Hot Take: Pens are better than pencils

Vivian Hoang // The Flat Hat

Crystal Wang ’25 is an English Major and intended History major. In addition to being Copy Chief for the Flat Hat, she writes for the DoGStreet Journal and is a member of The Gallery and William & Mary Review. Email Crystal at

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

Imagine this: it’s 9 a.m, and you just walked into your class to take your midterm. The professor passes out the exam sheet, face down, in front of you. The clock ticks down, your heart slows and speeds at the same time and you flip the page. You start and, immediately, you’re on a roll. You’re in the zone, and nothing can distract you now. You’re an academic weapon. But then, you hear this grating, screeching, scratching sound next to you. Someone’s taking their exam with a pencil, and they’ve decided now is the best time to test out whether they can carve their answer into the desk through the paper. 

This anecdote was based on a true story of my experience taking an exam last week. And it prompted this opinion: pens are superior to pencils when taking a written exam. Not only is it better for the test taker, but it’s also more considerate for everyone else as well. 

First, pens flow better than pencils. When you’re spending hours writing furiously, you want something that will flow smoothly because it’ll allow you to write faster. You flow from one word to the next, not needing to pick up your stationary with each letter like you would with a pencil. “But what if I mess up and need to erase something?” Just cross it out. 

And what’s faster, turning your pencil to erase or just crossing out your mistakes? If you’re insistent on erasing rather than crossing out, get an erasable pen. You won’t even have to deal with the eraser shavings or faint remains of your mistakes. The only downside in terms of speed is that a pen may skip, but that’s entirely dependent on what kind of pen you get. Spend $3 on two decent pens, and you’ll be sliding through your exam. 

You’ll also be in less physical pain if you write with a pen because a pen uses ink. A pencil, on the other hand, is made of graphite, which always creates more friction than ink. Not only will you write faster with a pen, but it also takes less effort and the pressure you need to push down with is lighter. Wonder why your fingers and forearms hurt after an exam? It’s because you’ve been pressing down on a thin object nonstop for the past four pages. If you were to press lighter with a pen instead, it would hurt less. 

Now to get to the whole reason I wrote this article: consideration for others. A pen is quieter; because you don’t need to press down as hard, you won’t create that scratching sound that a pencil does. Even if you aren’t writing so aggressively that it sounds like you’re trying to carve into your desk, there will still be a faint scratching sound with a pencil, so a pen remains quieter. 

As for those who push down hard on their pens even though they don’t need to, it’s still not as loud as a pencil because you don’t need to rub graphite off to write. As for the pen clickers, the clicking is periodical, not constant like the scratching; you can’t click your pen if you’re writing, which you’ll be doing almost constantly during an exam. Not to mention, the Venn diagram for pen clickers and pencil tappers is a circle — the people clicking their pens are the same ones fidgeting with their pencils enough to be just as noisy. A pen at its worst is just as loud as a pencil and, at its best, absolutely silent. 

A pen’s ink also won’t smudge or fade over time. If any of you have written notes in pencil, you know the notes smudge when pages rub together. If you’re writing for an exam, you will be using more than one page, so by the time your professor gets to grading, the graphite would have already made a mess of your exam. 

“But ink smudges all the time,” you say. No, it doesn’t — not if you get the right pen. 

Pen ink comes in a variety of formulas, including ones that dry incredibly quickly. Once again, spend a few dollars on a pen designed for the way you write (note that pens also have so many more options than pencils) and write without the smudging. 

Do yourself and everyone else a favor: write your exams with a pen.


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