Home Competitive Exam Tips Pros and Cons of Computer Based English Language Tests

Pros and Cons of Computer Based English Language Tests

by Chetna Vasishth

Today we are talking about English Language proficiency tests. And that is where the confusion begins. First of all, you are wondering which test to take and next you worry about whether a computer based test will be better or a paper based test will work for you. In this blog post we will give you a detailed pros and cons of the computer based English language test for you to be able to choose wisely.

Let’s first answer some frequently asked questions on English language testing

a) Why do I need an English Language Proficiency Test?

When you go abroad to work, study, or live, those countries want to know if you will be able to follow the curriculum at university, or at work or be able to live and communicate in their country. The English Language Proficiency test is mandatory in most English speaking countries.

b) I have studied in English medium all through, why do I have to take this exam

Well, these countries look at citizens from all over the globe and they need a common yardstick to determine the level of English fluency, hence even if you have studied in English, most of the times, you might still have to take the test

c) If I score well on the test, will I get admission?

The scores on this test are like a minimum mandatory cut off that you must meet. However, admission is a whole other thing – universities will select you on a whole bunch of things like your school/college scores or GMAT/GRE/SAT/ACT scores, essays, extra curricular activities etc.

d) How much do I need to score on the test?

Usually all universities and immigration offices will prescribe a minimum cut off for each test, so always check before hand.
And now to the final question of

e) Which test do I take?

There are several English Language proficiency tests like PTE Academic, IELTS, TOEFL, Cambridge Tests and some more. I suggest, first go to the website of the university or the authority that has asked you to take the test. Check which tests they accept. Next, look at your deadlines, not all exams are conducted in your city all the time, though there are a few like PTE Academic which provide tests dates almost 360 days in a year. So look at the forthcoming test dates on offer, result declaration dates, and your own admission deadlines before you choose which test to take.

Comparison of the paper based and computer based tests –

a) Venue –

In case of both the test, whether it is a paper-based or a computer based test you have to appear for both in person in a predestined location allocated to you.

b) Candidates –

In paper based tests, the larger venue usually comprises of 100–150 students while a Computer-based takes place at a smaller venue with one candidate per computer.

c) Timing

of the two tests if roughly the same but you will find the paper longer or shorter depending on your writing speed vs typing speed. while broadly both the tests have the same duration, sometimes in a paper based test, the speaking section is on a separate day and you might need to complete the entire test over two different days. Whereas in computer based tests, the entire test can be completed in one day.

d) Handwriting –

Some of you may not have a readable handwriting or may not be used to writing a 250 word essay with a pencil. With a computer based test you need fast typing skills but you can move the text around and correct mistakes. So choose the test based on your comfort with writing or typing.

e) Edits –

In a computer-based test, the writing task is comparatively easy, as you are allowed and capable to both rewrite and edit the sentences whereas in paper-based tests, once you have written the final version there is no way that you can change it. Going back to a question – In a paper based test you can just flip the pages to go back to a question, whilst in a computer based test, you need to remember to flag the question. Once you do that it is very easy to come back to it later.

f) Countdown clock –

in the computer-based test, you are warned about the running time from the countdown clock on the desktop itself, whereas in paper-based you sometimes do the exam while forgetting the time scenario.

g) Word limit –

For questions with a word limit, you could need to count or estimate the words whereas in computer based tests the computer will give you the word count

h) Test Dates –

With paper based tests there are specific dates for which you need to book typically one month in advance, whereas computer based tests like PTE Academic are conducted 360 days of the year and you could book it for 24 hours later as well.

i) Listening Test –

In the paper-based tests, in the listening test, an audio is played on the speaker which usually creates the issue of clarity whereas, in the computer-based test, every candidate is provided with a pair of headphones which helps the candidate to listen a clear audio.

j) Speaking section

is another area where the difference is significant. In the paper based format you speak to a real person and in some computer based tests you may get to speak to a computer. Here, you should choose based on which makes you more comfortable – speaking to a real person or being in your personal space with a computer. This is a personal preference. But the advantage with computer based test here would be that since there is no human intervention there is no bias.

k). Practice

Both tests have lots of materials available online for practice including mock tests and practice papers.

l). Results

The paper based tests may take about 2 weeks to declare their results since there is human checking involved. However, in computer based tests the results especially in PTE Academic could be declared within 5 working days.


some people don’t like typing on the computer. For these, I wouldn’t recommend doing the exam on a computer, as they will have to type – quickly, at times – during the Writing, Use of English and Listening papers. Other people love underlining and making hand-written notes on the margins of the exam paper. For these people, doing the Reading paper on a computer might not be very comfortable. However, if you feel confident typing and reading on a screen, computer-based exams will be just for you!

I strongly recommend trying both paper- and computer-based mock tests before taking the exam, as you want to feel as confident as possible on the day of the exam.

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