Since 2016, students have been able to choose between the computer-delivered and paper-based IELTS exams. Looking at the various IELTS Facebook groups, I often see people asking which one is better, computer or paper? The answer is that neither is really better, but there are some differences, and so maybe one would suit you better.
In today’s IELTS article, I’m going to explore the various advantages and disadvantages of computer and paper IELTS exams.
Computer-Delivered IELTS Exams
So what is this new computer-delivered IELTS?
As the name suggests, it means doing IELTS on a computer instead of scribbling on a piece of paper. You can do the listening, reading, and writing exams all on a computer screen, but the speaking exam remains face-to-face. This is because face-to-face speaking gives the best possible judgment on your English skills.
Here’s the official IELTS video about it. It contains some important information.
Now let’s look at some of the benefits of computer-delivered IELTS exams:
One of the first big benefits of IELTS on a computer is choice. There are now more test dates and more locations offering the computer IELTS than the paper exam. Candidates will have less time to wait, and much more convenience in choosing a test date. While the regular exam is not available every day, the computer-delivered IELTS is pretty much available every day. Additionally, you can choose a more convenient set of times and do your speaking test on the same day as your other tests.
In addition to this, your exam scores are available much faster. No more nervous waiting! Just 5-7 days after you sit the exam, you can receive your results. This is a big improvement over the more traditional exam type.
In terms of the writing exam, there are some serious potential benefits. For one thing, if you make a mistake or wish to add anything, you can simply delete or add more text, as you would with any word processing software. That is a huge advantage over the pencil-and-paper format. Making edits on your work is now vastly easier, and I would highly recommend all IELTS students to consider the computer exam for this reason alone.
If you are even somewhat experienced with a computer, you will also find that you can type faster than you can write by hand. Someone calculated that the average handwriting speed is 31 words per minute, whereas the average typing speed is about 40 words per minute. You should therefore be able to finish the writing exam more quickly, and spend more time editing. (Remember that editing is easier on a computer, so this makes the IELTS writing exam far better on computer.)
You also have a timer on the computer, and a word count. This will really help you control your writing performance. As most of us know, it’s easy to lose track of time in an exam. It’s also easy to waste time counting words unnecessarily. On a computer, that’s done automatically!
As for the listening exam, you are given a set of headphones that allow you to listen more clearly to the recording. (However, I have heard that some exam centres also offer headphones for the regular listening exam, so maybe this is not a true advantage over paper-format.)
You will be in a small, quiet room, with fewer people, and there will be technical staff on hand to help you if there is any issue.
There is only one major disadvantage to doing the computer-delivered IELTS, and that’s being unable to doodle and annotate your work. In the paper exam, you can use the question paper to make notes before actually writing down your answer. However, it is impossible to do this on the computer screen. Making notes is a great way to format your ideas before committing them as an actual answer, so this is something candidates should definitely consider. This factor may affect your listening, reading, and writing scores, so please take it into consideration before making the jump to computer IELTS.
In addition, I have heard that in some places computer-delivered IELTS is more expensive than paper-based IELTS. However, I know that in other places the cost is exactly the same. According to the British Council, the cost is the same for either test. Candidates should research the costs in their local area before choosing.
Paper is the traditional way of doing IELTS, and aside from the speaking exam, which is face-to-face between candidate and examiner, you will be given question papers and answers papers. It’s the exam that most of us expect, and the one that has been around since the IELTS was first invented. Let’s look at how it compares to IELTS on computer.
As I mentioned above, in the “drawbacks” section for computer-delivered IELTS, being able to doodle and make notes on the paper is quite important. Students need to be able to underline, circle, and test out possible spellings on their exam paper. This can help you locate correct answers, figure out ideas, and practice words before actually writing them on the answer sheet. Most IELTS students practice this way during their studies, and so it is quite helpful to be able to do it in the exam.
Hmmm… I can’t think of any more advantages, except to say that it’s “more conventional”, which might make some students feel at ease.
One of the problems some students face is with poor or illegible handwriting. If your handwriting isn’t clear, or you make a mistake and rewrite over it, it’s possible that the examiner won’t be able to give you any points, even if your answer was correct. No one can afford to lose points so easily. This problem simply doesn’t exist on a computer, where the worst that could happen is you make a typo.
Transferring your answers to an answer sheet at the end of the exam is also fraught with problems. Students sometimes write an answer into the wrong box. Even if the examiner knows this is the issue, he/she can’t give you any marks. You don’t have to worry about this with the computer-delivered IELTS, as you will simply enter your answers on the screen, and those are final.
The inconvenience of having to arrange the different parts of the test on different days makes the stress of doing IELTS all the worse. It can also be an additional expense if you need to travel to another city to do the exam.
As you can see from the amount I have written in each section, there are more benefits to doing computer-delivered IELTS. In some sense, it is the best option. However, everyone is different and some people really would prefer to do the paper-based IELTS exam. It’s up to you to read the facts and make the best choice for you.