National Cosmetology Written Examination

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The National Cosmetology Written Examination (NC) was created by the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC). The NIC was established in 1956 when the National Council of Boards of Beauty Culture and the Interstate Council of Boards of Cosmetology decided to merge their organizations into a single coherent national board which could better modernize license law administration and enforcement in the field of cosmetology.[1] In 1969, the NIC began its national testing program.[2] The NC exam was converted to a computer-based test in 1999, and in 2000, the exam received a major revision.[2]

Since 2000, the use of NIC exams has spread from 32 states to 38 states.[3][2]

The most recent revision of the NC examination blueprint was completed in the summer of 2011.[4]

Function of the Test

Cosmetology Study Guide

The NC exam is taken by aspiring cosmetologists who wish to obtain a state license to practice in the field of cosmetology. Although the NC exam is administered by 38 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam for cosmetology licensing purposes, not every state board uses the NC exam. For example, New York has an entirely different exam, the 150-minute-long Appearance Enhancement Written Examination, as well as more stringent licensure requirements than most other states.[5][6] In addition to New York, other major states which do not use the NC examination include Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Michigan.[2]

Regardless of whether a state uses the NC exam from NIC, typical requirements for licensure include a written test, a practical test in which candidates' cosmetic skills are assessed, and a certain number of work, education, and/or apprenticeship hours. Specific requirements vary widely from state to state, however.

Test Administration

Cosmetology Flashcards

The NC exam is typically offered at PSI testing centers.[4][7] However, every individual state board appears to be in charge of its own exam administration policies,[8] so candidates must refer to their own state board's informational materials for information about exam registration, exam fees, testing sites, testing dates, retest policies, and disability accommodations.[8]

There are approximately 100 to 110 items on the NC exam, and the time limit to complete the full exam is 90 minutes.[4]


The NC exam comprises 100 scored multiple-choice questions. There may also be a few additional unscored experimental questions which are being assessed for inclusion on future versions of the exam.[9]. The content on the examination is distributed as follows:

Distribution of questions on the NC exam[4]
Content area # of
Scientific Concepts 30
Hair Care and Services 40
Skin Care and Services 15
Nail Care and Services 15
Total 100

There is no universal passing score. Different states appear to set different standards for performance on the NC exam. For example, California and Arizona require a scaled score of 75,[9][10] whereas Arkansas requires a score of 70.[11]

Detailed information regarding how scores on the NC exam are calculated and scaled does not appear to be available. However, typically, the scores of standardized examinations are scaled to reflect the difficulty of each specific version of the examination. Many versions of any given examination are in active use at any given time, and because every individual question has a unique level of difficulty, no two versions of the test will have precisely equivalent levels of difficulty. Scaling scores ensures that candidates who take a slightly easier version of the exam do not have an unfair advantage over candidates who take a slightly harder version of the exam.

Due to the decentralized administration of the NC exam and the inconsistent pass score from state to state, NIC does not appear to publish any records regarding pass rates or typical performance on the exam.

More free Cosmetology practice test questions.


  1. ^ NIC - NIC Bulletin, Volume 61, No. 3 March 27 2015
  2. ^ a b c d NIC - NIC Testing: Providing a National Standard March 27 2015
  3. ^ NIC Bulletin - NIC national tests currently used in 32 states and Guam March 27 2015
  4. ^ a b c d NIC - National Cosmetology Written Examination Candidate Information Bulletin March 27 2015
  5. ^ Chron - What Is the Difference Between the NYS Cosmetology License & the NIC License? March 27 2015
  6. ^ New York State Appearance Enhancement Written Examination Procedures March 27 2015
  7. ^ Alabama Board of Cosmetology and Barbering - Cosmetology Written Examination Information March 27 2015
  8. ^ a b NIC - Contact Us March 27 2015
  9. ^ a b California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology Candidate Information Bulletin March 27 2015
  10. ^ Arizona Board of Cosmetology Cosmetology Candidate Handbook March 27 2015
  11. ^ Arkansas Department of Health Cosmetology Section - Candidate Information Bulletin March 27 2015