Pennsylvania – Nail Technician

Pennsylvania Nail Technician state board exam: Free practice test, and everything you need to know

Do you need to take the nail technician exam in Pennsylvania? 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!

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Table of Contents:

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

If you’re just wrapping up beauty school, let us be the first to say congratulations! Your hard work is about to pay off, as you’re just one step away from your dream career as a nail technician!

All that you have left to do is pass your State Board exams in order to get your Pennsylvania nail technician license. If you’re like a lot of people we talk to, the whole process of scheduling and taking your exams is daunting, confusing and anxiety-inducing. But don’t worry: we’ll walk you through the process step by step. Starting with…

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

To be eligible to take the nail technology exam set by the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology, you must:

  • Meet specific age and education requirements
  • Complete a certain number of schooling hours
  • Meet certain reciprocity requirements

Age Requirements

To be allowed to take the exams in Pennsylvania, you must be at least 16 years old and have a 10th grade level of education or higher. If you are older than 35, the 10th grade education requirement is waived.

Schooling Requirements

You must also have completed at least 200 hours of instruction in nail technology from a licensed cosmetology school to be eligible for the exams.

For the nail technician exams, your hours cannot be apprenticeship hours – they have to be completed at a licensed school.

Pennsylvania does offer early testing for the exams, which you can take before you complete all of your schooling. To be qualified for this, you must have completed at least 150 hours in a licensed cosmetology school.

If you do take your exams early and you pass, you will still need to complete all 200 of your schooling hours before you actually receive your license or are eligible for a temporary permit.

Once you complete them, your school will need to send the necessary documents to the Board to verify that your hours have been completed.

Reciprocity Requirements

If you have a nail technician license in another state and:

  • That state does not have an understanding of reciprocity with Pennsylvania OR
  • You have not held that license for 2 or more years OR
  • You do not have 2 or more years of active working experience

Then you would be required to take the Pennsylvania exam.

Step 2: Apply for the Pennsylvania Nail Technician examinations

To apply for the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology exam for Nail Technicians, you must fill out an Application of Licensure.

The application is filled out online. Pennsylvania has replaced their paper-based application forms with an online application portal called PALS.

All you need to do to apply is create an account on the PALS platform by clicking here. There is a non-refundable $10 application fee that will be due at the checkout portion of the application.

After you create your account, simply follow the instructions and prompts. During the process, you’ll be asked to upload the required documentation.

After you’ve filled out the information and uploaded all the necessary documents, you’ll want to pay the (non-refundable) $93 exam fee to the testing institution. They must receive the fee before they can process your application.

You can pay the $93 to Pearson Vue C/O Dasher Inc. via Money Order, School Check, or Business Check and send it to:

Pearson Vue C/O Dasher Inc
PO Box 1652
Harrisburg, PA 17105

Once you’ve paid the fees and uploaded all the necessary documents, your application is complete! If you missed any information, you will be contacted via email and prompted to provide anything you’ve missed.

Required Documentation

For an Application of Licensure in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to provide the following documents:

  • Affidavit: A notarized Cosmetology School Affidavit from the school where you completed your hours
  • Proof of Education: A GED diploma, high school diploma, GED certificate indicating grade equivalency, letter from the high school attended (signed by the principal) stating the highest level of grade completed, or an official transcript of high school record
  • Educational Transcript: Your school must submit a copy of the transcript of the hours earned
  • Photo: You must submit a head and shoulder photograph
  • Identification: Driver’s license (not expired), State-issued I.D., Passport, Birth Certificate, or Department of State issued VISA
  • Criminal History Record Check: You must obtain a CHRC from the police department within 90 days of the date you submit your application. You must provide one for every state you have lived/worked/trained in over the past 5 years.

Criminal History Records Check

If you have lived, worked, and trained in the state of Pennsylvania alone for the past five years at the time of your application, your Criminal History Records Check request will automatically be submitted to the police department.

The (non-refundable) PATCH fee for that check will be added at the time of checkout along with your application fee. The records will automatically be sent to the Board/Commission for review. If any additional information is required, you’ll be contacted via email.

If you have worked, lived, and/or trained in another state within the past 5 years, you are required to submit a Criminal History Records Check for each state.

The CHRC must be through the state’s police department or other agency that is the official repository for criminal history record information. You can find a list of those agencies here.

You can, however, elect to submit a CHRC for the state you currently live in and an FBI Identity History Summary Check in lieu of individual CHRCs for each other state. This option would be a much better choice for those who’ve lived in many different states over the past five years.

It’s also important to note that Pennsylvania will not accept a CHRC from you if you currently live, work, and/or complete training in the following states:

  • California
  • Ohio
  • Arizona

Instead, you will be required to complete an FBI Identity History Summary Check.

Step 3: Schedule your exam

Once you complete the application, provide the necessary documents, and pay all the fees, you’ll receive an Approval to Test notification via email within 10 business days. If you don’t receive it within that time, call Pearson Vue/Dasher.

The Approval to Test email will have the information on how to schedule your exam, which can be done online or by contacting Pearson Vue’s customer service.

All exams must be scheduled at least 48 hours ahead of time. The same goes for if you need to reschedule it.

Step 4: Arrive at the exam center on exam day

You should arrive at the test center at least 30 minutes before your scheduled testing time. If you arrive late or don’t bring the necessary documentation, you will not be admitted and you will forfeit your exam fee.

In order for them to let you into the exams, you must have two forms of signature-bearing identification, and one must have a photo.

Acceptable primary identification (one with a photo) is stated to be:

  • Government issued Driver’s License
  • Department of State issued Driver’s License
  • U.S. learner’s permit (with photo and signature)
  • National/State/Country ID card
  • Passport
  • Passport card
  • Military ID
  • Military ID for spouses and dependents
  • Alien Registration Card

Acceptable secondary identification is stated to be:

  • U.S. Social Security card
  • Debit (ATM) card
  • Photo-bearing School ID
  • Any form of ID on the primary ID list

You want to make sure all I.D.s are valid and not expired. And they don’t honor grace periods. So for example, if your license expired the day before your exam, but the state has a 30-day grace period, it will still be considered expired by the testing facility.

Step 5: Take the exam(s)

The exam covers both theory and procedural skills and is entirely written. As of 2014, Pennsylvania no longer requires a hands-on practical examination in order to obtain a license.

They give you 1 hour and 45 minutes to answer 75 questions. Of those, 60 are scored and 15 are “pretest” questions. Pretest questions do not affect your score but are not identified (so you won’t know which ones they are). They’re only used in the case of future examinations.

There are 60 general questions and 15 state-specific questions. Here’s a breakdown of what they’ll be asking:

  • Rules, Regulations, and Safety (30-40%)
  • Nail Structure and Nail Analysis (15-20%)
  • Professional Services (30-40%)
  • Nail Enhancements (12-18%)

If you want a more in-depth look at what each section entails, check out Pearson Vue’s content outline from their Pennsylvania Candidate Handbook.

Step 6: Get your results

Once you’ve finished your exam, you’ll get your results immediately after.

A passing score is anything above 75, and anything below 75 is a failing score. It’s important to note that they don’t give you a numeric value if you pass.

If you are given a numeric value on your score report, it doesn’t represent the number of questions you got right nor is it the percentage of correctly-answered questions. It’s simply a raw number produced by their “scaled scoring” system.

Step 7: Get your Pennsylvania State Board Nail Technician license!

If you pass the exam (congrats!), you’ll receive your license in the mail within 10-15 business days.

If you haven’t received it within 10 business days, you should call Pearson Vue at 866-638-7502 to get an update on its status.

And if you didn’t pass your exam, your score report will have instructions on how to reapply. Unfortunately, you will be required to resubmit the exam fee when you reapply.

If you failed your written exam, you might be devastated, but you aren’t alone: the pass rate nationally is only 50%! However, students who use our Nail Technician Exam Preparation Package have a pass rate of 98.5%!

Frequently asked questions about the Pennsylvania nail technician exams

How do I apply for the Pennsylvania Board of Cosmetology Nail Technician examination?

To apply for the Pennsylvania State Board nail technician exam, you simply log on to the PALS platform (or create an account if you don’t have one yet) and follow all the instructions and prompts. This includes uploading the necessary documentation and paying any fees.

After you’ve filled out all the information and paid all the fees, you’ll receive your Approval to Test email within 10 business days. The letter will tell you how you can schedule your exam.

You can also download the Pennsylvania Candidate Handbook here, which will go over all the necessary steps.

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

If you need to reschedule your exam, you must contact Pearson Vue at least 48 hours in advance. If you don’t contact them within that amount of time and you don’t show up to the exam, you’ll have to forfeit your exam fee.

You can contact them via telephone at 866-638-7502 or chat with them online here.

If you’re late, you will not be able to take your exam and you will forfeit your exam fee.

If you are absent, you will have to forfeit your exam fee except in the following cases:

  • Illness of yourself or immediate family member
  • Death in the family
  • Disabling traffic accident
  • Court appearance or jury duty
  • Military duty
  • Weather emergency

Which examination program does the Pennsylvania Board of Cosmetology use for Nail Technicians?

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

How much does it cost to take the Nail Technician exam in Pennsylvania exam?

It costs $93 to take the Pennsylvania State Board nail technician exam, and the fee is non-refundable.

Where do the examinations take place?

You can chose to take the exam at one of the many Pearson Vue testing facilities. Those locations are:

  • Harrisburg
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburg (West)
  • Pittsburg (East)
  • Allentown
  • Erie
  • Plymouth Meeting
  • Scranton
  • Newark, DE
  • Morgantown, WV
  • Cumberland, MD

They also offer testing at four state correctional facilities.

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

Nail techs in Pennsylvania need 200 hours of instruction in a licensed cosmetology school to qualify for the exam and be eligible for immediate licensure.

If you have completed 150 hours of schooling, you can take the early examination. However, you won’t get your license until after you’ve completed the full number of hours required.

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

Yes, if you’ve completed a minimum of 150 hours, you can take an early testing exam. However, even if you pass, you won’t get your license until you complete the full number of required hours (200) and your school submits proof of that to the Board.

How long is the Nail Technician written examination?

The Pennsylvania State Board allows 1 hours and 45 minutes for the nail technician exam.

What’s the format of the written examination?

The exam is computer-based, multiple-choice, and covers both theory and procedural skills.

There are 75 questions in total for cosmetologists, and you have 1 hours and 45 minutes to complete them. Of those, 60 questions are general and 15 are state-specific.

There are multiple different forms they use, so questions vary from test to test.

For more information about the topics you’ll be examined on, you can read their Content Outline.

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

How long is the Nail Technician practical examination?

Pennsylvania does not have a practical examination.

What’s the format of the practical examination?

As of November 2014, there is no hands-on practical examination for the Pennsylvania State Board nail technician exam. Instead, it was replaced by a procedural skills set of questions in the written exam.

What score do I nee to pass the Nail Technician exam?

In Pennsylvania, candidates must pass with a score of 75 or greater. However, you won’t get a numeric value on your score sheet if you pass.

What’s the pass rate for the Pennsylvania Nail Technician exams?

There isn’t a pass rate for Pennsylvania specifically, but the national average pass rate for the Nail Technician written exam is only about 50%, which is shockingly low!

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

In Pennsylvania, there’s no limit to how many times you can retake your test. However, you must pay the $93 non-refundable exam fee each time, and you must wait at least 24 hours after your failed test to reschedule.

How long does cosmetology school take in Pennsylvania for nail techs?

In Pennsylvania, you can complete the required hours of nail technology school training as little as a few months if you can attend cosmetology school full-time. If not, it can take a bit longer – sometimes up to a year or more!

How do I transfer my Nail Technician licence to Pennsylvania?

If you meet certain requirements, you will be able to transfer your nail technician license to Pennsylvania (without needing to retake the exam). The requirements are:

  • You have held your license for 2 or more years AND
  • You have 2 or more years of active working experience AND
  • You are coming from a state which has an understanding of reciprocity with Pennsylvania

Currently, these are the states which do not have an understanding of reciprocity with Pennsylvania:

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Mississippi
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • West Virginia

Before submitting an application, it is recommended to call the Board at (717) 783-7130 to ensure the state you are coming from is eligible or not, as it is always subject to change.

If you are eligible to transfer your license, follow these steps:

  1. Complete a “reciprocity” application form on the PALS portal by creating an account here. There is a $60 non-refundable application fee.
  2. Complete a Criminal History Records Check for each state that you’ve lived/worked/trained in over the past 5 years. See this list for information on where to go to get your Criminal History Records Check for each state.
  3. You must submit an Employment Certification stating that you have had at least 2 years work experience in the state you currently hold your license.
  4. Contact the board(s) of the state(s) where you do or have ever held a license and request a letter of good standing. The letters must be submitted directly to the Board.

Once you submit all the required documentation and pay all applicable fees, the Board will review your application and confirm you meet all the criteria.

If you are approved, you will get an email and/or a letter in the mail with instructions on how to proceed.

How do I get my nail technician license in Pennsylvania?

To get your nail technician license in Pennsylvania, you will need to complete the necessary amount of training (200 hours at an accredited school) and pass a written examination at a Pearson Vue testing facility. Once you’ve passed the examination with a score of 75 or greater, you will be granted your license.

How do I renew my nail technician license in Pennsylvania?

Nail technician licenses expire on January 31st of even-numbered years, and costs $67.

The Board will send out a notification to remind you that your license is nearing its expiration date three months in advance to the most recent address it has on file.

You will also receive an email about 60 days prior to your license’s expiration date notifying you of your need to renew your license.

To renew your license, login online to the PALS system. Renewal applications are typically opened 30-60 days before the expiration date. All you do is fill out the renewal application online and pay the fee.

Once you complete your application and it is reviewed by the Board, you will receive your new license in the mail. Please note that the Postal Service will not forward licenses, so it is important to keep your address updated at all times.

How should I study for the Pennsylvania Nail Technician written exam?

Use our Nail Technician 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 Nail Technician Exam Preparation Package here.

Pennsylvania Nail Technician state board exam practice test

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