California

California cosmetology state board exam: Free practice test, and everything you need to know

Do you need to take the cosmetology state board exam in California? On this page you’ll find everything you need to know about scheduling and preparing for your exam, answers to all the most common questions, and a free practice test to check you’re prepared!

Go straight to the practice test

Table of Contents:

The process of registering for (and passing!) your California state board exam

Congratulations: you’ve made it through cosmetology school and you’re SO close to your dream career in cosmetology!

The final step is to pass your cosmetology State Board exams in order to get your California cosmetology license. If you’re like a lot of people we talk to, the process of scheduling and taking your exams is daunting, confusing and worrying. Don’t worry: we’ll walk you through the process step by step. Starting with…

Step 1: Check you’re eligible to take the California State Board Exam in cosmetology

To be eligible to take the exams set by the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, you must have:

  • Graduated from a California cosmetology school OR
  • Have a cosmetology license in another state/country and cannot get your California license by endorsement or reciprocity arrangements

Additionally, you must have worked a minimum number of practical hours before you can apply to take the exams:

  • Cosmetologists need 1,600 hours (or 3,200 apprenticeship hours)
  • Barbers need 1,500 hours (or 3,200 apprenticeship hours)
  • Estheticians need 600 hours
  • Manicurists need 400 hours

Step 2: Apply for the California State Board of Cosmetology examinations

You can apply for the California State Board cosmetology exams by downloading the application forms here.

Entry to the California State Board of Cosmetology exams costs $125, and the fee is non-refundable.

Step 3: Schedule your exam

You’ll receive your admission letter within 6 weeks of applying (usually sooner). The admission letter will include the date and time of your practical examination – which will be 25 to 40 days after you receive the letter.

Approximately 2 weeks after receiving your admission letter, you’ll be sent a candidate handbook from PSI (the company contracted by the Board to provide the computer-based written examination). The handbook will include the date and time of your written examination. The written and practical examinations are normally scheduled to take place on the same day.

If you’re doing a written-only re-exam, you’ll receive the PSI handbook within 6 weeks of applying.

Step 4: Arrive at the exam center on exam day

You should arrive at the test center at least 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment time. If you arrive late, you may not be admitted and you may forfeit your registration fee.

In order to be admitted into the examination, you must have the following:

  • Your admission letter from the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology
  • The required supplies and equipment listed in the Candidate Information Bulleting (CIB)
  • Government-issued photographic identification

Acceptable photographic identification is stated to be:

  • An unexpired state-issued driver license (any state)
  • A current US military-issued identification card
  • A valid unexpired passport (any country)
  • A passport card issued by the US Government
  • Identification issued by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service
  • A permanent resident card

Step 5: Take the exam(s)

If you’re taking both the practical and written examinations, they’ll normally be on the same day.

  • The written exam is 90 minutes for barbers, and 120 minutes for cosmetologists, estheticians and manicurists.
  • The practical exam is 2 hours or less for estheticians and manicurists. For barbers and cosmetologists, the practical exam is 4 hours or less (with a 15-mimnute break halfway through).

Step 6: Get your results

Results are only issued once you’ve completed both the practical and written portions of your exams. (Most people take both portions on the same day, but if you’re taking them on different days, you’ll receive your results only when both parts are completed.)

Step 7: Get your California State Board cosmetology license!

If you pass both parts, you’ll receive your photographic license onsite. If you fail one or both parts, you’ll receive a “fail” notice and will be given instructions on how to re-apply.

The most common reason for not getting your license is failing your written exam: the pass rate nationally is only 50%! However, students who use our Cosmetology Exam Preparation Package has a pass rate of 98.5%!

Frequently asked questions about the California cosmetology exams

How do I apply for the California Board of Cosmetology examinations?

You can apply for the California State Board cosmetology exams by downloading the application forms here.

You’ll receive your admission letter within 6 weeks of applying (usually sooner). The admission letter will include the date and time of your practical examination – which will be 25 to 40 days after you receive the letter.

Approximately 2 weeks after receiving your admission letter, you’ll be sent a candidate handbook from PSI (the company contracted by the Board to provide the computer-based written examination). The handbook will include the date and time of your written examination (which is normally for the same day as the practical examination).

If you’re doing a written-only re-exam, you’ll receive the PSI handbook within 6 weeks of applying.

I can’t make the date/time of my examination. What should I do?

Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to reschedule your practical examination date for any reason. If you don’t show up (or are late), you’ll lose your examination fee and will need to apply for re-examination.

You can reschedule your written examination without losing your fee, but your cancellation must be received at least 2 days before the scheduled written examination date. Reschedule at https://candidate.psiexams.com or by calling PSI on 877-392-6422.

Which examination program does the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology use?

California uses the examinations provided by the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC).

How much does it cost to take the California State Board of Cosmetology exams?

Entry to the California State Board of Cosmetology exams costs $125, and the fee is non-refundable.

Where do the examinations take place?

If you’re taking both the practical and written examinations on the same day, you’ll go to one of their exam sites in Northern California (Fairfield) or Southern California (Glendale). You can select which one you’d prefer on your application form.

If you’re taking the written examination separately (either as a re-examination or because you want to reschedule your written exam), you can choose from one of the many PSI locations in California.

How many hours of practical work do I need to qualify for the California State Board examinations?

Cosmetologists in California need 1,600 hours (or 3,200 apprenticeship hours); barbers need 1,500 hours (or 3,200 apprenticeship hours); estheticians need 600 hours; and manicurists need 400 hours.

Can I take the State Board examinations before I’ve completed the required hours?

No, you’ll need to complete the required hours first.

How long is the cosmetology written examination?

The California State Board written exam is 90 minutes for barbers, and 120 minutes for cosmetologists, estheticians and manicurists.

What’s the format of the written examination?

The written examination is a computer-based, multiple-choice examination. There are 100 questions in total for cosmetologists, estheticians and manicurists, and 120 minutes to complete them. Barbers have 50 questions and 90 minutes.

Note: these examinations may contain 10 additional questions, which are placed randomly throughout the examination. These questions are being assessed for inclusion on future versions of the exam, and they won’t count towards or against your score.

The specific questions will vary from day to day: no set of questions will be identical to previous days.

For more information about the topics you’ll be examined on, read the relevant Candidate State Bulletin.

If you want to familiarize yourself with the testing format, try out our practice tests [here].

How long is the cosmetology practical examination?

The esthetician and manicurist examinations take 2 hours or less. The barber and cosmetologist examinations take 4 hours or less (plus a 15-minute break halfway through).

What’s the format of the practical examination?

You’ll be given tasks to test you on a number of different services. For more information about the tasks, the instructions you’ll be given during the exam, and the implements/supplies required for the exam, read the relevant Candidate State Bulletin.

What scores do I need to pass both portions of the cosmetology exam?

There’s no universal passing score: each state chooses its own pass rate. In California, cosmetologists, estheticians, manicurists and barbers all need to score at least 75% to pass both the written and practical exams.

What’s the pass rate for the California State Board of Cosmetology exams?

California doesn’t have an average pass rate for the state as a whole, but you can view pass rates from individual schools here.

The national average pass rate for the cosmetology written exam is about 50%. The national average pass rate for the cosmetology practical exam is about 80%. (National pass rates for barbers, estheticians and manicurists are unavailable.)

Check if you’re on track to pass your exam by taking our free cosmetology practice test.

How many times can I re-take the State Board cosmetology examinations if I fail?

In California, you can retake the written and practical portions of your examinations as many times as you need within that year. If you don’t pass both portions within one year, you’ll need to complete both the written and practical portions again.

How long does cosmetology school take in California?

In California, it can take as little as 9 months to complete the required hours of cosmetology school training – if you can attend cosmetology school full-time. For part-time students, it can take up to 2 years.

How do I transfer my cosmetology licence to California?

1: If you meet certain requirements, you will be able to transfer your cosmetology license to California (without needing to retake the written or practical exam). The requirements are:

1: Complete a “reciprocity” application form and submit the fee required by the California Board. The fees for transferring your cosmetology license to California are as follows:

  • Cosmetology: $50
  • Barbering: $50
  • Esthetician: $40
  • Manicurist: $35

2: Have proof of a current license issued by another state to practice that meets all of the following requirements:

  • It is not revoked, suspended, or otherwise restricted.
  • It is in good standing.
  • It has been active for three of the last five years, during which time you have not been subject to disciplinary action or a criminal conviction.

If you meet the requirements, you must submit the reciprocity application to the Board. Download the reciprocity application form from this page, or you can submit an application online by connecting to BreEZe. Applications submitted through BreEZe are processed up to 3 weeks faster than applications submitted through mail.

After your application has been received, the Board will confirm that you meet the qualifying criteria.

PSI (the company that provides the written examination on the Board’s behalf) will then send you a reciprocity approval packet, with a list of the various PSI locations throughout California. You must then go to your nearest PSI location, where your photo will be taken and the license issued to you. You don’t need to make an appointment to obtain the license from PSI.

How do I get my cosmetology license in California?

To get your cosmetology license in California, you will need to complete the necessary training (at an accredited school) and pass a written and practical examination. Once you’ve passed the examinations, you will be granted your license.

How do I renew my cosmetology license in California?

To renew your cosmetology license in California, you must first register as a new user on BreEZe (if you haven’t registered already). BreEZe is the licensing system used by the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

Once you have associated your license with your BreEZe account, the renewal option will be at the top of the screen (under “License Activities”). The renewal option will show up at least 60 days prior to your expiration date.

Once you submit the renewal and pay the fee, your renewal is instant (unless you owe outstanding fines, which you can pay at the same time). You’ll receive your cosmetology license within 7 business days.

The fee for renewing your cosmetology license in California is $50 ($75 if your renewal is late). The fee is the same for cosmetologists, barbers, estheticians and manicurists.

How should I study for the California cosmetology written exam?

Use our Cosmetology Exam Preparation Package to learn everything you need to pass the written exam.

  • Our package includes a study guide that’s structured to help you learn the RIGHT information rather than ALL the information, which can help you cut your preparation/revision time in half.
  • Then use our simulated exams to practice for the written exam under test conditions. This part is really important: it’s the key to helping you succeed!

Find out more about the Cosmetology Exam Preparation Package here.

California cosmetology state board exam practice test

  • Get your results!

  • You must enter this in order to see which questions you got right and wrong