abchIf you’re preparing for the ABCH exam you may be feeling a little overwhelmed! Luckily, I was super focused on passing and I really dove into the details when it came to studying and preparing for exam day.

Becoming an American Board Certified Haircolorist is no walk in the park…you will need to dedicate a lot of your free time to preparing and attention-to-detail is extremely important!

There are classes offered in some areas to help you prepare, but if you’re going at it alone then your chances of passing a drastically lower than those that take a series of classes. There is so much to know, and unfortunately it’s not all easy to figure out on your own. That’s why being prepared is imperative, and it’s the first step to ensuring your success!

What Do I Need For The ABCH Exam?

Study Materials

ABCH Study Portfolio

This one is a must! It includes everything you need to know about hair color, and you’ll want to read it front to back!

ABCH Practice Mannequin*

I practiced on old mannequins I had, but this is a great option if you feel that you need more prep for the technical portion of the exam.

Sidebar: The technical exam is timed and most people don’t finish in time, so you need to be confident and ready. I’m not super fast, but I’m not slow either, and I literally finished my last foil just as the buzzer went off! I was really surprised to look around and see that many others had not even started on their 4th quadrant technique!

ABCH Client Consultation Swatch Chart*

Although this tool is not required for the exam, it is really helpful in the salon when you’re doing consultations! It’s one of the first things I bought and it was definitely worth the $20! 

The mini consultation chart includes swatches for determining percentage of gray as well as swatches that show the levels of lift for each haircolor category.

ABCH Performance Examination DVD*

I did not buy this, but I had hands-on instructors that were ABCH certified. I recommend purchasing the DVD if you are doing self-prep for the exam!


*Denotes optional items.


Exam Prep Materials

ABCH Exam Mannequin

This is the official mannequin required for taking the certification examination. It is designed with 4 quadrants. Each of the quadrants requires a different task be completed. One of the quadrants is 75% gray. As instructed in the Study Portfolio, the mannequin must be prepared in advance of the examination and brought to the exam site.

Hair for Swatch Board

You will use the bundles of hair to create your own swatches for your presentation swatch board. This portion of your score is to show that you understand how hair lifts and the effects of different levels/tones on different levels of hair.

Large Thick Craft Board

You’ll need this to make your hair color swatch board. I used velcro squares to attach the swatches to the board and a label maker for identifying the swatches(it looks better than using a marker or printing and cutting out labels).

Duct Tape

This is for making the swatches. It doesn’t matter what color you use because you can cover that up.

The duct tape is just for securing the swatch hair(instructions are in the ABCH Study Portfolio).

Hair Color & Developer

You may choose your favorite brand of hair color and developer.

I suggest using cream developer because it is easier to mix than clear developer.

You’ll be on a time crunch, so faster is better!


You’re free to choose your favorite brand. Make sure you know how to properly mix your lightener as most people just mix to their desired consistency. This isn’t okay for the exam…the exam proctors will take note of how much your lightener “grows” out of the bowl after you’re done.

They spend several hours checking everyone’s work and you’ll be instructed to leave your station when the time is up. The proctors will take a point away for lightener that was not properly mixed.

Highlighting Board*

I know, anyone that’s a great haircolorist doesn’t own one of these. You’ll need it for when you prepare your mannequin for the exam. Using a highlighting board will ensure accuracy and perfection.

The instructions for preparing the mannequin tell you to do an all-over bleach on one section(1 inch from the scalp), and highlights in another section(1 inch from the scalp and 1.5 inches from the scalp). With a highlighting board you can mark the measurements so that your mannequin will be prepped to perfection!

You’ll get scored on your prep, so this is just as important as what you do the day of the exam!


*Denotes optional items.


Additional Necessities

Swatch Board Stand

Reusable Gloves


Not completely necessary, but they are neat and you’ll need them if you make a mess.

They’re also great for wiping off your reusable gloves in-between quadrants. You don’t want color to come off of your gloves on the wrong section of hair…definitely an automatic fail!

Bleach Safe Towels

New Bowls & Brushes*

Make sure that your bowls and brushes look good. Presentation is important…think of it as your “first impression”. You don’t want to have stained or scratched bowls and brushes at your station.

Trash Bags

You’ll need a few trash bags. I used black so it doesn’t look messy, and I had a smaller size(like 10 gallon or less). You may need to throw away dirty wubbies or gloves(if yours aren’t reusable) during your exam. The other trash bag is for easy clean up when it’s time to pack up your station.

Bring some tape to attach the trash bag to your station.

Rolling Cart/Suit Case

I got mine from Office Max(pictured). You may already have something like this for your hair supplies, but make sure the one you use for the exam looks professional and is easy to transport!


*Denotes optional items


About The Author


Professional Hairstylist | American Board Certified Haircolorist | Makeup Artist | Beauty Blogger

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