499: Scantron

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Also, after all the warnings about filling in the bubbles completely, I spent like 30 seconds on each one.
Title text: Also, after all the warnings about filling in the bubbles completely, I spent like 30 seconds on each one.


This comic is a take on the instructions "Remember to use a #2 pencil on the Scantron" that most modern students in the US have heard many, many times, a warning that seems unnecessary to many because #2 pencils are the most common type of pencil, and most students wouldn't have any other kind. Scantrons are standardized machine-readable papers used by students to answer multiple-choice tests. Often, the instructor will remind students to use a #2 pencil, which is a US classification of pencil hardness and equivalent to the HB term that is used in Europe. #2 pencils use a medium-hardness graphite considered ideal for Scantron use because the graphite is soft enough to leave a dark mark but hard enough to not smudge, both aspects that improve the performance of machine-readable paper. Miss Lenhart seems to have given her class one of these tests.

The joke is that the student used a #3 (or 'H') pencil, which has a slightly harder graphite rating, as opposed to the #2. Instructors and examiners usually place great emphasis on using a #2 pencil, as if not using one would lead to dire consequences, but without explaining why. The comic jokingly suggests that these consequences would include causing the grading machine to explode, killing seriously harming people nearby and leaving a bloody mess.

The title text refers to the instruction to "fill in all the bubbles completely." This again improves the performance of machine-readable paper. The student states that he spent an inordinate amount of time making sure his markings were perfect because he had been warned so many times to do so, but five seconds is usually enough.

This is the first of only two comics where Miss Lenhart is both drawn and named, the second being 1050: Forgot Algebra.


[A classroom scene. There are two desks, and the front one is occupied by the student. Miss Lenhart stands panel right facing the student.]
Miss Lenhart: Okay class, I've turned in your exams for grading. Now—
Student: Miss Lenhart?
[View is now simply student in desk and teacher. The student is holding a pencil. Miss Lenhart looks horrified.]
Student: I used a #3 pencil instead of a #2. Will that mess anything up?
Miss Lenhart: You WHAT?
[Miss Lenhart stands leaning forward, covering her face and the back of her head and notably ruffled hair, in front of an off-panel right explosion. The unseen speaker is off-panel right.]
Unseen speaker: OH GOD!
[The student and Miss Lenhart are on the left. The student looks shocked, and Miss Lenhart is now covering her face with both hands. The unseen speaker is still off to the right.]
Unseen speaker: Oh god! I've never seen so much blood!

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I used a 2B pencil for the SAT. Hope I didn't kill anyone. --Troy0 (talk) 09:30, 25 September 2014 (UTC)

I see your dilemma. The test starts and you only have a 2B pencil. Take the risk or fail the test? 2B or not 2B?-- 12:20, 6 October 2016 (UTC)
2B. Glory to mankind. SilverMagpie (talk) 16:16, 23 May 2019 (UTC)

It always bugged me how strictly my teachers would enforce this--Potato Gunman3 (talk) 02:01, 1 May 2015 (UTC)

I find it weird that they point out how an imperfect mark will not register, but they warn against any stray marks or an incompletely erased bubble will. Which is it, one or the other? RedHatGuy68 (talk) 01:48, 29 October 2015 (UTC)

Probably because it might register sometimes but not other times? Beanie (talk) 09:45, 30 March 2021 (UTC)

I always thought it strange they always told you to use a #2 pencil even though anything but a #2 pencil is pretty rare for a student to even find. 22:41, 2 March 2016 (UTC)

"that most modern students have heard" Not true. First of all, I've never even heard of this "Scantron" thing, and second of all, I've never had tests with only multiple choice things. In fact, multiple choice things are very rare, I think I could count all the times I've had a test involving them with only one hand. 14:35, 21 February 2017 (UTC)

Same here. Although I am in England: maybe this is an American thing (i.e. should be "most modern US students")? Particularly considering the use of #2 vs #3 (which I've never encountered) as opposed to HB vs H. -- 20:47, 30 March 2017 (UTC)

My country uses 2B pencils/mechanical pencils for shading, if we used a different shade, for example, 3B, the machine will not be able to detect the darker/lighter shade. Boeing-787lover 13:45, 22 November 2017 (UTC)

Ever since I saw kerning, I can’t help but notice the “me ss” is panel two. 18:55, 16 February 2018 (UTC)

all the machine scanned tests I've done either ask for 2B or HB (the most common type), or a blue or black pen (talk) 07:14, 23 September 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

2B or HB..? That is the question! 22:21, 23 September 2023 (UTC)