This story is not one that I love to talk about. Actually, I’m quite embarrassed to even think about it. Some of you may know that I work as a nail technician at a salon on the weekends.
If you’re not familiar with the cosmetology world, in order to become a nail technician, esthetician, or cosmetologist (including hairstylist), you have to attend cosmetology school for ~600-1600 hours depending on the program. Afterward, you take the State Board exam, which consists of a practical and written component.
The written test was a breeze (at least to me) but the practical test was a bit harder.
If I’m being honest, I failed three times before obtaining my license.
It was May 2016 and I was officially done with high school. While all of my friends were celebrating the start of their summer break, I still had one test to do: the practical exam for my nail license. I decided to schedule my practical exam right after my finals. At that time, I was living in Tucson and the state board exams were held in Phoenix, Arizona. The night before the test, my family and I drove up 2 hours to Phoenix to stay over at my cousin’s.
I was so stressed about my test, that I didn’t show up at the testing center the next morning.
The first time I failed my nail exam was by default. I failed my cosmetology written exam.
Unprepared was an understatement. That day, I remember blaming my mom for everything. Blaming her for my failure and not preparing me. While it’s hard for me to share this, there was not anyone else to blame but myself. There were countless resources on the internet that I could have easily found myself.
It wasn’t her fault that I was unprepared. She took her nail exam decades ago and had her fair share of studying and preparing. It wasn’t her responsibility to prepare me. I’m not sure what I was thinking and why I was trying to blame someone else other than myself.
I was furious that day, but it wasn’t until the morning after when we were driving back home to Tucson was when it hit me. What is wrong with me? Not only did my mom take time off from work to drive me to Phoenix, but I was horribly mean to her. Of course, no amount of apologies was enough to make up for what I had said to my mom. (Not something I love to share, but I’m sure we’ve all been there).
This was a pivotal moment for me because it changed my mindset.
When I came back home to Tucson, one of my mom’s friends took his practical nail exam in California a year ago. He offered to mentor me, but it has been a while for him. He didn’t remember much from his test but I watched him a lot at the nail salon he was working at.
Fast forward to exactly a month later, I decided to give the practical exam another try. This time, I learned a lot from my mom’s friend; however, I still ended up failing.
* Side note: what you do at the state board exam and at a real-world job is completely different. For example, the state board exam does not require you to cut cuticles or bring a cuticle nipper.
With the second exam, there were a couple of things I had done wrong. It’s a bit hard to explain the practical nail exam if you’re not familiar with the process. With the practical exam, it’s basically all pretend. In some states, they require a real person as your model to perform the services. While in Arizona, you are required to bring in a fake hand with all five fingers. During the exam, if you need to dispose of trash, you had to bring in brown paper bags that are labeled “trash” or “disinfect”, etc.
Of course, I did not bring that with me. I also brought a cuticle nipper and pretended to cut cuticles on the fake hand! There were three other students with me taking the exam and I noticed that no one else was using a cuticle nipper or even had one in their kit.
Another mistake I made was that I brought the wrong product. The State Board exam requires that you bring an odorless acrylic liquid monomer, but the one I brought with me was not odorless. For that reason, I was not able to perform the sculptured nail section of the exam.
I failed again, but I was not surprised.
This time, it was okay. I knew from the beginning that I was not going to pass, but I also knew that whatever I learned from this experience, I will come back even more prepared.
Third Time’s The Charm, Right?
I decided to take my third nail practice exam about two weeks later in August before college started. Going into this exam, I felt like I was prepared. I watched countless nail exam videos on YouTube that thoroughly walks you through the process.
On the day of the exam, I thought that I had brought an odorless monomer with me; but unfortunately, I did not. Just like last time, I was unable to perform the sculptured nail section of the exam. I figured that it was fine since it was only worth 11 points out of 61.
As long as I did well on the other portion, I should be able to pass.
Two days later, I got my results. I failed my cosmetology practical exam.
During this time, I had recently moved up to Phoenix for Arizona State University and was living with my Aunt. That morning, my 11-year-old cousin was with me in my room while I checked my results. I failed. While my cousin wanted to comfort me, he had to catch the bus to go to school. I couldn’t stop crying. It felt like I was such a failure and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t pass this exam.
Incompetent. Failure. Stupid. Worthless.
My aunt came into my room and she gave me a hug. I remember she told me that it was going to be okay. It was not the end of the world, and I could just retake the exam again when I’m ready. Her words hit me hard. I was crying so much that my eyes were swollen the next day. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it sure felt like it.
Now looking back, it seems like I was in a rush to get everything settled before starting college. I was moving, I was studying, I barely enjoyed my summer break. My whole summer was dedicated to getting my nail license.
I decided to take a break on getting my nail exam.
School had started and I was already struggling so much with moving and transitioning to a new life. It was horrible commuting an hour to school from my aunt’s house and I couldn’t really make friends. I was barely in a sorority and I would be on campus for class and go home right after. In addition, I decided to go to beauty school part-time on the weekends for my aesthetician license.
Once the semester ended in December, I took another stab at the practical exam for the fourth time. This time, I did not want to stress out about bringing the wrong supplies, so I decided to rent a kit from the beauty school I was attending.
Finally, I passed. My nail exam, nail exam test, nailexam.
It was such a relief. It took me roughly half the year to pass the practical exam, but it was worth it. I learned a lot from failing three times.
- It was not anyone else’s fault but mine.
- If you know you’re going to fail, still try because you’ll always learn something out of it.
- It’s not the end of the world if you fail.
Honestly, I wish I showed up to my first exam instead of failing by default. I also wish that I didn’t try to rush things and took the exam when I was ready. It’s okay to slow down and it’s okay to fail.
For the past two and a half years, I’ve been working part-time as a nail technician for one of the best nail salons in Scottsdale.
My Final Results
If there’s anyone out there that is preparing for their State Board exam, whether it be nails or aesthetician, if you’re interested in seeing how State Board grade you, here it is:
- The first time I failed was by default, so the State Board did not give me my test results
- The second time I failed: results
- The third time I failed: results
- My passing results
State Board only breaks down the points if you did not pass. If you’re curious, I did pass my aesthetician practical exam on the first try, so I do not have the results on the aesthetician exam.
I was inspired by my former pageant coach, Mai-Ly, who shared her story about her dental boards:
When I failed my dental boards, I felt stupid and unworthy of being a dentist. Instead of wasting so much time thinking that, I wish I had defined that challenge as an opportunity to be stronger mentally and to show how much I was willing to fight for my dream to be a dentist sooner.
Thank you to everyone for reading this and thank you to Mai-Ly for sharing her dental boards, which has inspired me to share this story. It was so hard for me to admit to my failures and mistakes, let alone write it all out and share it with the internet. I hope that I can help at least one person with my story and journey.