This is a question that everyone is asking themselves when it is time to book their test:
“Which should book, IELTS on paper or on a computer?”
But ideally you should be thinking about this much, much earlier – before you start preparing for your test, and here is why. In terms of interface IELTS on a computer is very different from the paper-based test and it requires some different skills which you may need a bit of time to develop.
The question types and the way your answers are marked doesn’t change, but the presentation of some questions does, so they will look differently and the way you need to answer them is also different on a computer. For example, when you match headings to paragraphs, in the paper-based test you write the letter corresponding to the right heading in the answer gap. In the computer-delivered IELTS you need to drag the actual heading into the answer gap.
Here is a quick comparison of the two ways to take IELTS, with their pros and cons, to help you choose the right type for you.
General considerations for and against the computer-delivered IELTS
- The results are out faster when you take the computer-delivered test – they are ready in just 3-5 days. In the paper-based test it takes 13 days to get the results.
- If you have a problem with bad handwriting, on a computer it’s gone.
- If you are slow at typing it will create a problem in a computer-delivered test. You may miss answers just because you couldn’t type them in time.
- If you have a problem looking at the computer screen for 3 hours, the computer-based test is not for you.
Listening in IELTS on a computer
- You get headphones for the Listening test and can hear the audio more clearly.
- The volume can be adjusted.
- Your attention is split between typing answers on the screen and making notes on a draft paper. Making notes is optional, but people do it when they hear something that seems important, yet they don’t know which question this may be the answer for.
- You get less time to check your answers after the Listening test ends. In a computer-delivered test you have 2 minutes instead of 10 in the paper-based test. Students use that time to check the notes they wrote on a draft paper during the test and possibly find and add some answers they missed earlier. They also check the spelling of their answers during that time, which is important to avoid losing marks for misspelled answers.
- People who aren’t used to typing while listening may find it tricky.
Reading in IELTS on a computer
- You can see the text and the questions at the same time, as the screen is split into two parts. The text is on the left side and the questions are on the right. Each side can be scrolled independently, which lets you see any part of the passage and any group of questions, side by side. There is no need to flip pages back and forth, so that saves you time.
- Reading on screen is harder compared to reading on paper, and it can lead to some problems. People tend to understand and remember the information better when they read on paper. Reading on screen is more suited for skimming and scanning, however, many IELTS question types require reading for detail, which is harder to do well on a screen.
- Highlighting text and making notes is different on screen and on paper, it involves a few clicks and may feel not as instantaneous as highlighting / underlining and writing notes on paper.
- Your notes are less visible – you need to click on the highlighted portion of text for your notes to show up on the screen. When you write something on your test paper, it’s right there, you can’t miss it.
Writing in IELTS on a computer
- Editing your writing task 1 or task 2 is easier on a computer because you can copy and paste content, rearrange sentences or paragraphs and delete without crossing off or rubbing out.
- There is no need to count words in your writing task 1 or 2, they are shown on the screen and that saves you time.
- Bad handwriting stops being a problem in the computer-delivered test.
- Some test takers find the noise from other people typing during the writing test very distracting. Headphones can help block out the noise to some extent.
Speaking is the same in both exam types, there is no difference – you either do it in person at the test centre or via a video call with the examiner.
Whether you choose IELTS on paper or on a computer, make sure you prepare for the type that you have chosen. If paper-based IELTS is your choice, you need to practice on paper. That would involve downloading and printing the practice tests, answering your Listening and Reading questions on paper and writing your Writing Task 1 and 2 on the answer sheets. You can use the practice tests here to prepare for your exam.
If you have chosen to take IELTS on a computer, this website is perfect for your practice sessions. Its interface is very similar to the one you will see at the test centre, and the level of difficulty of the tests is also very close to the “real thing”. You will get to see all the possible question types before the test, and you’ll know how to answer them – plus there are explanations for the answers, telling you why the correct answers are correct. Sign up for the generous free trial and practice, practice, practice!