Firstly, it is important to make the point that the computer delivered test is exactly the same as the paper-based test in terms of content and marking. IELTS is a high-stakes test delivered to exacting standards and an exhaustive evaluation of a student’s abilities in the English Language in the four core areas. Given these facts, there can be no substantial differences between the paper-based test and the computer delivered test.
Minor differences, however, do exist. Firstly, there is the obvious; the test delivery platforms are different and you are required to type your responses. In addition, at the end of listening, in the computer delivered test, you are not required to transfer your answers onto the answer sheet in 10 minutes. Instead, you are given 2 minutes to check your answers.
The computer delivered IELTS is primarily for people who are more accustomed to a screen, as opposed to paper, and also more habituated to typing rather than writing with a pen or pencil. The main advantage of the computer delivered IELTS is that it is easier to type your answers if you are more accustomed to typing. The screens are also of a good size negating the need to squint. There are fewer people in the testing room, as opposed to the paper-based test and this makes for a more comfortable and amenable environment for the test taker. Faster results are also a major advantage of the computer delivered IELTS with candidates able to receive their results in 3 to 5 days as opposed to the paper-based IELTS whose test takers typically receive their results in 13 days.
The computer delivered IELTS comes with a few (minor) disadvantages. Firstly, you need to be really good at typing. If you are not, it is better for you to consider the paper-based IELTS. Secondly, the screens lock exactly at the pre-ordained time cutting out the possibility of any last gasp changes. Finally, the countdown clock does not display seconds and this can lead to a bit of last-minute panic as you do not know exactly when the screen will lock.
It’s really important to take a few practice tests on the computer based IELTS as each section presents challenges that are practically non-existent in the paper-based test. In Listening, while you can highlight text and you are given paper and pencil for taking notes, you should get accustomed to answering the various kinds of questions. In some Listening questions, you have to type the answer, while in others you are required to drag choices and place them in the appropriate box. Moving from one section to the next requires you to use the ‘Tab’ key and for a test taker who does not know this fact, progressing from one section to the next could be an ordeal! All this necessitates that you get used to the ‘feel’ of the computer delivered Listening test in order that you have a seamless and stress-free experience at the real test.
The Reading section of the computer delivered is a great example of the advantages of computer-based testing. You can increase the font size, copy and paste, highlight text and search- all of which are not possible of the paper-based test. However, you do need to get used to scrolling up and down long passages.
The Writing section of the computer delivered IELTS gives you a word count and allows you to cut, copy and paste. However, you are on your own when proofing as there is no grammar and spelling check. One disadvantage computer delivered test takers cite often is that there are a lot of people typing at the same time and the noise can be quite distracting.
The Speaking section of the IELTS is still a face-to-face interview.
On an overall basis, the computer delivered test has many advantages over the paper-based test and is probably the future of IELTS testing. Given the rapid pace at which the world is gravitating towards technology, it is only a matter of time that the computer delivered IELTS completely replaces the paper-based test.