A funny thing happened on our way to our promised paperless digital future: we never stopped using paper. Who could resist paper, considering that students learn better when reading from paper than from computer screens and still prefer textbooks over e-textbooks? In lecture settings, students who write out their notes on paper actually learn more than the laptop set. Clearly, paper is here to stay for at least a while more.
Nowhere is the presence of paper more assured than in the realm of college admissions tests. Despite a rabid desire to digitize the SAT and ACT à la the GRE, the testmakers can’t overcome the technical difficulties inherent in reliably testing millions of teens a year via computer. As a result, the experience of taking the SAT or ACT today feels much like it has for decades, with students carefully using pencils (not mechanical, of course) to fill in ovals on paper.
What is a pencil without an eraser? Not just a sorry excuse for a pen, an eraserless pencil is either a flawed tool or a flawed philosophy. Pencil marks are made to be erased as needed, especially during a test. In testing as in politics, mistakes are made. This is where the big, pink eraser comes in.
Standardized tests subscribe to a specific structure: you are scored not on what you know but on what bubbles you fill in. This elevates the practice of bubbling–and erasing–to an essential test day skill. Most pencils obviously come with attached erasers, but these nubs are to the big, pink eraser what Swiss army knives are to real screwdrivers. Why settle for less than something entirely dedicated to removing unwanted marks when you don’t have to? A big, pink eraser signals an ironclad confidence that any mistake can be transformed elegantly from failure to success without leaving a mark.