing site you must bring your own esthetician kit to this exam. You can find kit content suggestions in the NIC’s practical exam candidate information bulletin (CIB) – which can be found in the resource section at the bottom of this page. Above all else, check the kit requirements that are detailed for your specific state in the CIB you receive once you register to take the practical exam.

You will either be required to bring a mannequin head or a live model to your practical exam, and this is also detailed in your state’s specific CIB (some states may also require you to bring a mannequin hand). If you must bring a live model, be sure to get familiar with your state’s requirements, which generally include:

  • The model must be at least 15 years old
  • The model cannot be a student or practitioner – currently or in the past – of any field in cosmetology
  • The model must have an official state-issued identification
  • The model must be willing to participate in all areas of the examination

Below you’ll find the basic content and format of the exams, you have ample study resources, and you can take practice tests from a variety of sources. The only thing left you have to do is practice!

You’ve heard it before, but practice really does make perfect. By the day of your test you should know your examination so well that it seems boring! Practice with your friends until you have the proctor instructions memorized.

Those who have passed the exam will tell you: it’s one thing to be able to do all the activities on your practical exam; it’s quite another thing to do them under pressure with an audience looking on. Ingrain the practical activities into your muscle memory so that on exam day you have total and complete concentration. Passing these exams opens the gateway to a deeply rewarding career in esthetics.

Let’s get started!

What to Expect from the NIC-Esthetics Written Examination

You have 90 minutes to complete this multiple-choice exam, which is taken on a computer. The topics covered on the examination are:

Scientific Concepts – 55 percent

  • Infection control procedures
  • Microbiology
  • Levels of infection control
  • Methods of infection control
  • Safety procedures and guidelines
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Cells and tissues
  • Organs and their function
  • Body systems and their function
  • Histology and physiology of the skin
  • Skin disorders and diseases
  • Composition of body hair
  • Structure and hair growth
  • Abnormal hair growth
  • Basic chemistry and its relation to cosmetic products

Skin Care and Services – 45 percent

  • Client consultation and documentation
  • Skin analysis
  • Client records
  • Treatment protocols
  • Contraindications for skin services
  • Cleansing procedures
  • Steaming procedures
  • Exfoliation procedures
  • Extraction procedures
  • Massage movements and effects
  • Masks – clay, mud, gel, rubberized, and cream
  • Hair removal methods and procedures – waxing and tweezing
  • Makeup application as it relates to face shapes, features, color theory, and applications
  • Use of electrical equipment for skin services, including microcurrents, microdermabrasion, facial vaporizer, LED therapy, and a high frequency machine
  • Services related to body treatments
  • Service related to eyelash extensions

What to Expect from the NIC-Esthetics Practical Examination

As you prepare to start the examination, remember these key rules:

  • Always follow infection control procedures and keep your workplace safe – not doing so can result in failure of the exam
  • When a manufacturer’s label is required on a product it must be written in English – it’s okay to have more than one language on a manufacturer’s label as long as English is one of them; where hand labeled objects are appropriate the label must only be in English
  • Hand sanitizers are an example of a product where the manufacturer’s label is required, and this must indicate the hand sanitizer is an EPA-registered disinfectant with bacterial, fungicidal, and virucidal properties
  • Make sure to bring separate containers labeled, “to be disinfected,” “soiled items,” and “trash”
  • During the exam you cannot use or simulate products that are single-use – treating an item as single use can result in failure of the exam

The practical examination incorporates nine key esthetician activities you must perform. Depending on your state, you may be required to perform up to three additional esthetics functions. Therefore, the total amount of time you can expect to spend testing depends on your state – check your specific CIB for the details.

The nine key activities are as follows, performed in this order (later we’ll talk about the three potential extra activities and where they are interspersed in this list). Throughout the performance of each activity you are evaluated on:

  • Hand sanitizing
  • Maintaining a safe work environment
  • Having visibly clean tools and supplies that are also properly labeled in English
  • Performing appropriate infection control procedures
  • Proper disposal of soiled items

Work Area and Client Preparation; Set Up of Supplies – 15 minutes

  • Disinfect work area
  • Set up work area in a safe manner with labeled supplies and receptacles
  • Cover the client with a body drape and hair drape

Cleansing the Face with Products – 10 minutes

  • Remove cleanser from the container and cleanse lips and eyes
  • Remove cleanser from the container and cleanse the entire face
  • Remove all cleanser and residual makeup, applying toner or astringent afterward

Exfoliating the Face with Product, Using Implements or Materials, with Towel Steaming – 10 minutes

  • Properly apply exfoliating product over the face, excluding the eyes and mouth
  • Apply steam towel properly
  • Remove residual exfoliating product

Massaging the Face with a Product – 10 minutes

  • Distribute massage product over the client’s face
  • Demonstrate the massage movements of effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, and friction
  • Remove residual massage product

New Client Work Area Preparation and Setup of Supplies – 15 minutes

  • Disinfect work area completely
  • Applies new protective drape to client’s body and hair

Hair Removal of Eyebrows with Tweezing and Simulated Soft Wax – no time limit

  • You wear gloves
  • Apply antiseptic to the client’s eyebrows before and after treatment
  • Hold client’s skin taught
  • Tweeze hair in the direction of growth

Simulated Soft Wax

  • Apply antiseptic to the eyebrows before and after treatment
  • Dry eyebrow area with absorbent material
  • Test the temperature of the simulated soft wax on your wrist
  • Apply the simulated wax product along the entire length of the client’s eyebrow in the direction of hair growth
  • Smooth the wax strip over the simulated soft wax
  • Hold skin taught while removing the wax strip in the opposite direction as eyebrow hair growth
  • Apply post-epilation product to the treated area

Facial Mask and Conclusion of Facial Services – 10 minutes

  • Apply mask to cover the client’s face, excluding eyes and lips
  • Remove mask
  • Apply toner/astringent and moisturizer

Facial Makeup – 20 minutes

  • Apply a protective covering to the client’s shoulders and secure their hair off their face
  • Apply foundation to cover the face
  • Apply powder and blush to the face
  • Groom eyebrows
  • Apply eyeshadow, eyeliner, and mascara
  • Apply lip liner and lip color

Blood Exposure Procedures – no time limit

  • Remove materials from your first aid kit
  • Wear gloves
  • Clean injured area with antiseptic
  • Cover the wound with dressing that is absorbent and secured

Your state may additionally require you to perform one or more of these procedures in the order specified. Check your state’s CIB for details.

Hair Removal of the Upper Lip with Hard Wax – no time limit

(Performed after hair removal of eyebrows)

  • You wear gloves
  • Cleanse and dry the area that is about to be waxed
  • Test the temperature of the hard wax product on your wrist before applying it on the client’s upper lip area
  • Hold the skin taught and remove the hard wax
  • Apply antiseptic and post-epilation product to the client’s upper lip

Particle Microdermabrasion on the Forehead – 10 minutes

(Performed after hair removal of the upper lip with hard wax)

  • Apply a de-greaser/preparation solution and dry excess moisture
  • Apply eye protection to the client
  • You wear gloves, eye protection, and a mask that covers your mouth and nose
  • Hold client’s skin taught, demonstrating vertical and horizontal strokes with a simulated cord-attached hand piece across the entire forehead
  • Remove particles from the treated area

Eyelash Enhancement – 10 minutes

(Performed after facial makeup)

  • Brush client’s eyelashes to remove any foreign material
  • Measure and cut band to the appropriate length before you apply it to the client’s lashes
  • Apply adhesive to the band
  • Apply the band starting from the corner of the client’s eye nearest their nose
  • Apply the band so lashes follow a natural line of progression

Esthetics Examination Resources

You can find a variety of resources to help prepare for the NIC’s National Esthetics Examinations, including:

Official Sources

Unofficial Sources

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