Paper or Pixels? Weighing the Pros and Cons of IELTS on Computer vs IELTS on Paper

by | Apr 7, 2023 | About IELTS


The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a widely recognized and accepted standardized test for evaluating English language proficiency. It is designed for individuals who plan to study, work, or migrate to an English-speaking country.

With the introduction of the IELTS on computer format, test-takers now face a crucial decision: should they opt for the traditional paper-based test or choose the newer computer-based format?

In this blog post, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of both formats, aiming to provide a comprehensive understanding of IELTS on paper vs. IELTS on computer.

In the following sections, we will dive into various aspects of both test formats, such as the pros and cons, test environment, accessibility, and preparation strategies. Ultimately, the choice between paper or pixels depends on personal factors, including your familiarity with technology, comfort level, and test-taking strategies. By understanding the nuances of each format, you can confidently make the right choice and maximize your chances of success in the IELTS exam.

Overview of IELTS on paper and IELTS on computer

Before diving into the pros and cons of each format, let’s first understand the essential components of both IELTS on paper and IELTS on computer.

IELTS on paper

The traditional IELTS on paper exam consists of four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking.

Test-takers complete the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections on the same day, using a pencil and paper to record their answers. The Speaking section is typically scheduled on a different day, either before or after the other three sections. The test duration is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, excluding the Speaking section, which takes around 11-14 minutes.

IELTS on computer

The IELTS on computer exam, introduced in 2017, mirrors the paper-based format in terms of content, scoring, and overall structure.

All four sections – Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking – remain the same. However, in the computer-based format, test-takers complete the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections on a computer, while the Speaking section remains a face-to-face interview with an examiner. The test duration remains the same, with the additional advantage of faster results, typically available within 3-5 days.


Both formats have two variations: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training.

The Academic version is aimed at individuals applying for higher education or professional registration in English-speaking countries, while the General Training version is for those migrating or applying for secondary education, training programs, or work experience.

The Listening and Speaking sections are identical for both versions, but the Reading and Writing sections differ in content, reflecting the distinct purposes of the two variations.

Pros of IELTS on paper

The IELTS on paper has been the traditional format for many years and still retains some advantages that may make it a preferable choice for certain test-takers. Here are some of the benefits:

1. Familiarity: Many people have grown up taking paper-based exams, and thus, they may feel more comfortable and less anxious with this familiar format. The traditional test setup can help ease nerves and promote confidence during the exam.

2. Handwriting: Test-takers who prefer writing by hand or have strong handwriting skills may find the IELTS on paper more suitable. Writing on paper can provide a more tactile experience, allowing some individuals to think and organize their thoughts more effectively.

3. Easy navigation: In the IELTS on paper, test-takers can easily flip between pages, annotate passages, and underline important information in the Reading and Writing sections. This can help with quick referencing and better organization of ideas.

4. No computer skills required: The paper-based format does not require any specific computer skills or familiarity with a keyboard and mouse. This can be particularly beneficial for test-takers who are not comfortable with technology or lack experience with computers.

5. Time management: In the paper-based Listening section, test-takers have 10 minutes at the end to transfer their answers to the answer sheet. This additional time can be advantageous for individuals who need extra time for transferring and reviewing their answers.

Cons of IELTS on paper

While the IELTS on paper has its advantages, it also comes with certain drawbacks that may make the computer-based format more appealing for some test-takers. Here are the key disadvantages:

1. Slower results: The IELTS on paper typically takes 13 days for the results to be released, which is longer compared to the computer-based format. For test-takers who need their scores quickly, this can be a significant disadvantage.

2. Limited availability: With the growing popularity of the IELTS on computer, there may be fewer test centers and dates available for the paper-based format. This could make it more challenging to find a suitable test date and location.

3. Legibility concerns: Test-takers with unclear handwriting may face issues with their answers being accurately marked in the IELTS on paper. Examiners may have difficulty reading illegible handwriting, which could potentially affect scores.

4. Answer transfer time: In the paper-based Listening section, test-takers must transfer their answers from the question booklet to the answer sheet within the allotted 10 minutes. This can be stressful and may lead to errors or omissions during the transfer process.

5. Environmental impact: The IELTS on paper requires the use of paper booklets, answer sheets, and other physical materials, which can have a higher environmental impact compared to the computer-based format.

Pros of IELTS on computer

The IELTS on computer format offers several advantages that make it an attractive option for many test-takers. Here are the key benefits:

1. Faster results: One of the most significant benefits of the IELTS on computer is the quicker turnaround time for results, which are typically available within 3-5 days. This can be advantageous for test-takers who have tight deadlines for applications or visa processes.

2. Enhanced availability: With the growing demand for IELTS on computer, test centers now offer more dates and time slots for this format. This flexibility allows test-takers to choose a date and time that best suits their schedule and preparation.

3. Legible responses: Since answers are typed on a computer, there are no concerns about handwriting legibility. This ensures that test-takers’ responses can be easily read and accurately scored by examiners.

4. Efficient editing: The computer-based format allows for easy editing of answers, particularly in the Writing section. Test-takers can quickly cut, copy, paste, and rearrange their text, making it easier to revise and restructure their responses.

5. Built-in timer and word count: The IELTS on computer features a built-in timer and word count tool, enabling test-takers to manage their time more effectively and ensure they meet the minimum word count requirements.

6. Environmentally friendly: The computer-based format reduces the need for paper materials, resulting in a more eco-friendly testing experience.

Cons of IELTS on computer

Despite the numerous advantages of the IELTS on computer, there are also some downsides that may make it less appealing for certain test-takers. Here are the key disadvantages:

1. Computer skills required: Test-takers who are not comfortable with technology or lack experience using computers may face challenges in the IELTS on computer. Familiarity with a keyboard and mouse is essential, as well as the ability to navigate between questions and sections on the screen.

2. Limited annotation options: Unlike the IELTS on paper, the computer-based format does not allow test-takers to physically annotate, underline, or highlight text in the Reading and Writing sections. Although digital highlighting and note-taking tools are provided, they may not be as intuitive or convenient for some test-takers.

3. Screen fatigue: Spending prolonged periods looking at a computer screen can cause eye strain and discomfort for some test-takers. This may negatively impact performance, especially during the Reading and Writing sections, which require focused attention for an extended time.

4. No extra time for answer transfer: In the computer-based Listening section, test-takers must input their answers directly into the computer as they listen to the audio. There is no additional 10-minute period for transferring answers, as in the paper-based format. This requires test-takers to be more vigilant in managing their time during the Listening section.

5. Technical issues: Although rare, technical issues can occur during the IELTS on computer, such as software glitches or hardware malfunctions. These can cause stress and disrupt the test-taking experience.

Test Environment and Accessibility

The test environment and accessibility factors can also play a crucial role in deciding which format to choose for the IELTS exam. Here are some aspects to consider:

1. Test center facilities: Both IELTS on paper and IELTS on computer exams are conducted in designated test centers. It’s essential to ensure that the chosen test center has the appropriate facilities, such as comfortable seating, adequate lighting, and a quiet environment. Additionally, computer-based test centers should have reliable hardware and software to minimize the risk of technical issues.

2. Test center locations: The availability of test centers for IELTS on paper and IELTS on computer may vary depending on your location. Some regions may have limited options for one format, making it necessary to choose the other or travel to a different location for the preferred format.

3. Test dates: The frequency of test dates for IELTS on paper and IELTS on computer exams can vary, with computer-based tests generally being offered more frequently. Consider the test dates available for each format and how they align with your preparation schedule and application deadlines.

4. Accessibility for test-takers with special needs: Both IELTS on paper and IELTS on computer exams offer accommodations for test-takers with special needs, such as visual impairments, hearing difficulties, or learning disabilities. It’s essential to research the accommodations available for each format and choose the one that best meets your needs. Note that you must notify the test centers of such needs much earlier.

Preparation for IELTS on Paper and IELTS on Computer

Preparing effectively for the IELTS exam is crucial, regardless of the format you choose. Here are some tips and strategies to consider when preparing for IELTS on paper or IELTS on computer:

1. Familiarize yourself with the format: Understand the structure and requirements of your chosen format, including the time allocation for each section, the types of questions, and the scoring criteria. Familiarity with the format will help build confidence and enable you to perform more efficiently during the test.

2. Practice with the appropriate materials: Ensure that you use preparation materials that match the format you plan to take. If you’re preparing for the IELTS on computer, practice with computer-based tests and resources to develop the necessary skills and familiarity with the digital interface.

3. Develop your typing or handwriting skills: Depending on your chosen format, focus on improving your typing or handwriting skills. For the IELTS on computer, build your typing speed and accuracy. For the IELTS on paper, practice writing clearly and legibly to ensure that your answers can be easily read and understood by examiners.

4. Improve your reading and listening skills: Regardless of the format, honing your reading and listening skills is essential for success in the IELTS exam. Engage with various English-language materials, such as articles, podcasts, and videos, to develop your comprehension and vocabulary.

5. Simulate test conditions: Practice under realistic test conditions to become comfortable with the format and environment. This may include taking practice tests in a quiet room with a timer or using the computer interface for the computer-based format.

6. Develop time management strategies: Time management is crucial for both paper-based and IELTS on computer exams. Develop strategies to allocate time effectively across all sections, ensuring that you can complete each task within the given time frame.

Making an Informed Decision: Choosing the Right Format for You

After considering the pros and cons of both IELTS on paper and IELTS on computer formats, as well as other relevant factors, it’s essential to make an informed decision that aligns with your individual needs and preferences. Here are some key points to consider when making your choice:

1. Personal comfort: Assess your level of comfort with technology and decide whether you prefer writing by hand or typing. Think about which format best suits your learning style and test-taking habits.

2. Exam performance: Consider how your choice of format may impact your exam performance. For example, if you struggle with legible handwriting, the computer-based format might be more suitable. Alternatively, if you prefer annotating and underlining text in the Reading and Writing sections, the paper-based format may be a better fit.

3. Time management: Evaluate your ability to manage time effectively in both formats. IELTS on paper and IELTS on computer have different time allocations and requirements, so consider which format will enable you to perform at your best.

4. Availability and accessibility: Research the availability of test centers, test dates, and accommodations for each format in your region. Choose the format that offers the most convenient options for your schedule and needs.

5. Results processing time: If you have tight deadlines for applications or visa processes, the quicker results turnaround for the IELTS on computer might be an essential factor to consider.


In conclusion, choosing between IELTS on paper and IELTS on computer formats is a critical decision that requires careful consideration of various factors, including personal comfort, exam performance, time management, availability, and accessibility in IELTS testing.

By evaluating the pros and cons of each format, assessing your individual needs and preferences, and staying informed about the latest developments in IELTS testing, you can make an informed decision that maximizes your chances of success.

For instance, if you are comfortable with technology and prefer a faster result turnaround, the IELTS on computer may be the ideal choice for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy annotating and underlining text while reading or struggle with typing, the IELTS on paper may be more suitable.

It’s crucial to strike a balance between your preferences and the practical aspects of each format, such as test center availability and accommodations for special needs.

Ultimately, the key to success in the IELTS exam lies in thorough preparation and adaptability. By staying informed about changes in IELTS testing, you can adapt your strategies and make the best choices to ensure a positive test-taking experience and achieve the desired results.



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