Can You Use a Mechanical Pencil on the SAT? [A Detailed Guide]

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Are you preparing to sit for the SAT? If yes, you may note down this question with your important study notes, ‘can you use a mechanical pencil on the SAT’? You might have already heard these types of frequently asked questions many times. If not, you should prepare yourself to hear them within a short time!

These types of questions are very common and interesting, right? They certainly are. I mean what’s the big deal in using a mechanical pencil instead of a traditional No. 2 pencil in an assessment test? After all, pencils are just pencils.

Any student might feel this the same way. But to be honest, there are certain rules that decide if you can use a mechanical pencil on the SAT or not. So, keeping everything in mind, in this article we are going to discuss the answer to that question in brief and then we will also try to figure out some theories to back it up. So, keep reading.

Also Read: Mechanical Pencil for Sketching Buying Guide 2021

Can You Use a Mechanical Pencil on the SAT?

To answer the question in one word: ‘No’. You can’t use a mechanical pencil on the SAT. The official test instruction doesn’t allow you to use a mechanical pencil on the exam. However, the fun fact is that their official list of “what not to bring” doesn’t include a mechanical pencil!

So, does that mean there is a possibility that it is allowed to use a mechanical pencil? We will find it out later but first, let’s take a look at some possible theories that might be the reasons behind the restrictions of using a mechanical pencil on the SAT.

Reason 1: Scantron Machine Can’t Read Your Sheet

Back in the earlier days, the mechanism of scantron machines was something like they would blast your answer sheet with light. And the mark you made with a darker pencil would block the light from passing through and the machine would read it as your answer.

Using a black pen or pencil with a lighter graphite weight was not enough. They were unable to block the light properly. However, the graphite of the No.2 pencil was just perfect for the machine. So, filling the bubbles other than a No.2 pencil was quite a bad idea back then.

The first administration of SAT was in 1926 and the use of scantron machines for evaluating test scores dates back at least to 1930. So, it’s kind of like an old friendship with SAT and old scantron machines! That’s why the rules remain the same for ages.

Back then mechanical pencils were not that common and they had a universal problem: their lighter marks. So, as those old machines were able to read only darker marks like the one of a No.2 pencil, SAT allowed only No.2 pencils. Thus mechanical pencils got their place on the “what not to bring” list.

So, this might be the biggest reason for the prohibition of using a mechanical pencil on the SAT. That’s why avoiding pencils with graphite weights different from the No.2 pencils is definitely a wise decision even today.

Reason 2: Students May Cheat Using a Mechanical Pencil

Okay, this one sounds a little funny. Cheating using a mechanical pencil? Seriously? Yes, it is thought that students can use mechanical pencils as cheating devices! These types of assumptions are generally based on two scenarios:

One can install a very small camera in the mechanical pencil and use it for taking photos of the test papers. It’s funny because there are many watches with hidden cameras to take pictures of the test papers. Though it sounds like fiction, some maverick students might turn it into reality.

Students may roll up small pieces of cheat sheets in the barrel of the mechanical pencil. But this technique will surely need quite an effort to succeed. Plus, performing this technique can only be possible if the proctor pays little to no attention to the room’s situation.

Reason 3: Mechanical Pencils May Damage Your Paper

There is a possibility that when you are writing on flimsy test papers, mechanical pencils may damage the paper to the level that it rips it out. This theory has been seen to float around on various online forums and message boards. It’s possible because mechanical pencils come with a sharp lead that could damage the paper.

Finally, if we look at all the possible reasons to prohibit bringing mechanical pencils to the SAT exam hall, no reason actually stands strong. Though the first one looks legit, but scantron machines are now updated compared to the machines from the 1930s. Their mechanisms for reading a darker mark are way better than the earlier ones.

So, the main reason for not allowing mechanical pencils might be a tradition that has been passed through generations. This tradition started when scantrons were in their primary stages, i.e. when it was actually a problem to detect the marks of mechanical pencils. And this tradition can still be seen today.

The Recommendations for Using a Pencil on the SAT

After studying all those cases, it’s clear that using a mechanical pencil might be just fine and it won’t affect your scores. But rules are rules and we never suggest you break any rules, doesn’t matter how negligible it is.

Plus, if we look at the demerits of mechanical pencils, we see clearly that their leads break frequently. And broken leads can surely have a negative impact on the smooth pace of your exam. Also, refilling the pencil leads does waste a lot of your time.

On the other hand, regular pencils like the No.2 pencil actually help you to fill in the MCQ bubble answers faster because the duller the tip gets the wider areas it covers. So, using a regular No.2 pencil is always recommended.

Some Allowed Things for SAT

The organization that administers the SAT has specific rules and guidelines regarding the tools and materials allowed during the test. Here are some of the permitted items you can bring to the SAT exam.

No. 2 Pencils: The primary writing tool allowed for marking your answers on the answer sheet is a sharpened No. 2 pencil.

Erasers: You can bring a soft eraser or a pack of pencil erasers to correct any mistakes or change your answers.

Pens: While the SAT primarily requires the use of pencils, you can also bring a pen for the essay portion of the exam. However, it’s recommended to bring a blue or black pen as these are easier to read.

Approved Calculator: A calculator is allowed for the Math sections of the SAT. Only certain models are permitted, such as graphing calculators and scientific calculators. It’s better to check the College Board’s official website for the list of approved calculators.

Watch: You can bring a watch to keep track of time during the exam. However, the watch must be analog and cannot have any audible alarms or be a smart watch capable of storing information.

Identification: It’s essential to bring a valid photo ID, such as a school ID card to verify your identity.

Admission Ticket: You must have your printed SAT admission ticket with your photo on it, which you receive after registering for the exam.

Some Prohibited Things for SAT

When taking the SAT exam, there are certain tools and items that are prohibited and not allowed in the testing room. These restrictions are in place to maintain a fair and standardized testing environment for all students. Here are some examples of tools and items that you cannot take into the SAT exam.

Electronic devices: This includes cell phones, Smartphone, tablets, laptops, smart watches, fitness trackers, and any other electronic devices with communication or recording capabilities. These items are not allowed in the testing room, and you will be required to turn them off and store them away.

Calculators: Only specific types of calculators are allowed in the SAT exam, and they must meet certain criteria outlined by the College Board, the organization that administers the test. Generally, most graphing calculators are permitted, but certain models with built-in computer algebra systems or wireless communication features may be prohibited.

Reference materials: You are not allowed to bring any reference materials or aids, such as textbooks, dictionaries, formula sheets, or any other written or printed materials. The SAT is designed to test your knowledge and problem-solving abilities without external assistance.

Backpacks and bags: You are generally not allowed to bring backpacks, bags, purses, or any large containers into the testing room. However, you may be allowed to bring a small clear plastic bag to carry your permitted items like identification documents, admission ticket, and pencils.

What Kind of Pencils Are Allowed for SAT?

The SAT allows only No. 2 pencils or HB pencils for filling in the answer sheet. These pencils are commonly referred to as “standard” pencils and have a medium level of lead hardness. The use of mechanical pencils is not generally permitted.

However, testing policies and requirements may change over time. So, it’s vital to verify the specific guidelines provided by the organization that controls the SAT. You can visit the College Board’s official website for the most up-to-date information regarding acceptable pencils for the SAT.

Final Words

According to the official rules of SAT, you are not allowed to take your mechanical pencil with you. Some other exams even claim that you won’t score properly if you use a mechanical pencil. So, keeping all these in mind you should avoid mechanical pencils, even if they are your favorites.

Plus, SAT exam day is not really a good day to protest and rage. Though it’s called the No.2 pencil, it’s the no.1 choice for the SAT exam. So, sticking to your reliable old companion – The No. 2 pencil will be a decision of a wise student.

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