Which is better: paper-based or computer-delivered IELTS?

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by Freshte Javid

by Freshte Javid

IELTS Expert

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Computer-Delivered IELTS (or “CD IELTS” for short) has been around since 2017, and as more IELTS test centres become equipped with this new test delivery system, test takers face a choice: Should I choose paper-based IELTS or computer-delivered IELTS? 

Below, we give an overview of both delivery systems and break down key criteria for you to consider before choosing and booking your desired test.  The type of test you choose has no impact on your future, but picking the test type that’s right for your exam style can help you feel more comfortable during your test and achieve a higher score. 

Paper-based IELTS: What is it and how does it work?

As of December 2021, the IELTS Speaking test is delivered in person for both paper and computer IELTS at all ILAC centres.  However, the other sections of the test are delivered differently depending on your choice of delivery method.  

During paper-based IELTS, you will receive a test booklet for each of the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections.  You will also receive answer sheets for each section – use a pencil to transfer your answers and responses to the answer sheet.  After each section is finished, the invigilator will collect all booklets and answer sheets, then give you the booklet for the next section.  Test takers can take notes on their booklets, as extra paper for note taking is not available. 

In paper IELTS, you do not need to worry about any potential technological difficulties.  Furthermore, you may prefer paper IELTS if you are used to actively interacting with your practice tests by taking notes, underlining, marking, or summarizing on the margins.  However, one major consideration for candidates is to mind their handwriting; it is crucial that your handwriting is legible and does not cause any misunderstanding. 

Computer-delivered IELTS: What is it and how does it work?

Computer-delivered IELTS is gaining popularity because it is administered faster, has more test days available, and the wait time for receiving the results is much shorter (just 3-5 days compared to 13 days for paper tests!)  All of this makes CD IELTS an ideal choice for those who wish to take their test sooner and need their results faster.  

In a computer test, the Listening, Reading and Writing sections take place on a computer that the test centre will provide for you.  Test takers still need to present at the test centre, as there is currently no online or home version of IELTS.  IELTS Speaking is still face-to-face, just like the paper test.

The format of each section and the question types are also identical to paper IELTS.  However, in the computer test, you will input your responses directly to the computer.  One benefit of this feature is that it eliminates the concern of illegible handwriting.  Test takers will still have the option to take notes on paper provided by the centre.  

Note that the computer test does not have spelling or grammar check features and you can only erase your responses or create new paragraphs.   However, you will see your word count during the Writing section, which is a feature many test takers enjoy and not available for paper tests.  In addition, test takers can view the IELTS Reading test questions and passages side-by-side.  This feature may help you stay focused or save time, as you do not need to worry about turning the pages on a paper booklet.  

Another benefit of the computer test is the question bar in the lower part of the screen; this indexes all the questions and will show which questions you have worked on, and which ones you still need to answer.  See what the computer test interface looks like here.

Success Tip: There is no penalty for wrong answers in IELTS, so try to answer all the questions, even if you are not sure!

Does it matter which test I choose?

No!  Even though there are differences between the paper IELTS and the CD IELTS, there is no difference in the recognition of your results.  Immigration services, universities and colleges, and career recruiters do not know if your test was PB (paper-based) or CD IELTS.  Both tests are accepted and valued equally.

Furthermore, the questions and practice material are the same, and the marking is based on the same standards.  The only deciding factor is you: Which delivery system do YOU think you can perform your best with?  To answer this question, you need to know your own test taking habits and preferences. 

worried girl in front of computer

How to choose the right test for you

In order to find the best option for you, try some practice test questions at home. You can try the paper-based test type using any standard book or online sample questions.  Alternatively, try an online CD practice IELTS test here. Try to note the following: 

Consider your handwriting/typing skills:

  • Do you enjoy using booklets, underlining keywords and phrases, or summarizing on the margins? 
  • Is your handwriting legible?  

If the answer to one or both questions is yes, maybe paper-based is for you. 

  • Is your handwriting not legible and/or might be unreadable under stress? 
  • Do you type faster and think more clearly?  

If the answer to one or both questions is yes, maybe CD IELTS is for you. 

Consider technology and potential technical issues: 

  • Do you get nervous using new software or apps on a regular day? 

If yes, you will feel the pressure more on test day.  Choose a paper-based test for your ease of mind.

  • Do you make errors when transferring answers from a booklet to an answer sheet?

If yes, stay safe and choose CD IELTS.  Remember, a computer test will show you which questions still need to be answered, and the time left on your screen.  You will also see the word count for the Writing section. 

In a rush to get your results? 

  • Paper-based IELTS results take up to 13 days.
  • Computer-delivered IELTS results will be ready in 3-5 days.

I know which test I want. How do I book it?

Remember, neither of the test delivery systems is better than the other.  They both have their own merits.  By doing practice tests, and discovering your test taking preferences, you can make this choice smartly.  

Here at ILAC Toronto tests are available up to 6 days per week in morning, afternoon and evening test sessions.  The staff are there to make sure that your IELTS test day goes as smoothly as possible, whether it is on paper or computer delivered. 

Visit our Test Session Search page to choose and book your IELTS test.

More questions?

Contact ILAC Toronto to speak to an IELTS advisor and learn more about the IELTS test, or visit our blog to find more help articles.

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