Pennsylvania Cosmetology State Board Exam: Free Practice Test, and Everything You Need to Know

Do you need to take the cosmetology state board 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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The process of registering for (and passing!) your Pennsylvania state board exam

If you just graduated from cosmetology school or you’re finally looking into taking your early testing, congratulations! All your hard work is about to pay off as you look forward to starting your dream career in cosmetology.

All that’s standing in your way now is passing your cosmetology State Board exams in order to get your Pennsylvania 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. 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 exams set by the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology, you must:

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

Age Requirements

In Pennsylvania, to be eligible to take the exams, 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/Apprenticeship Requirements

You must also have completed the following number of schooling hours or apprenticeship hours before you can take the exam and become licensed:

  • 1,250 hours in a licensed cosmetology school, OR
  • 2,000 apprenticeship hours in a licensed salon

In addition, Pennsylvania offers early testing for theory/procedural skills exams, which you can take before you complete your schooling. To be qualified for this, you must have completed at least 900 hours (but less than 1,250 hours) in a licensed cosmetology school.

It’s important to note that you can take and even pass the exams before you complete your hours, but you will not receive your license or a temporary permit until you complete the full number of required hours (1,250) and other program requirements.

That means that you still have to finish your schooling in order to get your license. Your school will need to send documents verifying that you have completed the required hours once you’ve finished.

Reciprocity Requirements

If you have a cosmetology 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 State Board of Cosmetology examinations

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

This must be done 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.

After you create your account, simply follow the instructions. During the application, you’ll need to upload the required documentation.

You’ll also need to pay the required exam fees to the testing institution before they can process your application. You’ll need to pay $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 that which you’ve missed.

Required Documentation

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

  • Affidavit: the affidavit of the school or salon where you completed your school 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.

Please note that if you have lived, worked, and/or trained in Pennsylvania for the past 5 years at the time of your application, your Criminal History Records Check will be automatically submitted to the police department.

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

If you have worked/lived/trained in another state within the past 5 years, you can elect to submit a CHRC for the state you currently live in and an FBI Identity History Summary Check instead of individual state background checks.

Pennsylvania will not accept a CHRC from you if you currently live, work, 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

After completing the application, providing the necessary documents, and paying 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.

Your 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.

Please note all exams must be scheduled at least 48 hours in advance. If you need to reschedule, you must do so at least 48 hours in advance.

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 or don’t bring your necessary documentation, you will not be admitted and you will forfeit your exam fee.

In order to be admitted into the examination, you must have two forms of signature-bearing identification (one must have a photo).

Acceptable primary identification is stated to be:

  • Government issued Driver’s License (not expired)
  • Department of State issued Driver’s License (not expired)
  • 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

All forms of identification need to be valid and not expired. They do not honor grace periods. So for example, if your license expired the day before your exam, but the state offers a 30-day grace period, it will still be considered expired by the testing facility.

Step 5: Take the exam(s)

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

You will have 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete 135 questions. Of those, 110 are scored questions, and 25 are questions that don’t affect your score, but will be used in the case of future examinations.

There are 100 general questions and 10 state-specific questions. Here’s a breakdown of what they’ll be asking:

  • Rules, regulations, and safety (25-35%)
  • Trichology (4-10%)
  • Shampoo/scalp analysis (4-8%)
  • Styling (4-10%)
  • Haircutting (8-12%)
  • Hair color, bleaching/lightening, and tinting (13-17%)
  • Permanent weaving (13-17%)
  • Chemical straightening and relaxing (13-17%)
  • Esthetics (4-8%)
  • Nails (4-8%)

For a more in-depth look at what each above section entails, you can check out Pearson Vue’s content outline in their Pennsylvania Cosmetology Candidate Handbook.

Step 6: Get your results

Once you complete your exam, you will get your results the same day. 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, and that the number you receive is not the amount of questions you got right nor is it the percentage of questions that were answered correctly.

Step 7: Get your Pennsylvania State Board cosmetology license!

If you pass the exam, you’ll receive your license in the mail within 10-15 business days. However, if you haven’t received it within 10 business days, they recommend calling Pearson Vue at 866-638-7502.

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

Failing your written exam is devastating, but not as uncommon as you might think: the pass rate nationally is only 50%! However, students who use our Cosmetology Exam Preparation Package have a pass rate of 98.5%!

Frequently asked questions about the Pennsylvania cosmetology exams

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

You can apply for the Pennsylvania State Board cosmetology exam by creating an account on the PALS platform and following all the instructions, including uploading the necessary documentation and paying any fees.

You’ll receive your Approval to Test email within 10 business days of completing all the paperwork and fees. The letter will include information on how to schedule your exam, which has to be made a minimum of 48 hours in advance.

You can download the Pennsylvania Cosmetology Candidate Handbook here, which will go over any and all 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?

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

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

Entry to the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology exams costs $93, and the fee is non-refundable.

Where do the examinations take place?

The exam takes place 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?

Cosmetologists in Pennsylvania need 1,250 hours (or 2,000 apprenticeship hours) to qualify for the exam and be eligible for immediate licensure.

If you have completed 900 hours of schooling, but less than 1,250 hours, 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 900 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 (1,250) and your school submits proof of that to the Board.

How long is the cosmetology written examination?

The Pennsylvania State Board cosmetology exam allots 2 hours and 15 minutes.

What’s the format of the written examination?

The written examination is a computer-based, multiple-choice examination. There are 135 questions in total for cosmetologists, and you have 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete them.

Of those, 100 questions are general, 10 are state-specific, and 25 are questions that don’t count towards your score, but will be applicable if you ever need to retest in the future.

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, read their Content Outline.

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

How long is the cosmetology practical examination?

There is no practical examination in Pennsylvania.

What’s the format of the practical examination?

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

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

In Pennsylvania, candidates must pass with a score of 75 or greater.

It’s important to note that the number does not indicate a percentage of correct answers nor the actual number of questions answered correctly.

Their scoring system has an algorithm that calculates the number of correct and incorrect questions, and produces the number based on that.

Also worth noting is that, if you pass the exam, you won’t get a number on your score sheet. Only if you fail will you receive a number.

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

Pennsylvania doesn’t have an average pass rate for the state as a whole, but the national average pass rate for the cosmetology written exam (which is Pennsylvania’s only exam) is about 50%.

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 Pennsylvania, you can retake the exams as many times as you need. However, you must pay the $93 non-refundable exam fee each time, and you must wait 24 hours after your failed test to reschedule.

How long does cosmetology school take in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, you can complete the required hours of cosmetology school training in a minimum of eight months – if you can attend cosmetology school full-time.

It can take a bit longer if you can’t attend school full-time, even taking multiple years in some cases!

How do I transfer my cosmetology licence to Pennsylvania?

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

  • You have held your cosmetology 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:

  • Connecticut
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah

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.

Once you’ve deemed that you’re 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 cosmetology license in Pennsylvania?

To get your cosmetology license in Pennsylvania, you will need to complete the necessary amount of training (1,250 hours at an accredited school) and pass a written examination at a Pearson Vue testing facility. Once you’ve passed the examination, you will be granted your license.

How do I renew my cosmetology license in Pennsylvania?

Cosmetologist licenses expire on January 31st of either an odd-numbered or an even-numbered year.

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 generally 60 days prior to your license’s expiration date notifying you of your need to renew your license.

Renewing a cosmetology license in Pennsylvania costs $67, regardless of the year.

To renew your license, login online to the PALS system. Renewal applications are typically opened 30-60 days before the expiration date. You simply 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 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.

Pennsylvania cosmetology state board exam practice test

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