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
- Mark Darkness
- Point Retention
- 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'm assuming these are both made in Japan, however, Tombow is making some of their pencils in Vietnam now, so depending on the age of my review unit, it could be either way. From all accounts I've read, the quality of the Vietnam-made Tombow pencils have not suffered, so I'm thinking it matters not.
LOOKS & HANDFEEL
Both of these pencils feel great in the hand. Like with yesterday's group, both of these pencils have no attached eraser, so there is no top-heavy imbalance. The Tombow is black with a silver end dip and a blue & white stripe between them. The writing is in white and very simple. It says Mono Mark Sheet on one side of the hex and has the Tombow logo and the UPC on the other side. What is weird to me about the Tombow is that the 2 sides that have an imprint on them are not on the opposite sides, rather, the UPC is only 2 panels away from the branding. Its as if they planned on doing a 3 sided imprint and left off one of the sides. The end dip has the HB grading, and it is on 3 sides. It's a nitpick, but it is a lopsided design. The Mitsubishi, on the other hand, is a dark grey lacquer with a light blue stripe that separates the black end dip. This pencil also has a white imprint. I like "mark sheet" logo design very much. It also has a UPC on the opposite side. While the brightness of the blue stripe on the Tombow really pops, I think I like the coloring and design of the Mitsubishi more.
Both of these pencils are HB, but because they are Japanese, I expected them to be a little darker Has than their American and European counterparts. I was right to expect that. As is the style, they are smooth and very dark for their grade. These would be considered maybe a 2B in Europe and a B in the US. Both smudge a little, but less than expected. The Mitsubishi smudged less than the Tombow in my test. Both are dark enough and thick enough to be perfectly fine for a testing machine to pick up the mark.
The point retention was virtually neck and neck in the bubble-filling portion of the test. I'm going off my eyes and the pictures I took before and after the test, but to be able to tell any major difference would be impossible without some fancy machine I don't have access to. Where the pencils differ is the writing tests. The point retention was better on the Mitsubishi. The line laid down was slightly less dark, but the point retention difference was significant.
Neither of the pencils tested today have erasers attached, so I stuck with the control of the Pentel Hi-Poly eraser and the Pentel Clic eraser. The Hi-Poly eraser does a better job of erasing than the Clic stick eraser, but both did the job fine. Both pencils erased well, enough to not provide a misread on the scoring machine, but the Mitsubishi erased more cleanly.
Both of these pencils are extremely well made and true to the quality of the companies that produced them. The lacquer is immaculate, the imprinting flawless, the cores centered. I can find nothing wrong with these pencils in the slightest when it concerns build quality.
You couldn't really go wrong choosing either one of these pencils. Both are amazing, and in normal, everyday use, you'd more than likely have a hard time finding something that writes as well (unless it was from the same company!). For the purposes of this test, however, I'm going to have to pick the Mitsubishi. There are just a few things that put it over the edge, slightly better writing point retention and erasability.
Next up: Musgrave Test Scoring 100 vs General's Test Scoring 580