Practical Lesson: The Manicurist Exam

The point of the NailTechNailedIt posts has been to help educate anyone who's thinking of a career in nail technology (teching?) for what's to come in school. The culmination of the whole process comes after graduation - a two-part slog to success.

In Colorado, you need to first pass the practical. For mine, I. Practically. Died.

Ultimately, I felt as prepared as I could be, with a few questions I hoped would be answered. All I needed to do was drive into Denver, sit for the exam, check-in, pass it, and leave. Simple right? How much could go wrong?

The Drive to Denver
Technically, the exam wasn't held in Denver, but a smaller town outside of Denver equally as far to get to. The route to get there is currently under massive construction. The number of lanes and how many barriers are set up along them changes daily, and the number of pot holes and speed bumps is on a slow and steady incline. By the time I arrived, albeit about 45 minutes earlier than when I was supposed to be there, I was still stressed and could feel what I can only imagine was TMJ.

Sit for the Exam
The building the exam was held in was having some difficulties with their AC. The room that the exam was in was at least 100 degrees...which may be an exaggeration. As a desert rat, I was mostly okay with that. However, it meant that the door to the previous exam was left open, so I could see it all go down. Mind you, it was a hairstylist practical, so I wasn't cheating or gaining any valuable information I wouldn't have in normal circumstances. What developed from the situation was just excess perspiration and a little nausea.

Thank GOD there was a wonderful man there to distract me. He ran security on the exams, checking the security cameras for any cheaters, one of which he'd encountered earlier. Someone was trying to cheat for the written manicurist exam! The girl was using the provided scratch paper (strike one...who needs scratch paper for a manicurist exam?!) to hide a separate sheet she'd snuck in (strike two) to write down the exam's questions and presumably share with her friends later (strike three). She was obviously disqualified. I hope she really loved those friends.

Back to the gentleman though. I loved him because he distracted me from my fate with small talk, telling me about his day, the cheater, previous experiences, and anything else that seemed interesting to him. I'll never be able to thank him enough for distracting me, because what was yet to come was the most nerve-wracking thing yet.

Check-in was easy. I brought my two forms of ID (I actually brought three...just in case) and sat pleasantly for my photo, beaming with the smile I'd practiced in the mirror days prior. I'm not sure if the AC issues I mentioned earlier had an effect on the computers, but they were technologically not up for the tasks of the day. So the proctor took a quick picture before it malfunctioned...and this was the result.

The photo meant to signify my new career in the beauty industry comes out looking like a convict. Great.

Show Time!
Finally, it's time to take the exam. The hairstylists have come out, cried a little, postulated how they did, and wished me luck on mine. That's when it hit me. This group of 7 or so stylists had just finished their exam, and besides the security guy...I was the only one in the room.

I was literally the only nail tech student there to take the exam for the day! Bricks were shat.

At this point, the beads of sweat on my forehead turned into tiny running streams. But I didn't have much time to think about it as I was beckoned into the exam room.

I tried to make it lighthearted, mostly for myself, but also in a sorry attempt to shmooze the proctors. But it's not easy to shmooze SIX PROCTORS. Six women, monitoring your every...single...move. Six. They assured me that this wasn't routine, and that three of them were actually just there to shadow the others. As if that would make the extra three just disappear from my line of sight and it would be all peaches and god damn rainbows.

Then the test began. I asked my questions, to which they respectfully replied, in their scripted speech, something along the lines of "Sorry, you're shit out of luck and you should have learned this better." (I may be exaggerating the tone a bit.)

Then the test finished. In the blink of an eye, I was done. I'd performed a manicure, tip application, acrylic overlay, and acrylic overlay using a form, in the span of 60 minutes. I don't know how long it actually took, or how frequently I made mistakes, but if the whispers between the three shadows behind me was any indication, it was pretty often.

They excused me, and I melted into a pool of sweat and more sweat in the lobby of the exam area. I waited impatiently there, until the lead proctor emerged with my results. They ask you to leave the lobby before opening it, probably so there aren't any unwelcome bear hugs or desperate pleas for a retake.

I left, unfolded the note, and saw the word we all wait to see when we open our college admissions letters - "Congratulations". I'd passed! Amidst every cosmic attempt to sabotage me, the manicure gods smiled down upon me and gave me a passing grade.

It was at that point that I noticed my picture, and really had nothing left to do but laugh.


  1. Congrats!! That is so awesome! Sorry you had to go through such hell to get it though!

  2. congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! honestly with my luck and how almost everything goes 4 me it felt like i was reading a future story of my own lol hopefully in the next year or 2 i can get in 2 school & get licensed i just want to thank u for all you write about the experience it is very helpful! again CONGRATZ U FUCKIN ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!! GREAT JOB!!! LOL

  3. Yay! Congrats!! I love the photo too, LOL!

  4. Congratulations!!! Your experience sounds awful but it seems to always happen to me too! There are so many days that are boring and go by so smoothly but on the days where something important is going down, a million things go wrong. But YAY for your results! :)

  5. wow, what a nerve-racking experience! But huge congratulations!

  6. Wowwww!!!! That is crazy.... Congratulations!!!!! :)

  7. Awesome post - congratulations!!! :)

  8. Oh I know how that feels! I just took my exam in Nevada (I am immigrating from Canada) and at 48 years old, testing is majorly traumatizing!!!!!
    They don't tell you if you passed right away or not. You have to wait for the answer in the mail, which may take 30 days! UGGGHHHH
    Thank you for your humor and I am glad you came through relatively unscathed!

  9. Congrats! I went through the same thing with medical boards. Only I was in a group of probably 30 or so people, I would have totally freaked if I had been the only test taker, certain that I was in the wrong place or had the date wrong. I keep thinking about going to nail school because I love doing manicures, but I stress out over doing acrylics and fake nails. And the time constraint...I tend to paint slowly and meticulously and error free but I never rush. I watch how the nail techs fly through building fake nails up with those paper extenders or gel nails and am amazed. You amaze me too. 1 hour and you demonstrated all 4 skills! Congrats again!

    1. I checked the clock every 10 minutes to ensure I knew how to read a damn clock! It was terrifying.

      Don't skip pass up the opportunity to go to nail school just because of the acrylics. It's not a large part of school (at least not mine), and the places I've been looking for jobs don't even offer them. They're more of a specialty now, being replaced by gel polish (which is not difficult to learn either).

      I remember my first service took twice as long as it should have. The only way you get quicker, is with practice and time. It'll just come to you, especially if you're already meticulous. You'll find that you won't make as many mistakes and require less cleanup, and you'll fly through at a normal pace. Pedicures about about 1 hour and manicures are about 45 minutes.

      As for the exam, I had that long to perform 4 services, but only the basic manicures was on all five fingers of my fake hand. The others (tips, acrylic overlay, and form application) were only on one finger, and I chose the smallest fingers. :)

  10. Congrats on passing the exam! :D

    I love that you're from Colorado, because I'm also from Colorado! :)

  11. Can you guide me for the preparation for the Test?. What type of questions?. Where can I buy questions? Please guide me.

    1. You should talk to your school. Mine had test prep questions that were really similar to the exam. I felt really prepared going in, and like I said, that part didn't take long. It's been over 2 years now, so I can't really speak to the types of questions there were anymore.


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