From the Mailbox: Testing Pencils.


Comrade Ted wrote in last month about a question for which I’m certain he can find lots of advice from our community members:

Hello!  I have enjoyed your website and wonder If I might ask you an opinion on a question I have been looking to answer.

I am looking to find the ideal testing pencil. While this may sound fairly dull, I have taken a great interest in discovering this dream pencil. You see, I am preparing to take the LSAT. Only wooden pencils may be used, and time is a crucial make-or-break factor on the test. When you’re only given 1.29 minutes to answer every question, suddenly the effectiveness of the eraser you are using and the degree to which you work to fill in a bubble come into effect substantially. I am trained in art, however, so I can appreciate the finer qualities in a well-made pencil. Here is what I’m looking for. I’m hoping the experts out there can help point me in the direction of something I have not tried yet (something exotic perhaps?).

I need to find two different pencils, but one requirement stands the same for both.  Both need to have a really fantastic eraser. I mean top notch. If I could find a pencil with a Mars eraser attached to it, I would be a pretty happy camper.  But alas, I have not found such. The best erasing pencils I have found as of yet are the Staedtler Tradition and, a close second, the Faber-Castell 9000.

The last two features are where the two pencils need to differ.  Feature 1 is a need for a long lasting point, firm enough to make small narrow marks but soft enough still to fill in the bubble of a Scantron pretty fast.  Feature 2 is sort of the opposite. I need just enough lead to make a few small marks, but it needs to be as soft as I can get away with to do so, so as to fill in Scantron bubbles as fast and effectively as possible.

I have come across several which have worked pretty well, but I wonder if anyone has any other suggestions.  Here is what I have already tried:

Staedtler Tradition – (far too lightly colored lead and too hard, but great eraser)

Staedtler Norica – (lead quality is pretty good, but maybe a bit softer and not as crumbly would be preferred; sadly, the eraser on this is not the same high-quality as the one used on the Tradition)

Faber-Castel 9000 B and HB, with eraser attached – (good eraser, but a bit too hard even in the B variety; I wish they made it in a 2B)

Rhodia – (good eraser;  but the lead just does not last long enough; it’s either too soft or just crumbles a bit too much — not sure which)
Palomino HB, with eraser – (the lead is great to write with but perhaps just a bit too soft for my purposes; it wears a little too quickly; but more importantly is that the eraser is not effective enough)

Musgrave HB – (good lead, however the eraser cannot handle the leads richness)

Musgrave Test Scoring 100 – (perhaps the closest I have come to the second variety I described; good eraser and good lead quality; would love something like this only with slightly harder lead and perhaps with an eraser like the one on the Staedtler)

I’m very curious about many of the Japanese pencils I have been reading about but wonder if any are offered with an eraser (I realize this is not preferred when the pencil is of high quality most of the time).  Any advice/info would be much appreciated!!!

Thanks very much!

Please leave any and all aid you might be able to offer Ted as he advances in the law school application process!

25 Replies to “From the Mailbox: Testing Pencils.”

  1. Ted,

    Great question! I actually answered one sort of like this when I wrote for the now-defunct PencilThings.com blog. (Here is the internet archive copy of the post, sans-CSS styling). My top choice was the Palomino, which you didn’t care for (Full disclosure: I now work for CalCedar/Pencils.com, the maker of the Palomino, though I didn’t at the time I wrote that.) I also recommended the Mongol 482, though those are hard to find now.

    I think that now, almost 3 years later, I might recommend a couple different pencils:
    California Republic Golden Bear: This is similar to, but maybe a little better than a Dixon Ticonderoga. It holds a very sharp point for an extended period of time. The eraser isn’t bad, either. (Again, I work for this company. I just want to make sure to disclose that)

    Helix Oxford: Have you ever tried this? You can get them on eBay usually. It has a really smooth point, and the eraser seems to hold up.

    I really think a handheld eraser might be good for you, though. If you need your eraser to last, and be on hand to grab quickly, you’d be better off having something bigger and heartier. Are you allowed to bring those? That way, you might be able to use pencils without erasers, and they are a bit lighter and whippier.

  2. Why not make your own hybrid?
    If the 9000 2B and Mars eraser are your ideal components, you should be able to franken-pencil them together with the right size ferules and superglue.

    1. have you ever tried this out and have it work out reliably? Also where might one order ferules? I hadn’t really thought of frankenpenciling but this might be the way to go if I cant find anything else that works… fun to try out anyhow. If you have done it do you have any recommendations on superglue/ epoxy type and or where to get/what type of ferules to get?

  3. Other possible candidates:

    General’s Semi-Hex. The HB/2 might be a little soft, but I hear good things about the F/2.5 grade. (Hard to get that grade, though.)

    New Dixons made in China. I was disappointed when the pencil for which Norman “USA” Rockwell painted advertisements, too. But the new cores are darker in my experience. The Mexican-made ones, not so much (though the Mexican Mirados we get in the US have darker cores than their former/American counterparts, too).

    Dixon Tri-Conderoga. Great eraser, and A LOT OF IT!

    Harder grade Palomino?

    1. @John,

      Y’know, I almost recommended a General’s! I’ve been using one all week in prep for a promotion next week, and I really like it. The eraser isn’t my favorite, but it’s nice to hold and the graphite is fun. In fact, I get to meet the General’s people in Redwood City next week!

  4. I get 100 bubbles easy out of a single Hi-Uni HB sharpening. You won’t likely be doing much erasing with the time constraints. Just keep a pencil around just for erasing or have a dedicated eraser. For the MCAT I used black warriors and still use them now, but only for the eraser.

  5. The Helix Oxford while a great pencil has a big draw back, the eraser can be taken out. I did not know this the first time I used it, and went to user the eraser, and it fell right out. Whatever pencil you use I would recommend having a hand held eraser.

  6. I saw John’s earlier comment about the Mirados made in Mexico being darker writers than the America made ones. Does anyone know if the Mirado Woodtone is also being manufactured in Mexico?

  7. So I want to say thanks for the ideas gang, I will play around more with trying a hand held eraser though its not the most ideal situation. And Ill try out the golden bear, and maybe some eraser caps. However I was hoping someone might have a suggestion which might include a killer pencil for the requirements I mentioned which has a great attached eraser… Any more thoughts on this specific notion??

  8. This is a late post, I hope someone sees this. What would be recommended if my primary purpose is to have speedy efficient bubbling of my scantron sheet?

  9. General’s Pencil Company actually makes a pencil originally for a scantron sheet. I found one and have enjoyed it non-stop for the dark line it makes. It never lets up.

  10. I have found the General’s Test scoring 580 to be an awesome pencil. I think it has a great eraser but in your situation I would go with a handheld eraser. You can’t beat the graphite in this pencil. The name says it all. Lead is not too soft, dark but holds a point and it’s made with Calif. incense cedar so it smells nice too. Good luck!

  11. I can report from behind the smoke and mirrors that the grading of AP test free response is also done on scantrons and the professors grading use the General’s test Scoring 580. A big perk is … you can take home some 580’s ! So that is the pencil of the pros IMHO (my information is circa 2007, things may have changed)

  12. The Mirado Black Warrior makes a smooth solid dark line, will hold a point, and the eraser will remove most of the writing if needed. The MIrado Classsic has the same graphite core but in a standard hexagonal barrel and has a good eraser. They each sell for under $3 for 8 or 12 pack respectively.

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