Hi there! Sam here!
I wanted to clear things up about one of the most common questions we get asked…
The honest answer is: Both versions have the same difficulty! Neither of the exams are easier than the other.
However, you need to decide which method is best for YOU!
There are a number of benefits and drawbacks for both, which we will highlight below.
This is the traditional way to take the exam, using good old pen and paper. It has the advantage of being a more familiar way to learn (most people have some experience with studying and taking paper-based exams at school) and it’s actually easier to prepare for it.
Being paper-based, it means that you can literally practice the test over and over again before you sit the real exam. This is a huge advantage because you can familiarise yourself with the exact techniques and strategies you will use on exam day.
For example, for the writing section, you can print off a number of IELTS writing question and answer sheets and practice analysing the questions, making plans and writing your answer on paper (we cover all of these strategies in our Band 7+ eBooks).
One of the keys to success is repetition. By repeating an action (in this case paper-based IELTS questions), you are training your subconscious mind to follow patterns, which will maximise your success. Just like learning to ride a bike…you have to practice over and over again until you can ride without falling off. Then you can ride a bike without actually thinking about it…because your subconscious mind has been trained to do it!
It is exactly the same for preparing for the IELTS… if you become familiar with writing on official exam paper, using the same pen, making the same plan in the same place on the same exam paper, writing the same synonyms etc, you become very capable of doing all of this subconsciously (without thinking). Everything becomes second-nature and you will be less stressed in the exam.
It is much more difficult to simulate the same conditions if you take the computer-based IELTS.
Most successful students often do certain things on the question paper to help them achieve a better score. These include making notes, highlighting key words, writing a plan, drawing/sketching ideas and brainstorming.
In the paper-based IELTS, you are able to do this easily. However, you can’t do this in the computer-based exam because the questions are on-screen.
Everyone has their preference between writing or typing. Some people are quicker at typing, some people are quicker at handwriting. However, it’s not all about speed. Its also about accuracy and complacency. It’s pointless being a fast typer if you keep catching the wrong keys and have to retype words. This will cost you time in the exam and also stop your ‘flow’. Equally, it’s not ideal if you have really poor handwriting and people can’t understand what you’re writing.
The computer-based IELTS was first introduced in Australia in 2017 and can now be taken in many countries around the world. It still takes place in a test-centre (you can’t do it from home), but you will get your own computer/keyboard and headphones/speaker. The set-up varies depending on the country and test centre.
Let’s look at some differences…
Once you have taken the computer-based IELTS, you usually receive your results in 5-7 days. This is quicker than the paper-based results, which take 13 days. So, if you are eager to find out how you did as soon as possible, the computer-based test has the advantage.
In addition, you have more option of when you can sit the computer-based exam. In many countries, you are able to sit the computer-based exam on every day of the week, but the paper-based IELTS is less frequent. This can be a disadvantage though. Many students book their test too soon (because they want to get it over and done with) and then realise they haven’t got enough time to prepare. Don’t fall into this trap.
The computer-based IELTS counts your words as you type, so you can see how many you have written. This can make it a little less stressful in the exam because you’ll know when you’ve written the minimum word count. However, it can also have the opposite effect – you are constantly looking at the word count rather than concentrating on your answer.
In the computer-based test, you type your answers directly onto the screen. So in the listening section, you will have to type at the same time as you listen and won’t get 10 minutes extra time at the end to transfer your answers onto the answer sheet. This is in comparison to the paper-based exam, where you write down your answers on the question paper and then have an extra 10 minutes at the end to transfer them to the answer sheet.
The computer-based test is usually taken in smaller test centres than the paper-based test. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Smaller venues mean less people, so you will be surrounded by less students. However, because the venues are smaller, you will be in closer proximity to other test-takers. This can be distracting because of the noise of typing and headphones coming from the people sat next to you.
To summarise, paper and computer based exams have equal difficulty. But it’s your preparation and experience which will give you an advantage/disadvantage.
We advise that if you have prepared for the IELTS mostly on paper and are used to highlighting/planning/handwriting on a paper question sheet, then the paper-based IELTS is probably the best option for you. But if you have been mostly preparing by typing your answers on a computer, have unreadable handwriting or you desperately need the results within 1 week, consider taking the computer-based IELTS.
I hope you found this information helpful and it’s cleared up some confusion about the paper-based and computer-based IELTS.
Have you downloaded our Free IELTS Writing eBook yet? If not, you can get an instant download here.
All the best!