Passing the National Nail Tech Exam on the First Try (Pro Tips!)

Passing the National Nail Tech Exam

Attending nail technician school, you are going to increase and develop your nail artistry talent constantly.

You can learn how to make perfect pedicures, how to use your creativity when working on stylish, trendy, and beautiful manicures.

After completing your training, you’ll be able to understand what does it mean to be a sought-after manicurist.

However, it is not enough just to complete your education.

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To be able to work as a manicurist, first of all, you need to show your abilities and pass the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology’s (NIC) exam.

During the exam, you need to pass a written test and a practical part so you can obtain your manicurist’s license.

This exam is required for obtaining a license in many states throughout the country.

The aim of the NIC nail tech exam is to make sure that an applicant has a certain set of skills required for performing manicurist’s duties properly.

After passing this exam, you’ll be able to work in a fast-paced environment dealing with different clients.

Nowadays, there are 33 states that require passing the NIC’s nail technician exam to get a license in this sphere.

While your school training aims to help you get ready for the NIC exam and obtaining a state license, it is always a good idea to invest some of your time in extra preparation.

You can make sure that you understand well what you should expect during the exam and that you have all the required knowledge and skills.

Below, you can find a bunch of useful tips and information that will help you pass the NIC’s nail technician exam from your first try.

More info on how to become a nail technician >>>

Six-Core Domains of the NIC Practical Nail Technician Exam

The NIC nail technician exam contains 6 essential domain services that are:

  • Setup and Client Protection
  • Manicure
  • Nail Tip
  • Wrap
  • Sculptured
  • Nail Polish

The NIC Examination Overview DVD is a great option for those who want to get ready for the NIC nail technician exam.

It contains detailed information on procedures that should be performed during the nail tech exam.

What You’ll Need for the Practical Exam

Make sure to address your state regulatory agency in order to get info about the requirements, recommends, and tools that you need to pass this exam.

Below, you can find the lists of supplies that you need to have during the exam.

General Supplies

  • Dry storage kit/container;
  • Hand sanitizer;
  • Mannequin hands with artificial nails attached;
  • EPA-registered disinfectant;
  • Disposal bag for waste materials;
  • Cloth and paper towels;
  • Cotton;
  • First-aid supplies (blood spill kit);
  • Tape.

Basic Manicure Supplies

  • Bowl and container of water;
  • Cuticle cream/remover;
  • Filing and buffing implements;
  • Cuticle polisher;
  • Nail brush;
  • Hand lotion or massage product;
  • Cuticle oil.

Nail Tip and Nail Wrap Supplies

  • Cuticle pusher;
  • Nail tips and adhesive;
  • Nail wrap material (non-pre-cut fabric);
  • Filing and buffing implements;
  • Scissors;
  • Accelerator.

Sculptured Nail Supplies

  • Cuticle pusher;
  • Sculptured nail products that are packed in their original containers with the manufacturer’s label;
  • Sculptured nail brush;
  • Liquid and powder containers;
  • Filing and buffing implements;
  • Sculptured nail forms.

Polish Supplies

  • Polish remover;
  • Basecoat/topcoat;
  • Red polish.

Examination Rules and Procedures

The exam is an important part of your licensing which means that you don’t want to fail.

To be able to avoid it, you need to learn and follow numerous rules and procedures required for the exam.

Below, there is a list of important rules, you should know when sitting for the NIC exam:

  • Do not leave the exam area without permission.
  • Bring your own exam kit in a sanitary condition.
  • Bring a container of water or a thermos of hot water.
  • Use 10 minutes for client protection and for setting up your supplies.
  • Use 2 minutes in between each section of the exam for setting up the required supplies.
  • Use verbal instructions that are provided twice before beginning each section of the exam.
  • After completing a specific section, turn the hand toward the examiner to indicate that you are finished.
  • Ensure you are following all appropriate public protection and infection control procedures.
  • Do not bring your cell phone or any other electronic device, handwritten notes, or any other printed materials.
  • Do not talk with any other candidates during the testing period.

Depending on your state, you need to use a mannequin or a live model during the exam.

When using a live model, you need to follow a list of certain guidelines such as:

  • Your model must be at least 15 years old and cannot be licensed or a student studying manicuring.
  • Your model must present ID to gain admittance into the exam.
  • Your model must agree to submit to all services during the exam and may not participate in any way during the exam.
  • Your model cannot talk to you at any time during the exam.

Passing the exam in those states that require the use of mannequin hands, make sure to bring at least one with you.

Just keep in mind that you cannot use hands with digital fingers that are also known as trainer’s hands.

To get ready for the exam, apply a set of nails with covered nail beds to the mannequin hands.

Practical Exam Content

During the exam, you need to complete a whole set of practical tasks that aim to show your proficiency in 6 core domain services.

The list of the tasks included in each domain service is given below.

Set-Up and Client Protection

  • Disinfecting work area and/or using protective covering;
  • Disposing of soiled materials using infection control procedures;
  • Maintaining the work area in a safe manner throughout the setup;
  • Practicing infection control procedures throughout the setup;
  • Sanitizing hands;
  • Setting up a work area with supplies labeled in English;
  • Setting up implements that are visibly clean and sanitary.


  • Applying massage product;
  • Applying cuticle oil;
  • Applying cuticle cream or remover;
  • Buffing nails;
  • Cleaning under the free edge;
  • Cleansing massage product from each nail plate;
  • Demonstrating filing;
  • Demonstrating cuticle care;
  • Drying hands completely;
  • Demonstrating hand massage;
  • Establishing uniform length and shape;
  • Immersing fingers in a bowl of water;
  • Massaging palms, backs of hands, and fingers;
  • Maintaining continuous contact while massaging hands;
  • Pushing back cuticles;
  • Sanitizing hands and the hands to be manicured;
  • Shaping free-edge safely.

Nail Tip

  • Applying nail dehydrator/cleanser to nail plate;
  • Attaching nail tip to nail plate with nail adhesive;
  • Blending tip to the nail plate;
  • Ensuring cuticle and skin surrounding nail are free from nail adhesive;
  • Ensuring finished nail is smooth and even;
  • Ensuring that at least ½ of nail plate remains uncovered;
  • Removing the shine from nail tip;
  • Removing dust from nail plate and cuticle;
  • Setting up nail tip supplies;
  • Selecting a nail tip that matches the width of the nail plate;
  • Shaping a free edge;
  • Trimming nail tip.

Nail Wrap

  • Applying nail dehydrator/cleanser to nail plate;
  • Applying nail adhesive to nail plate;
  • Applying wrap material over the nail plate;
  • Applying nail adhesive;
  • Applying wrap accelerator;
  • Applying the second coat of nail adhesive;
  • Applying the second coat of wrap accelerator;
  • Buffing nail wrap;
  • Ensuring the nail plate is covered in a wrap;
  • Ensuring cuticle and surrounding skin remains free of nail adhesive;
  • Ensuring finished nail wrap is smooth and even;
  • Filing nail wrap;
  • Removing excess wrap material to fit the nail plate;
  • Setting up nail wrap supplies;
  • Removing the shine from the nail plate;
  • Removing dust from the nail plate and cuticle.

Sculptured Nail

  • Applying nail form to fit snugly under the free edge;
  • Applying primer;
  • Applying sculptured product to extend the free edge;
  • Applying a sculptured nail product to cover the nail plate;
  • Buffing sculptured nail;
  • Cleansing nail plate and cuticle of dust;
  • Ensuring finished sculptured nail is smooth, even, and beveled/tapered;
  • Ensuring contour of the sculptured nail is balanced;
  • Ensuring the nail plate is covered by sculptured nail product;
  • Ensuring cuticle and surrounding skin remains free of sculptured nail product;
  • Filing sculptured nail to shape/balance;
  • Removing the shine from the nail plate;
  • Setting up sculptured nail supplies;
  • Shaping free edge.

Nail Polish

  • Applying a base coat to cover the nail plate;
  • Applying red polish to cover nail plate;
  • Applying topcoat to cover nail plate;
  • Ensuring the final appearance of polish is smooth and even;
  • Ensuring cuticle and surrounding skin remain free of polish;
  • Setting up polish supplies.

You can find more information on the nail technology practical exam by downloading the most recent exam bulletin on the NIC website.

How to Pass the NIC Written Nail Technician Exam on Your First Attempt

You can take your written portion of the nail tech exam online.

To sit for this part of the exam, you need to pay a fee that is about $39.

After it, the exam will be sent to you by a computer-based partner that is ISO Quality Testing or IQT.

To get in touch with IQT you can use a phone number (1-866-773-1114) or an email (

Below, there is info about knowledge in various areas that will be tested during the exam.

Scientific Concepts – 40 percent

  • Infection Control and Safety Practices
    • How diseases are caused and transmitted
    • Recognize the purposes and effects of infection control principles
    • Apply blood exposure/contact procedures
    • Identify Material Safety and Data Sheets
    • Identify ways to prevent work injuries
  • Basic Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Nail Anatomy and Physiology
  • Basic Chemistry of Nail Products

Nail Technology Procedures – 60 percent

  • Client Consultation and Documentation
  • Nail Service Tools
    • Nail equipment
    • Nail implements
    • Nail supplies
    • Practice for safe use of tools
  • Nail Service Preparation
    • Perform setup of work station
    • Perform sanitation of technician and client’s hands/feet
  • Manicure and Pedicure Services
    • Perform procedures safely for a basic manicure and pedicure services
    • Shape nails
    • Cuticle detailing
    • Cleansing nails
    • Buffing nails
    • Exfoliating
    • Perform basic massage
  • Recognize purpose and procedures for add-on services
    • Paraffin
    • Hot lotion/oil
    • Masks
    • Soak-off gels
  • Perform application, maintenance, and removal procedures for nail enhancement services
  • Perform post-service procedures following infection control guidelines

To get more info about the nail technology written test, you can visit the NIC website and download the latest exam bulletins.

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