Test Scoring Pencil Roundup

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.

ICYMI, here's the posts from the week:

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)

I'll be picking a winner out of the four based on these categories:

  • 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)

If you notice, I removed the "Quality" category because these are all quality pencils in their own right. Really, there's only one pencil out of the 8 this week that wasn't quality, and that's the Musgrave.

These four pencils have a lot of similarities and a few differences. While it will be hard to pick a clear winner, no matter which one you choose, you wouldn't be picking a loser.

Looks & Handfeel

When it comes to looks, at this stage of the contest, it's about personal preference. The Mitsubishi is nearly flawless. The Stabilo is nice enough, and a close second, but there are a few things with the imprint that make it lose points. Compared to the Mitsubishi, the IBM and General's 580, while classic, just don't compare. The IBM's flaws could be due to the passage of time, but the General's flaws are just flaws, however quaint. The Stabilo and Mitsubishi are also lighter and more balanced in the hand due to the lack of attached eraser.

Winner: Mitsubishi

Mark Darkness

No real loser here; all make a dark mark. The darkest mark with the least amount of pressure comes from the Mitsubishi Mark Sheet. When writing, the Mitsubishi shines against the competition; it's as smooth as any of them and darker than the rest.

Winner: Mitsubishi

Point Retention

The contest here is between the Mark Sheet and the Stabilo Exam Grade. They're both listed as HB. The 580 and the IBM are unlisted, and they feel more between the B & 2B range. I found that the Stabilo keeps a better point while writing, but it isn't as dark as the Mitsubishi.

Winner: Stabilo


None of these pencils failed at getting erased, some were harder to remove than others. It's negligible, but I found the Mitsubishi and the General's 580 to be the best. Extra points for the 580 for having a really decent attached eraser.

Winner: General's 580


No offense to the other countries involved, but no one makes a pencil like the Japanese. The Mitsubishi is the best pencil, quality-wise, in this group. It's hard to put into words, but you know it when you feel it in the hand. It lays down a dark mark, has great point retention for the darkness you get. It looks great and is nowhere near as expensive or hard to find as some of the others. The Mitsubishi Mark Sheet is the overall winner of this test.

There are many more test scoring pencils out there than the ones I've covered, particularly vintage. These days, as the machines have gotten better, even a plain #2 will suffice. But this was a fun exercise anyway. Hope you enjoyed it!

Available from Amazon. $10 for box of 12.