IELTS on a Computer or on Paper: What’s Better?

Ielts on a computer

IELTS is available in both paper-based and computer-delivered form. This means that it is possible to take IELTS on a computer or on paper. Some people talk about the “traditional” (paper-based) form, and the “computer-based” form. There seems to be no way to discuss this without using these rather clumsy phrases. Nevertheless, it’s important that you choose the format that will work best for you. In this post we will discuss the similarities and differences between these two options. We’ll also give you some useful questions to ask yourself before you make your choice. At the end we will discuss IELTS Indicator, a third option that has recently become available due to the ongoing crisis in 2020.


Before we go any further, we must establish one fact: there is no difference in content between IELTS on paper and IELTS on a computer. You will receive the same test and it will measure the same skills regardless. Neither one is “easier” than the other. There is also no difference in terms of the amount of time candidates get to complete their tasks for listening, reading and writing. There is a minor difference in the listening test, which we will get to later. Speaking, likewise, is always an in-person conversation with a human examiner. This is true whether it takes place in an actual room, or over a video platform.

Marking is also exactly the same for both versions of the test. Candidates who type their answers on a computer will not have any advantage over candidates who write by hand. This is because the computers that candidates use have no spell checking capacity. The software is also blind to grammatical and formatting issues.

Finally, the cost of the exam is exactly the same. You will have to book your exam with the same test centre. The details you have to provide when doing this are the same. It follows from this that all the test day protocols about data and identification remain in place.

Making a Choice

However, the actual experience you will have as a candidate will be different in several important respects. To help you in this decision, we have compiled a list of questions to guide you.

1. Typing or Writing – Which do you Prefer?

For many people, writing 400 words by hand, in one hour, is a daunting prospect. Some people have not done anything like this since high school. If this describes you, it might be worth considering the computer-delivered test. On the other hand, if your typing pace is slow, or if you tend to make mistakes when typing, the computer-delivered test could be risky. There is no spell check and grammar check, so you have to be able to identify your own errors. It turns out that the errors we make when typing are different to the ones we make when writing by hand. So we recommend that you practice an IELTS writing test using both formats and submit these attempts for review before making a choice either way.

2. Is your Handwriting Legible?

Your writing scripts will always be graded by a human examiner. So it’s important that your handwriting is clear enough for a stranger to be able to read without difficulty. Of course, IELTS examiners will make every effort to read your script, but if it is so hard to read that it evades more than one examiner, you will have a problem. If your handwriting is very hard to read, you should consider the computer-delivered test. This is because changing the way you write is a long-term project. It’s unlikely you have the time to do this.

3. Are you computer literate?

While computer literacy is of course not a requirement of IELTS, you will find the computer-delivered test challenging if you are not familiar with using computers. Of course, IELTS has taken every step to ensure that the system is comprehensible and easy to use. But it’s in your best interests to make sure that you are comfortable using a computer if you intend to do take the computer-delivered IELTS exam. Scrolling, clicking, drag and drop – all of these things can take time if you are not used to doing them.

4. How soon do you need a booking?

Getting a booking for the computer-delivered test is somewhat easier at some test centres. This is because waiting lists for the traditional IELTS exam can be quite long, especially in large cities. Coordinating large numbers of people, venues and administrative staff inevitably creates some bureaucratic lag. The computer-delivered IELTS is one way to side-step much of this, because the logistics are much more straightforward for the test centre. However, not all centres have rolled out the computer-delivered test and you will need to check availability with your local centre.

5. How soon do you need your results?

Sadly, many people leave IELTS to the last minute. They arrange all of their affairs for migration but overlook the importance of planning for IELTS. While this definitely isn’t the best way to do things, people do find themselves in this situation. If that is you, and you are in a hurry, you should opt for the computer-delivered test. Candidates who take the computer-based test get their results about 5 working days after the test. On the other hand, for the paper-based test, you will wait about 12 days. This difference can be significant if you are dealing with visas and international flights.

IELTS Indicator

Another way to take IELTS on a computer has recently become available, IELTS Indicator. If you take IELTS Indicator, you will complete the test in the comfort of your own home, and the speaking exam will take place over a video call. The test provider will send you a secure login that expires after a certain period of time. Of course, all of the points we have made about computer literacy apply here. And while this is a great option from the point of view of convenience, there are two very important issues to consider:

  • System requirements: contact your test centre and inform them of the device you are using. They will be able to advise you on whether your device has the necessary software. You should also check that your internet connection is stable enough to handle the test.
  • Institutional recognition: because IELTS Indicator is newer than the other two options, it does not enjoy the same reach in terms of recognition by institutions. While this may well change in the future, it’s essential that you consult with your agent or institution to make sure that they will accept IELTS Indicator

Get in Touch

At Highway IELTS we have successfully advised thousands of people on this and many other aspects of their IELTS journeys. We understand that each case is different and everyone has a unique set of circumstances. So it’s likely that many of the people reading this article will not fit neatly into the categories we have defined. Contact us to speak with one of our expert consultants and let us help you make the best possible choice.