The first correspondence you receive from the Contractors State License Board after submitting an application for a California Contractors License is a letter informing you that your application has been received. This letter will also provide you with your unique Application Fee Number and a PIN. You can use this to log into the State's website to track the progress of your application. About a week later you will receive a letter from the state informing you that you have a test date in about three to four weeks. So you can expect to test about five to six weeks from the time you submit your application. This is assuming the state does not require any corrections or additional proof of your experience.
You can take the test faster if you like. There are two ways this can be accomplished:
(1) You can include a letter with your application addressed to the Expedite Committee. This committee meets once a week and reviews such requests. If granted you can expect to test much sooner (maybe two weeks) and have your license number issued much quicker than the three weeks it normally takes after you pass the exams. Expedites are rarely granted except under extremely urgent situations that were not under the control of the applicant, especially now since you have the next option discussed below.
(2) The other option is to do what is called a "Walk-In". Once you are notified that you have a test date in the future, you can just show up at a State testing center at 7:30 a.m. on any weekday and, if they have room, they will test you! Some days they don't test so you should call in advance and check to see if they are testing on the day you would like to do a Walk-In (be sure to specify which city). They almost always have room, especially now since they are only testing about half the number of applicants that they were just a few years ago. I have not had one student call me and say that they could not get in. This way you are testing as fast as if you were approved for an Expedite. The only difference is you will still have to wait the three weeks after you pass to get your license number.
Keep in mind that the three weeks it takes to get your license number after your exam is assuming you pay your license fee and get your bond(s) right after your test.
You cannot bid on a contract until you have a license number, even if you have passed the test.