With the IELTS testing slowly resuming services across the world, there is a concerted push from the testing authority to enable more computer based testing centers in view of the pandemic enforced saftey norms. This trend may lead to the computer based IELTS test as the the default medium of taking the test. Does this mean that paper based IELTS is now on its last leg?
Through this article we will try and answer this question by examining the difference between the two options of the test – paper based IELTS and computer based IELTS and examine if there are any percieved advantages of the computer based IELTS test over the paper based IELTS test.
What’s changed and what has remained the same
Before we get into evaluating the computer based test, let’s first understand what’s actually changed and what hasn’t
What remains the same
- The test is exactly the same, it’s just that you enter the answers on the computer instead of on to the paper
- The marking remains the same
What changes in the test
- You don’t get the 10 mins you in the listening section to transfer the answer to the answer paper. You have to enter your answers on to the computer screen in real time
Which mode should you chose
To help decide which exam is best suited to your needs, we asked a number of our students to give us their honest accounts and experiences with each type and this is what we realised.
Pros of taking the computer-delivered exam
- Easier to edit
A lot of our pupils found that using a computer made it easier to edit their writing. Therefore, they found it much easier to structure and organise their essay.
- Word count
The computer will automatically count the number of words in your essay. A number of our pupils found that this made the exam a little less stressful, as they had one less thing to focus on.
- Less crowded test centres
Computer-based IELTS test centres are typically less crowded and more organised. While this won’t directly impact your score, some pupils found that a better-organised test centre limited the amount of stress they experienced on exam day.
- Handwriting isn’t a factor
If you worry that your messy handwriting could make it difficult for an IELTS examiner to understand what you are writing (especially all you doctors out there!), then the computer-based test is an ideal solution.
- No page flipping!
For the Reading section, the screen will be divided into two parts – the text and the questions. This means that you don’t have to keep flipping pages as you do in the paper-based test.
Cons of taking the computer-delivered exam
- Drawing, highlighting or making notes on the screen isn’t as easy.Despite contrary belief, we discovered that you can right-click to highlight the text or make notes on the screen. However, for many of our students, this wasn’t desirable and would have prefered to use a pen and paper. You are not always given a pen and paper in a computer-based test. If this is a concern for you, you should check with your local test centre to see whether you can get them on the day of your test.
- Screen fatigue For example, tired eyes or a sore head. Some students find looking at a screen for multiple hours very tiring. (However, this depends on the individual – some people find it harder to focus on a book for too long!)
- The sound of typing can be distracting. If you’re like me and need silence to focus, you might struggle to concentrate when the sound of multiple other candidates typing surrounds you.
- Not everyone is comfortable typing or using computers The IELTS exam is stressful enough. If the idea of using a computer makes you nervous, the computer-based test could make exam day even more and stressful.
- Fewer practice questions for Listening and Reading While this hasn’t been a huge complaint, unfortunately, it’s one that can’t really be rectified. It takes YEARS for a single IELTS practice question to be created, approved and uploaded. Hopefully, this will change in the future but there’s not much that can be done for now.
Why I prefer the computer based IELTS
Here’s why I believe the new computer-based IELTS test format is superior to the old format:
1. The test is much more convenient
For some reason, the whole process of booking the computer-based IELTS test seemed easier and less confusing. Instead of a ridiculously long email with lists of DOs and DON’Ts, I instead was greeted with a very simple set of instructions… Arrive at this place on this date at this time. Easy enough!
2. The test centre is futuristic and totally awesome
Yikes, they must have spent some money building these new testing centres. It was like walking into the future. As soon as those elevator doors opened I was struck by the futuristic layout. It was so much better than arriving at some university in the middle of nowhere and being herded like cattle.
3. The staff were super friendly
I think the whole test format change has had a big impact on the way the staff interacts with you. There were just two young guys there — not the IELTS overlords like in the old testing centres — and they were friendly. Because the whole test is so streamlined now, there was no rushing or pushing or pressure at all. The group of test takers just waited for a few minutes and were even offered free bottles of water!
4. Smaller groups are better than bigger crowds
I think one of the reasons why everything seemed so much more relaxed was because of the small groups. On my test day, there were only 14 people. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of big crowds. Give me a small intimate party any day of the week. Oddly enough, by the end of the exam, while we were waiting for our speaking tests we had become good friends! Everyone was chatting warmly with each other talking about the test questions and what our experience was like. Everyone agreed that the computer-based test is superior to the old paper-based test.
5. It’s still really tough!
Don’t let me give you the wrong impression… the computer-delivered IELTS is still REALLY challenging. But the overall improvement in the environment has improved the way you feel going into the test, which is incredibly important.
6. The writing is much easier now
In saying that… the writing, I think, has become easier. I have written a blog post about why this is in more depth, but in short, I can tell you that being able to type makes a world of difference.
7. The new test format feels fairer
When I did my paper-based IELTS and had finished and the papers were being collected I had this funny feeling of suspicion that something could happen to my test paper. For some reason, doing computer-based IELTS felt fairer… I knew that the reading and listening would be 100% computer marked — not grumpy or hungry humans being careless. I knew that the beautiful objective machinery would simply give me right and wrong answers (hopefully fewer of the former!). And although I knew that my writing would still be sent to an examiner, because they couldn’t see how bad my handwriting looks, I felt, again, like it was a fairer test. Weird, right?
8. Use the headphones to help you concentrate
I’ll let you in on a little secret… Use your headphones while you write and while you do the reading test. I found this to be an incredible help. It blocked out any noise — not that there is much noise with just 14 people in the room — but it allowed me to concentrate on my reading and my writing, and you’re allowed to do it! The headphones act as ear muffs in a way.
9. Faster IELTS test results!
The last BIG improvement that this test format has over the old one is that you get your results in just 4-5 days. That’s 8 or 9 days sooner than the paper-based test.
There are a number of pros and cons to taking the computer-based IELTS exam. However, it is important that you realise that they won’t ever improve or impact your ability or score. They will only affect your experience on the day of your exam.In fact, Cambridge and IELTS published a number of research papers that compare the results of the computer-based exam with results of the paper-based exam.
The only question that you should ask when choosing between the computer-based and paper exam is: Which one is right for me?
If you are not comfortable with staring at the screen for long hours and prefer scribbling on paper then then the computer based test is not for you. However, if you practically live your life on the computer, then the computer based IELTS is the way to go.