# No. 2 pencils and scantron exams

• Testing
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## Main Question or Discussion Point

I love mechanical pencils and they're all I use, but for some classes that grade exams by scantron machine, we are required to bring a "number 2" pencil. If I have a mechanical pencil with an HB #2 lead, does it really make any difference? I assume the scantron just differentiates light and dark.

I always use a mechanical pencil on scantrons and I have had no problems.

Same with me.

I don't think I have ever used a normal pencil on those scantrons. Although, I like normal pencils much better than the clicky ones for some reason.

Staff Emeritus
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OK, I am going to give it a try then. Thanks!

Pengwuino
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I think its just their way of saying "Don't use a pen".

ek
Pengwuino said:
I think its just their way of saying "Don't use a pen".
Yep. They just don't want you writing your answers with a No. 4 pencil or worse.

I've used mechanical pencils on scantrons in the past with no problems.

Staff Emeritus
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so crayon is out of the question, then?

jtbell
Mentor
Yep. So are finger paints. :rofl:

I think that mechanical pencils and regular pencils are equivalent if they have the same graphite type.

A #2 pencil is HB. It refers to the grade -- hardness or softness -- of the lead: #1 = B, #2 = HB, #3 = H, and #4 = 2H, where you can think of H as Hard and B as... umm... not hard... lol, don't know what that one stands for. Many drafting pencils are made for use by drawers/sketchers who need different size and hardness lead.

Also, if you do lots of math, I would recommend trying a 0.3 mm pencil.

honestrosewater
Gold Member
The B stands for blackness.
The hardness of the lead is indicated by a number (1 to 4) stamped on the side of most pencils--the higher the number, the harder the lead. Sometimes there are other markings: H indicates hard, B indicates the blackness of the pencil's mark, and F indicates that the pencil can sharpen to a fine point. Sometimes combinations are used: HB, hard and black; HH, very hard.
- http://pubs.acs.org/cen/whatstuff/stuff/7942sci4.html
Ya learn somethin' new every day...
(You guys are lucky that this thread isn't in GD, because I would be all over those jokes. )

Moonbear
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Yep, you can do a scantron exam with a mechanical pencil with HB lead. Back when I was a TA, we started mentioning that in our instructions because we got asked it often. But you still aren't allowed to fold, spindle or mutilate your exam form (I also learned what spindling was because being a smart-a TA, I wanted to know what it was if I was going to tell them not to do it...that's when you stick the receipts on a big spike...I guess that means you shouldn't leave hanging chads on your scantron. :rofl:) I have never found a quick solution for the student who erases too many times and too hard until they rip a hole through the middle of the scantron...bring a good, soft eraser!

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It's funny that you brought up the whole fold, spindle, and mutilate issue, MB, because this weekend I worked out a way to protect my delicate scantron forms from just such a thing. We were cautioned heavily in class that if any marring or bending of the forms occured that they would be deemed unusuable for the test.

There is no parking at my community college class, so I first have to travel to a shuttlebus. The buses are always packed to the gills and I end up standing in the aisles, hanging on for dear life as we are all pitched, rolled, and jostled on our journey to the college. Delicate papers are always in peril. Sticking the form in the text book is a bad solution because it isn't long enough to cover the all-important edge of the form and leaves it vulnerable.

The scantron form we use is about 4.5 by 11 inches. At first I bought an 8.5 x 12 inch plastic document holder that I thought would do the trick, but it didn't quite fit into my book bag. (It's important that I zip it so things don't go flying on the bus ride!)

Anyway, I noticed this weekend while cleaning that I was just about to throw away a plastic container that some floor wipes came in. It's like a plastic pencil box, but the dimensions are 5.5 wide by 11.5 inches long and about 1 inch deep. Perfect! Now I have a nice little scantron holder and can also put a padded pencil case in there as well. It fits compactly in my bag so I am very pleased.

And that's today's helpful hint from Heloise!

I love mechanical pencils but a good point was made in a book titled " Up Your Score: The Underground Guide to the SAT", that regular pencils have blunt tips that will require less time to fill in a scantron bubble. Perhaps true? Just thought I would throw that out and let your know that you're not the only person who worried excessively ( ok maybe only I did) on whether my exam would cause a system meltdown because I used a mechanical pencil.

If the #2 pencil is the most popular, why is it still #2?

I used a #3 pencil before as a test and found that I only had to press harder to make the pencil marks darker, but the machine still picked it up.

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iggybaseball said:
I love mechanical pencils but a good point was made in a book titled " Up Your Score: The Underground Guide to the SAT", that regular pencils have blunt tips that will require less time to fill in a scantron bubble. Perhaps true?
Another helpful hint! You are my kind of guy, Iggy!
iggybaseball said:
Just thought I would throw that out and let your know that you're not the only person who worried excessively ( ok maybe only I did) on whether my exam would cause a system meltdown because I used a mechanical pencil.
I am so fearful of challenging authority that I worried civilization might collapse if I dared monkey with the scantron rules.
zwtipp05 said:
If the #2 pencil is the most popular, why is it still #2?
:rofl: :rofl: :rofl: That sounds like a Steven Wright joke.
z-component said:
I used a #3 pencil before as a test and found that I only had to press harder to make the pencil marks darker, but the machine still picked it up.
Do harder leads give lighter marks and vice versa? If that's the case, then it seems like a #1 pencil would be the best choice.

LeonhardEuler
Gold Member
Math Is Hard said:
Do harder leads give lighter marks and vice versa? If that's the case, then it seems like a #1 pencil would be the best choice.
The reason you don't use a #1 pencil is because it is so soft that so much lead comes off so easily that you could never fully erase it, and if you tried you would probably smudge a good portion of the test.

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LeonhardEuler said:
The reason you don't use a #1 pencil is because it is so soft that so much lead comes off so easily that you could never fully erase it, and if you tried you would probably smudge a good portion of the test.
Ahaaa.. and I suppose the problem with #3 is that there is a risk the hard sharp lead will tear the paper?

Moonbear
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Math Is Hard said:
Do harder leads give lighter marks and vice versa? If that's the case, then it seems like a #1 pencil would be the best choice.
A #1 pencil is that fat kind the kindergarteners use when learning to write letters. The marks it makes might be a bit too fat to fit in the bubbles.

I'm confused...they give you the scantron forms before the exam? And then you have to somehow transport them to the exam yourself? They don't just hand them out with the exam? That seems really odd. And yes, some of those older scantron readers are incredibly fussy when it comes to any sort of bend or stray mark on the form or not coloring inside the lines, or erasing cleanly enough, or marking darkly enough (that's the real pain...if you press hard enough to make the mark dark enough, then it's really hard to erase cleanly enough to not have a stray mark...but then you wonder, if the one mark needed to be so dark, why is it able to pick up that little gray spot where I didn't quite get it erased?)

It's horrible to have to resort to scantrons, but unfortunately, with large classes, there's just no other way to give an exam that can be graded in a reasonable amount of time. You don't really want to wait a month for your grades while someone reads through 300 essay tests.

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Moonbear said:
I'm confused...they give you the scantron forms before the exam? And then you have to somehow transport them to the exam yourself? They don't just hand them out with the exam? That seems really odd.
We all bring our own to the exam. They sell them down at the book store for 20 cents a piece. I suppose the school is just looking to cut costs any way they can.

Bunch of cheapskates!!! 20 cents!!! That is outrageous too!!!!!

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