Tag Archives: pencils

Consider this a respectful response to our “Ode to the Big Pink Eraser.” I’ve never been a fan of a stand-alone pink eraser. It never stays next to my pencil, for one thing. For another, well, it gets lost a lot, which is essentially the same thing. It’s bulky, too. A fistful of eraser comes in handy at times, but most mistakes are not large enough to merit the blunt-end surface area of Big Pink. But what to do? I’m not meaning to suggest that the stubby nubbin on the pencil end will do the job. Though handy and right-sized for most corrections, everyone knows the tiny cylinder’s useful life is way shorter than the pencil’s. Nothing is worse than a long and lovely pencil with a worn-out, flat eraser. My go-to solution to the woefully inadequate standard-issue pencil-top eraser is (drum roll please) the add-on eraser cap. This roof-shaped…

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A funny thing happened on our way to our promised paperless digital future: we never stopped using paper. Who could resist paper, considering that students learn better when reading from paper than from computer screens and still prefer textbooks over e-textbooks? In lecture settings, students who write out their notes on paper actually learn more than the laptop set. Clearly, paper is here to stay for at least a while more. Nowhere is the presence of paper more assured than in the realm of college admissions tests. Despite a rabid desire to digitize the SAT and ACT à la the GRE, the testmakers can’t overcome the technical difficulties inherent in reliably testing millions of teens a year via computer. As a result, the experience of taking the SAT or ACT today feels much like it has for decades, with students carefully using pencils (not mechanical, of course) to fill in…

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While many of us have come to favor mechanical pencils over traditional wooden ones, we can’t abandon those classic yellow Ticonderogas just yet. Both the College Board and ACT, Inc. require that test takers use the standard No. 2: SAT: Use a No. 2 pencil and a soft eraser. Do not use a pen or mechanical pencil. ACT: Use a soft lead No. 2 pencil with a good eraser. Do not use a mechanical pencil or ink pen; if you do, your answer document cannot be scored accurately. The issue with mechanical pencils has nothing to do with the influence of the lumber lobby and everything to do with quality control. Basically, the test makers want to ensure that your multiple-choice responses will be read accurately by their optical mark recognition scanners. Since the scanners are calibrated for marks made by No. 2 pencils, the variability introduced by different graphite…

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Anyone writing the history of standardized tests in America would be wise to include a long, loving chapter in praise of the writing implement synonymous with the SAT and ACT. Anywhere students huddle over a Scantron form, you will find #2 pencils and plenty of them. The ubiquity of this unassuming tool belies the elegance and perfection of its form and function. How the basic wooden pencil became such a valuable and useful writing implement is reviewed in a brilliant article in Popular Mechanics, The Write Stuff How the Humble Pencil Conquered the World. This lavish account of the pencil’s origins and ascendancy reveals some fascinating facts: The word “pencil” is derived from pencillum, Latin for “a fine brush.” The crystalline carbon substance we know as graphite was first discovered under a tree in England in the 16th century. Lead was previously used for writing, but since graphite made a darker…

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