The Importance of Pencils

Written by Tanen Clark: 563328400_pencil_answer_2_xlarge

When I taught Math in a high school in rural Indiana, I was amazed at how quickly pencils disappeared. I lamented the unstudied phenomenon of missing pencils, which surely disproves the Law of Conservation of Mass. Students who managed to fill their backpacks with headphones, snacks, balloons, once even a small live animal, somehow forgot all writing utensils at home. I learned early on to implement a barter system, lending pencils only to students who could offer me solid collateral, as otherwise I hemorrhaged pencils at an unbelievable rate.

I can sympathize, as I lose pencils easily. I buy little packs of pencil lead at Staples, but know that I’ve never had to add lead to a pencil before, and it’s vanishingly likely that I’ll have to in the future. It’s really an optimistic act; hoping that a pencil would stick around long enough for the replacement lead to finally be necessary.

You would think, since I lose pencils so quickly, that I would be relatively easy going about what kind of pencil I use. That is not the case! I value pencils little, but can be incredibly picky about the kind I use. Regular pencils are loathsome; they’re rarely sharp enough and become dull in about 30 seconds, whereas a mechanical pencil is perpetually sharp and ready for use.

Imagine my dismay when I walk into the testing center, prepped for Exam P with 2 calculators and 10 mechanical pencils (perhaps not totally necessary), and discover that I will be required to use regular pencils for all scratch work on the exam. Upon asking how many pencils I can take, I find I will be stuck with precisely 2 pencils and need to raise my hand and ask for assistance to request new pencils. A travesty! Halfway through the test, both pencils worked to stubs, I seethed as the testing assistant took all of the pencils and went to grab the others.

As I began preparing for Exam FM, I attempted to perfectly recreate testing conditions as I took Adapt exams. I focused solely on the test, putting on headphones, placing my phone in another room, and using pairs of regular pencils (with the replacements far away to recreate the time spent waiting for new pencils at the testing center). After 2 or 3 tests, I got used to the feel of a gripless pencil in my hand and the dullness of the writing. On test day I was unfazed by the two regulation pencils. So the moral of the story: practice with regular pencils to accurately imitate testing and avoid the small aggravation of switching on exam day.