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.

[edit] Explanation

This comic is a take on the instructions "Remember to use a #2 pencil on the Scantron" that most modern students have heard something approaching a hundred times. 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 the US term for the pencil hardness HB. HB 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.

The joke is that the student used a #3 pencil, which has a slightly harder graphite rating, on the Scantron as opposed to a #2 pencil. Instructors and examiners usually place great emphasis on using a #2 pencil, as if not using one would lead to dire consequences. The comic jokingly suggests that these consequences would include causing the grading machine to explode, harming people nearby.

The title text refers to the instruction to "fill in all the bubbles completely." This again improves the performance of machine-readable paper. Randall 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 (five seconds is usually enough).

[edit] Transcript

[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. Teacher looks horrified.]
Student: I used a #3 pencil instead of a #2. Will that mess anything up?
Miss Lenhart: You WHAT?
[Teacher stands, covering her head, in front of an off-panel right explosion. The unseen speaker is off-panel right.]
Unseen speaker: OH GOD!
[The student and teacher are left-panel, both looking shocked. The unseen speaker is still off-panel right.]
Unseen speaker: OH GOD! I've never seen so much blood!
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