Let’s talk pencils. Wooden pencils are still king for multiple-choice exams, but unfortunately not all pencils are created equal. I believe that a good writing utensil is the difference between an exam where your hand cramps up by the end and one in which you can focus on answering the exam instead of on your hand which is hurting. Off the bat, a good way how to prepare for any exam is to already start using similar materials as those which you will be using during the actual exam. This means getting into the habit of practicing answering multiple choice exams with wooden pencils and the short-answer questions with a blue or black pen.
The Quebec and Ontario Bar Exams provide you with different wooden pencils. The Barreau du Quebec provided me with new Staedtler Norica HB and Papermate Classic HB (aka Papermate Canadiana HB) pencils. In comparison, the Law Society of Ontario provided me with old Grand & Toy HB pencils and Dixon Classic HB pencils. The LSO has many old pencils hanging around, so surely many other types of pencils are also being provided.
Out of all of these, the Staedtler Norica HB stands out as a nice pencil and it is considered to be a staple by many, although the versions produced prior to 2015 were supposedly superior. It has strong point retention, a rounded hexagonal design making it comfortable to hold, a quality eraser, but unfortunately it’s a little scratchy at times and produces a slightly lighter line (the trade-off for the better point retention). The Papermate Classic is a decent pencil, but it’s a little scratchy at times and its eraser is mediocre. I know little about Grand & Toy pencils; I didn’t think they were still being made, but a quick check confirms that they most definitely are. It made me think of the Canadian Supreme Court’s Andrews Trilogy which established the $100,000 limit for non-pecuniary damages in Andrews vs. Grand & Toy.
That being said, in my opinion, the best commonly available pencil is the Dixon Ticonderoga HB. It is most definitely a step above the Dixon Classic which is about on par with the Papermate Classic. The Ticonderoga writes with nice dark line and has the best eraser I’ve found on any pencil. It has a comfortable hex design and the pencil’s yellow colour makes it stand out nicely. I should also add that it comes in different degrees of firmness (1/B, 2/HB, 2.5/F, 3/H, 4/H) and special consideration should be give to the F grade pencil which has extremely long point retention in exchange for only a slightly lighter line. Quality has decreased significantly since production has been shifted to Mexico and China, but it remains a good choice and I prefer it over the Staedler Norica.
That being said, my personal favourite pencil used to be the MItsubishi 9850 pencil. (Sometimes it’s spelled “Mitsu-Bishi 9850” with a hyphen) You might have caught glances of this pencil in posts on this site. Although it is priced higher than the previous options presented (around $9 for a dozen), it remains significantly cheaper than the Palomino Blackwing suite of pencils, at roughly a third of the price. It has a nice maroon-coloured body with a strong silver imprint. It just has that look of a professional’s pencil. It is slightly thicker than your classic pencil and feels quite comfortable in hand. It produces a dark line while maintaining the point retention of a typical Japanese pencil while having that nice addition of an eraser. It really feels and looks like the premium pencil which it is. If you want to treat yourself and feel the joy of writing with a stellar writing instrument, it’s worth trying the Mitsubishi 9850 pencil. It combines darkness of Japanese pencils with the point retention and erasers of classic North American and European pencils.
Since this post was first written, I have since designed a custom pencil, the RoyalPoint Janus 929. This is a link to a post which describes it at greater length, but to give a quick summary. This pencil has a white cylindrical barrel, a black imprint, and a black eraser. It has the point retention of a North American HB with the comfort of a cylindrical barrel. It is American-made and sharpens nicely as it is of incense cedar.
This post would not be complete without a discussion about the Palomino Blackwing pencils. My personal preference is the RoyalPoint Janus 929 at $0.50/pencil sold in our shop, but many consider the Palomino Blackwing 602 to be the holy grail of wooden pencils. The pencils are very comfortable to hold and they have a coating which is slightly less glossy than that of the Mitsubishi, but unfortunately, their gold-stamped imprints quickly rub off. The eraser is a great design allowing you to raise the eraser as you use it up, but I find the eraser itself to be slightly inferior to that of the Janus 929. There are a couple different versions available of the Palomino Blackwing pencils. There is the very soft Palomino Blackwing Matte (black), the slightly soft Palomino Blackwing Pearl (white), the classic soft Palomino Blackwing 602 (grey), and the firmer Blackwing Natural (brown). The Blackwing pencils stand out for their looks and trademark eraser design, but lose points for their imprints which wear out and their expensive price point (around $3/pencil). Nonetheless, if you’re looking for the pencil to impress – the Blackwing pencils are for you. My favourite of the bunch is the Blackwing 602 which although it isn’t the firmest of the group (that honour goes to the Blackwing Natural), its point retention seems to be the best and it remains buttery smooth. Try Papeterie Nota Bene in Montreal if you want a better price for the Blackwing pencils (their wooden pencils aren’t in the online store) or if you want a long point sharpener.
The choice is yours, but consider jumping to great wooden pencil to see what all the fuss is about. And don’t forget, a good pencil is only as nice as its point which depends on its sharpener. A nice classic sharpener is the Staedtler Noris tube sharpener, but if you really want a nice point, try the NJK Long-point sharpener or any other long point sharpener. I’ll have another post in not too long on mechanical pencils.
Mitsubishi 9850 Pencil with Eraser, HB, Box of 12
Dixon Ticonderoga Wood-Cased Pencils, HB, Box of 12
Dixon Ticonderoga Wood-Cased Pencils, HB, Box of 30
Dixon Ticonderoga Wood-Cased Pencils, F, Box of 12
Staedtler Norica Pencil, HB, Box of 12
Staedtler Tube Screw-Cap Pencil Sharpener