How would you test a pencil?

I saw this come up recently here on The Club and when trying to pare a pencil this morning, I was reminded to post this for some fun :grin:

It seems that a few of us have been in an interview situation and either had a pencil placed in front of us or were asked how we would test a hypothetical pencil.

So I thought it might be fun to hypothesise, outside of an interview scenario, about how you might approach testing a pencil?


Give it to my son (9). If I still have a pencil which writes in 15 minutes, it passes.

By the way, not a lot of pencils actually pass this test.

I haven’t met the colored pencil that passes this test since I started running this experiment 8 years ago.


Ha funny! I’ve seen people have this question in interviews ‘test the pencil’ but the right answer is not to try and write and actually test it… it’s all about asking ‘what does the pencil need to do?’

So you get back to the analysis. It’s a trick question! :slight_smile:


Would we maybe need to create some pencil-user persona’s?

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Oh I’ve seen plenty of people want full-scale test scenarios for this hypothetical pencil :see_no_evil:

But yes, I would probably also start with “What does the pencil need to do?”

Which ties in nicely to what @brian_seg suggests, it might need to do different things for different users :thinking:

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So this reminded me of a blog post I wrote for Test Project. One of the first articles I wrote, I don’t think I’d even setup my blog at this point. I’d write it so differently today.

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Mission: what information is needed by the manager/stakeholder?
E.g. : do they want to prepare a launch of the pencil, mass-production of a prototype, appeal to a particular category of age, interest from a set of people or company logistics, new iteration/upgrade of a pencil version, sell it alone instead of in sets, increase the pricing, beat the competition at length of drawing or reserve duration, change design or branding/logo,…

Find out project information
E.g. who’s working on it, what’s the status, where am I located, what role do I have, who’s the stakeholder/s, any deadlines/milestones available, is there equipment or tools available, am I alone or do I have other supporting testers, what relation with the builders/devs do I have…

Product information:
E.g. What is the product now - just a computer prototype, or physical thing, learn about pencils - start googling: , are there standards of safety, regulations that should be looked after, where should the pencil write - on what surface, will the pencil be sharpened, filled in, have reserves, should it be light or hand ergonomic, should it be usable by hand only or voice(e.g. virtual pencil in a software app with voice activation), ,

This helps me most of the time get more ideas:

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Interesting! What do you mean when you say differently? One example would be cool :grin:

I’ve never been entirely happy with the section on automated testing. I found that section particularly hard to write at the time, although I’d probably struggle just as much now.

Overall, if I were to write this again, I’d probably make it more about the development process and the need to collaborate with the developer and the business.

Interesting story, at the time of writing this post I decided to find out what the dimensions of a pen actually were. I googled ‘size of a pen’, the size that came back was a little bigger than I expected. Google seem to have fixed this bug since.

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Funnily enough I’ve used this question more than a couple of times when interviewing. I’ve always time-bounded the question though (all the ways you’d test the pencil in 60 seconds) to try and gauge the different heuristics and questions / assumptions the candidate said aloud.

It’s quite different from how everyone has framed their approach here - identifying stakeholders, understanding their needs, then testing the product (pencil) - but surprisingly some candidates have fit that in within 60 seconds!

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Got any answers to the question when you asked it that stick out for you? :slight_smile:

@franklin.liu - candidates can fit that because they might have seen this problem before, or they are great testers. how do you know ?

@heather_reid @raghu I don’t recall any great answers in recent times so unfortunately, I don’t have anything to report back!

Even if the answer is pre-canned - at least they’ve taken the time to look at heuristics or honed their mental agility around tackling a testing problem. I usually use a random object in the room so it’s not always a stationery item, but the principle of testing applies - still waiting to be pleasantly surprised by approaching it from a business/ stakeholder angle!

It’s also not the only testing question in the interview :slight_smile:

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