Test Scoring. Mark Sheet. Exam Grade. They all mean the same thing, but what do they mean? In the 1930s, IBM developed a scanning machine for standardized tests, however, the marks could only be read using a special graphite that was highly conductive. So IBM had pencils made, and the General Pencil Co. was the one who made them. The IBM pencils are no longer made, but the Test Scoring pencil lives on. These days, we don't need the special graphite mixture, and most of the pencils advertised as "good for testing" are just normal pencils. But it's a neat bit of pencil history and they're still around today, so let's take a look. For a more detailed look into the history of these pencils, check out Caroline Weaver's book Pencil Perfect.
For this series, I'm pitting 2 pencils against each other each day. I set it up this way:
Stabilo Exam Grade HB vs Pelikan Exam Standard 2B (Germany)
Tombow Mono Mark Sheet HB vs Mitsubishi Mark Sheet HB (Japan)
Musgrave Test Scoring 100 vs General's Test Scoring 580 (USA)
IBM Electrographic vs Dixon Sense-a-Mark (vintage)
Each of the winners will then be pitted against each other at the end of the week and one victor will emerge! I'll be judging on these criteria:
Looks & Handfeel
Erasability (for the pencils without erasers, I'll be using the Pentel Clic eraser and the Pentel Hi-Polymer eraser)
I will be filling out one 100 bubble test sheet and doing a writing test. You have one hour, students...let's begin.
I could find no definitive answer if these were produced in Germany or not. My suspicion is not. But these are German brands, so we're calling it for Germany. Something like the Staedtler Rally also says "perfect for tests" on their packaging, but these are "Exam Grade" pencils. In fact, the Stabilo has a whole line under their Exam Grade name, a sharpener, eraser, and ballpoint pen. If I were being super fair here, I'd review the Stabilo Exam Grade 2B against the Pelikan Exam Standard 2B instead of the HB, but it's what I had.
LOOKS & HANDFEEL
Both are light and have no attached eraser, so they are balanced as well. They feel solid in the hand and full sized. As more and more pencils are seemingly getting thinner by using that different slat size that can get 1 extra pencil per slat (USA Gold, the new cedar Ticonderoga), these are refreshingly normal. Both pencils are full hex with a bit of extra lacquer layers that softens the angles. Both are simple with their color schemes, with the Stabilo being black with a red end dip and gold printing, and the Pelikan is a silver with a deep blue end dip and black printing. I like the font (Eurostile) on the Pelikan better. I'm also kind of over black pencils, as a personal preference.
Obviously the Pelikan, at 2B, is going to be darker than the Stabilo. But with that extra darkness comes a loss in point retention. This is not to say that the Stabilo is not dark enough to properly mark the scoring sheet. It works perfectly fine. The Stabilo is also not as smudge-prone as the Pelikan. For pure bubble-filling multiple choice tests, either will work, though you may smudge the Pelikan. If you also had to do a written essay with one of these pencils (not sure this happens nowadays, but I had to do it in school, many moons ago) I would have to say the Stabilo would be the best bet for a little long form writing.
As mentioned above, the point retention of the Pelikan is due to the difference in it being 2B versus the HB of the Stabilo. Even just filling out the scoring card, there was a major difference. Writing is worse. I personally like writing with a soft pencil, and I don't mind the built in break that sharpening causes, but in a testing situation, I have to put the Stabilo as the winner all the way here, with the caveat that they aren't the same grade to begin with.
Being able to erase a wrong answer is pretty important when a machine is reading your answers. Neither of these pencils come with an attached eraser, so I used the Pentel Hi-Polymer eraser and the Pentel Clic stick eraser in my tests. Both erased fairly well with both erasers, the Hi-Polymer doing a slightly better job, more than likely due to the pressure you're able to apply with a regular sized eraser as opposed to one that pushes back up into the pen mechanism, like the Clic. I know they're essentially the same, but the form and size they come in matters. I picked these erasers because, in the US, they are readily available and sold pretty much anywhere the Paper Mate Pink Pearl eraser is sold. There is no clear winner, both erased well. See the pictures in the gallery below.
Both are well made pencils, with centered cores. Not certain of the wood, but it feels like good quality. There are no splits or color variation between the slats. The paint jobs and printing are very well done, though there is a crack in the lacquer on the Stabilo where the logo is placed on the end dip. If I had to choose one, I would pick the Pelikan because I like the color better, but there is no clear winner here. Both are phenomenal pencils.
These are both really great pencils. While I didn't have equivalent grades to judge them, I'm going to give this one to the Stabilo. I will personally use the Pelikan more often for my uses, because I like the smoothness and darkness of line, but if I were taking a test and had to choose between these two, I would take the Stabilo every time. Many of the qualities I tested for were a wash, but the point retention is was put it over the top.
Next up: Tombow Mono Mark Sheet HB vs. Mitsubishi Mark Sheet HB