Paper-based vs Computer-delivered IELTS. The ultimate guide!

Computer-delivered IELTS was introduced in 2017 starting in Australia, and then it became available worldwide. It was an addition to the good old paper-based IELTS, which has been the most recognized English test in the world. It is essentially the same test that is delivered on a computer. But how does it affect you?

We will help you find the answer in this article by providing a detailed comparison of paper-based vs computer-delivered IELTS.

What are the structural differences between paper-based and computer-delivered IELTS?

The test format is the same, meaning you get the same timing, order of sections, question types, difficulty and marking.

Just like paper-based, the computer-delivered IELTS has four sections: listening, reading, writing and speaking, which take 30, 60, 60 and around 15 minutes, respectively. Listening and reading have 40 questions each, and writing has two tasks. Speaking is a face-to-face interview. Depending on your location, it might be done on the same day, either before or after other sections, or it might be scheduled for another day.

The only structural difference is in the 10-minute transferring time given at the end of the paper-based listening section to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. When you take computer-delivered IELTS, you have already filled the right places, so you don’t need to transfer anything. However, you are given 2 minutes to review your answers.

How does computer-delivered IELTS affect you compared to paper-based?

It is all about the pen & paper compared to the keyboard & screen experience. Writing with a pencil on paper is sentimental, but the computer feels modern and full of features.

Each one has some advantages and disadvantages depending on your circumstances:

1- Preparation

Since the test format is the same in both ways, your preparation for the language is the same. You need to cover an extensive range of vocabularies and grammar and work on your fluency for the speaking test.

But when it comes to computer-delivered IELTS, you need to have computer literacy to navigate the pages. You should be comfortable with typing and scrolling. The good news is that you can take an online IELTS mock test to get to know the structure of the actual test on screen and how the mouse and keyboard function in different sections.

2- Booking

Paper-based IELTS is often available once a week, while computer-delivered tests are offered three times a day. This gives you much more flexibility to choose the best time of the day and the best day of the week. If you are in a hurry to take the exam for visa purposes or university admissions, you can immediately book a test for the next couple of days.

3- Venue

Paper-based IELTS is often organized in universities with large rooms and a large number of test-takers. But the computer-delivered test is organized in custom-built rooms that host a limited number of people, sometimes up to 24! The small crowd creates a less stressful ambience compared to a big space full of anxiety and rush!

The computers often have high-quality screens with noise-cancelling headphones that make the focusing easier for you.

4- Test experience

This is where you really feel the difference:

Writing on paper feels natural, but it can reveal your handwriting which might not be in your favour if it is not neat. On the other hand, Typing creates a well-organized text that is easy to read for the examiner. But if you are not used to typing, you might be slow and not finish all questions. Of course, the test is designed for normal typing skills, but you still need to be comfortable typing two full writing tasks.

Looking at the screen for 3 hours might be challenging if you are not used to it. On the other hand, paper is kind to your eyes, but you have to keep your neck down for 3 hours which can be painful!

There is a timer on the screen that will turn red in the last 10 and 5 minutes, which is helpful to speed up your reading and writing. However, on paper, the time will be announced on speakers, which might be distracting for you.

There is also a navigation bar that tracks your progress and all unanswered questions. By clicking on any number, it will be highlighted, and you are taken to the question for review. The arrow keys will also move the pages forward or back so you can change your answers if you need to. Tab key also takes you to the next part. However, when it comes to paper, you have to review all pages one by one, which is time-consuming.

Taking notes for listening and reading sections might seem easier on paper, but you can open a “notes window” on the computer to write down your notes. However, you will often get pen and paper in computer-based IELTS. Just check with your test centre if this is really important to you.

Reading passage is displayed on the left side of the screen and questions on the right side with separate scroll bars, which is convenient compared to flipping pages of paper.

There is also the challenging part of the writing section on paper that limits you to the order of lines. Once you have filled all lines, you can’t insert new lines at the last minute to complete word counts. If you do, it will disorganize your article, which causes losing marks. But the computer gives you the flexibility of adding or removing lines in order to integrate your article.

When it comes to typo errors, it depends on your typing skill. If you are not comfortable with the keyboard, you might make many spelling mistakes that require time to edit, or you will lose marks. But on paper, hopefully, you are not used to making spelling mistakes!

Screens get locked precisely when the time ends, so you have no chance of making last-minute adjustments. But on paper, you still have times when the answering sheets are being collected one by one. Just be careful with these adjustments!

What sets the computer-delivered IELTS apart is all the text editing features that a computer offers. For example, you can enlarge font sizes or copy/paste words by right click. Pressing CTRL+C and CTRL+V do the same, respectively. This is most helpful in answering gap-fill question types, so you don’t make spelling mistakes! You can even drag words from one place to another! There is the highlighting feature too that replaces underlining on paper. With a right-click, you can highlight keywords for scanning and skimming the text. Even your writing task’s word count is readily displayed on the screen. These functions can help you with time management.

5- Result availability

Your results are available in 13 days when you take the test on paper, but if you choose computer-delivered, you will have your result in 2-5 days. This is significantly important if you are short on time for visa processing. Literally, you can book the test and receive your result within a week!


Your choice of paper-based vs computer-delivered IELTS will affect you and your band score because, depending on your natural tendencies, skills and circumstances, you will have a different test experience.

So, choose a test that is most comfortable for you and prepare for that. And if you had a problem with practising on your own, try the most popular IELTS mock tests in the world that are exactly like the actual computer-delivered IELTS exam and come with exceptionally detailed test reports. .

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