Choose your weapon

What do you equip yourself with during a test? A No. 2 pencil’s the common choice—and is usually required anyway for standardized-test-bubble-sheet scanners.

Over the years, I’ve wielded many different kinds of these traditional pencils. Studentdom has given me ample time and opportunity to put them to the test. Some are obviously superior, others are hardly worth the price. To characterize overall quality, I named five criteria that I think define a good pencil. In celebration of my freedom from AP testing, I judged pencils that I’ve used for a long time below.

The Dixon Ticonderoga

Arguably the world’s best pencil. They’re classic, do the job, and do the job well. There’s nothing they really lack except an appearance that distinguishes them; the ubiquitous, unspecial yellow doesn’t speak for the high quality pencil that it is.

Happily buy in bulk.  

The Ticonderoga tri-write

A cousin of the Dixon Ticonderoga, it boasts a triangular shape—as opposed to the traditional hexagonal. Its shape lets it fit better in the writing stance finger configuration and feels lighter. It’s quicker, more stylish to some, and definitely far from standard.

When used on the SAT, they augment luck.

The Paper Mate Black Warrior

It’s a round pencil, making it prone to rolling off desks, but ultimately lending it a class that rivals drawing pencils. The shape, coupled with its color, make the pencil stand out. The eraser isn’t as good as it could be.

Wood is dense enough to ease writing but light enough to be agile.

The Staedtler Rally

I’m a sucker for Staedtlers; this is my pencil of choice. The graphite quality is noticeably superior, the coloring is attractive, and it’s well-weighted for thumb-arounds. The wood is light and easy to maneuver. The marks are heavy. It’s hard to put down.

They’re clean and efficient but on the pricey side.

The Paper Mate Mirado Classic

This pencil is the paragon of average. This is the one you buy for your elementary schoolers just to get pencil crossed off the school supply list. They’re nothing outstanding but are of remarkable quality given their price. Even so, the eraser gets hard and crusty, leaves pink streaks, and hardly erases. The wood is tough and it grinds; it doesn’t peel easily like it’s supposed to when sharpened.

The Dixon Oriole

An overall decent pencil. The kid brother of Dixon Ticonderoga. Although it’ll never reach that level, it’s a smooth ride and almost matchless when it comes to bubbling, doodling, or essay-ing.

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