Top 4 Test Taking Pencils

One of the most important test day decisions that you must make (besides what break-time snack you are going to eat) is what pencil you should use for the dastardly Scantron. This may seem like an easy decision. You’ll scramble through your backpack and grab the foil-stamped heart pencil that you received from your valentine last year. You’ll think to yourself, “this will do”, but on the most important Scantron bubbling day of your life, do you really want to waste all those Cram Crew Test Preparation sessions on a pencil that isn’t top notch?


On test day, you want a pencil that is quick to sharpen, won’t break after nervous bubbling, and leaves a dark mark with minimal effort. After extensive research and testing, we have narrowed down the best test-taking pencils to four: the Dixon Ticonderoga, the Palomino Prospector, the Musgrave 100 Test Scoring pencil, and the Palomino Golden Bear. Each pencil was tested in six categories including, sharpen speed, tip strength, smudge rating, eraser, lead wear, and comfort.

#4. Palomino Golden Bear

$2.95 (12 pack) at

The Palomino Golden Bear is an orange pencil (also available in blue) with a snazzy blue eraser. These pencils are made out of California grown incense cedar and are great for everyday use; however they ranked last on my list.

Sharpen Speed:        ****

Tip Strength:             ***

Smudge Rating:        *

Eraser:                      *

Lead Wear:               ***

Comfort:                    ***

The Golden Bear sharpens pretty quickly, but was a letdown in the smudge and eraser tests. It leaves a long, dark smudge, and the eraser leaves a slight tinge of blue behind, which is something that test takers cannot be messing around with during a timed test.

#3. Dixon Ticonderoga

$2.79 (12 pack) at

Although the Dixon Ticonderoga pencil is a hard name to pronounce, it is a household and back-to-school favorite. Yellow body. Pink eraser. Incense cedar wood. A classic. Nuff said.

Sharpen Speed:        ***

Tip Strength:             ***

Smudge Rating:        **

Eraser:                      *****

Lead Wear:               **

Comfort:                    *

The Dixon Ticonderoga sharpens quickly and has a hard lead that would be difficult to break under normal test-taking conditions; however it ranks low on the list for comfort and lead wear. The lead is fairly hard and it takes a while to complete a bubble with a dark mark. The lead also feels scratchy as it moves across the paper, which doesn’t help ease those test day nerves.

#2. Palomino Prospector

$1.95 (12 pack) at

The Palomino Prospector has a bass wood casing, which makes this pencil the lightest of the group. It has a natural wood finish, with a light gloss that puts those splinter fears at ease.

Sharpen Speed:      *

Tip Strength:            *

Smudge Rating:       *****

Eraser:                     ****

Lead Wear:              ****

Comfort:                   ****

This is a great test-taking pencil. It has a great smudge rating, a top notch eraser, and writes smooth as silk without wearing down quickly. After completing a few bubbles, the Prospector wears into the perfect Scantron chisel that helps to fill in those bubbles efficiently and accurately. However, the Prospector broke during it’s initial sharpen and failed the lead strength test miserably. So, if you have some spare time to sharpen or don’t write too hard, this is a great test day option.


#1. Musgrave 100 Test Scoring Pencil

$3.95 (12 pack) at

The Musgrave 100 is made for testing. It has an ultra-reflective concentrated graphite core that is manufactured to trigger Scantron machines. It is slightly heavier than the rest of the group, but it writes like velvet with a dark mark that the others can’t compare to.

Sharpen Speed:       ****

Tip Strength:            **********

Smudge Rating:       ****

Eraser:                     ***

Lead Wear:              *****

Comfort:                   *****

The tip strength on the Musgrave 100 was astounding. It would break off in little chips, but the lead tips did not break off which really speeds up the re-sharpening process. It has an average smudge rating, but the marks that it creates are dark, really dark. It melts into the same Scantron chisel of perfection similar to the Prospector, but the darkness never fades and not a single one of your bubbles will need a touch up, which gets you on a fast grind that makes you an unstoppable testing force. I will say that the eraser is kind of weak, but it gets the job done.

  • Mai McCarthy

    Oh my goodness, I genuinely *never* thought about the performance of pencils before. WOW! That actually makes a huge difference! I think I’ll go splurge on some Musgrave 100s and pair them with the Cram Crew eraser that, let’s face it, is super amazing.

    • Kristen

      I had never thought about it either! Definitely makes sense though, especially when you can’t afford to spare a second (ahem, ACT).

  • Brandon Michael Garcia

    Excellent analysis. I was really impressed with the carefully observed details of the whole pencil-use experience.

  • Claire Stolowitz

    I’m loyal to Ticonderoga, but this was very informative. I might get crazy and branch out!