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.
When I posed the question of which one is better to the Erasable Facebook Group, the results were surprising. These are two pencils that I have more of a history with than any of the others in the lineup. I used to be staunchly in the Musgrave camp, and felt that very few people supported that claim. However, when the comments rolled in, there were a lot of people who sprang to its defense. It was a fun and polarizing question. But the thing that stuck out to me the most is that people liked the Musgrave BECAUSE of its flaws, not despite of them. Price was also a big issue. I was also happy to learn that I wasn't the only one who had an issue in the past with shattered cores on the General's 580. Neither pencil is packaged well; all of Musgrave's pencils come in plastic bags, and the General's 580 just comes in a half-length cardboard sheath. Especially for those of us who can't find these in retail (and really, who can? I wanna move there.), these barely packaged pencils don't make the trip very well. More than anything, I was in the Musgrave TS100 camp because my General's TS580 cores were shattered and I couldn't experience them the way I wanted.
Anyway, I ordered this review set from Pencils.com and couldn't be happier: the 4 I've gone through in testing and everyday use have been great, no issues to be found.
LOOKS & HANDFEEL
I'm a sucker for things that are "retro futurist" meaning things made decades ago, designed to look like "the future". The Musgrave has this look. It's silver and says "Test Scoring" with 4 boxes around the name, one filled in. That's nice and all, but like most things Musgrave, the quality is lacking. The lacquer is thin enough to see the grain below. Not through the paint, but beneath it. The paint takes on the shape of the grain, if you can picture it. It's like they just stopped at the base coat and left it there. The pencil is also a very sharp full-hex, as is standard for this brand. Some people love it, some not so much. For someone who death-grips their pencils like I do, the full-hex is not ideal. The General's 580 is the opposite: semi-hex, glossy black lacquer that's well-applied. It's nicer to hold in the hand. Both have silver ferrules and pink erasers.
Both pencils are really similar in terms of darkness of mark and smoothness in writing. Neither one does the best with a Classroom Friendly-esque needle point and are soft enough to snap at that degree of sharpness. When it comes to pencils like these, I prefer to sharpen in my KUM Automatic Long Point, which is not super long, but longer than a standard "short point". Neither pencil is graded, but I see these both teetering between B & 2B. The Musgrave is slightly more apt to smudging than the General, but it's to such a minor degree that it hardly matters.
Because these pencils are very similar in grade and mark darkness, their point retention is nearly identical in my testing. It's middle-of-the-road. Not the greatest, but decent for their grade. There's no clear winner here.
With the attached erasers, it's no contest: the General's 580 is the hands-down winner. The eraser on the Musgrave is comically bad. This is a trend with all of their pencils that use the pink eraser. The General's 580, on the other hand, has a quality eraser and it does a great job getting rid of the marks. With the Pentel Hi-Polymer, both erase well, with the slight advantage to the 580.
Winner: General's 580
The General's 580, as mentioned above, has a better lacquer application and a far better eraser. It is also made of cedar, which may not matter to some, but definitely matters to me. I also mentioned my history with some of the cores being shattered in ones I had in the past, but the current ones I have are fine, so that won't enter into the equation. Neither pencil is Japanese-grade quality, but between the two, I pick the 580.
Winner: General's 580
Even though there are people who love the Musgrave Test Scoring 100 because of its flaws, they are still flaws, and the General's Test Scoring 580 is the better pencil in that regard. The Musgrave was good enough in certain categories to match, but not beat, the 580, but in the categories it lost, it lost badly.
Winner: General's Test Scoring 580
Next up: Throwback Thursday! IBM Electrographic vs Dixon Sense-a-Mark 2100