Cambridge Exams: What is the difference between paper-based and computer-based Cambridge exams?

Take An Exam

Here at International House Bristol we offer both paper-based and computer-based Cambridge exams, so you may be wondering: aside from the obvious, are there any differences between the two types? We’ve put together a helpful guide to answer this question for you.  


Firstly, it's important to note that for both exams you will have to come to our exam venue; the computer-based exam cannot be taken at home.

Exam content 

Whichever format you take the exam in, the exam questions and qualification are exactly the same. There is no difference in the content of the exam, the questions asked, or the order they are in. This is especially true for the Speaking part; you don’t do this using the computer, and instead you have to go to a specific place and speak in front of two examiners, just as you do for the paper-based exam. 


You also have exactly the same amount of time in both the paper and the computer-based exam to do all parts of the exams, and you do the Reading, Writing and Listening in the same session.  


In the Paper-Based exam, you have a separate question sheet, answer sheet, so you must be very careful to make sure you are writing your final answers on the correct sheet.   

Some people may find the Computer-Based paper easier and quicker to complete, as typing is generally quicker than writing by hand, and it will be more obvious on your screen if you haven’t answered a question. 


In both exam types, you will be provided with sheets of paper to make planning notes when doing the Writing part.  

For the computer-based exam, you can make notes on a question paper for the Listening and Reading parts of the exam as well if you wish; these won’t be marked. 

When taking the Paper-Based exam, you can make notes directly on the exam questions (which won’t be marked). You must make sure you transfer your final answers to your answer sheet before the exam finishes.  


Other differences to consider

  • In the computer-based exam, you cannot cross out answers which you know are wrong on the screen - instead you must swap them for a new answer  

This is an advantage of the paper-based exam (especially in the Reading/Use of English and Listening parts of the exam): you can cross out answers in multiple choice questions that you know you have made a mistake on. This makes it easier and quicker to review your answers and identify any questions you need to come back to, because you know which answers to ignore. 

  • Highlighting text is easy, but leaving notes isn’t 

Highlighting parts of the text and words in the Computer-based exam is easy to do, but reading notes you have made isn’t always. It can be difficult to open them and read what they say (this could take more time). 

  • Although it is easy to do, highlighting text on the Computer-Based exercises can take longer than underlining on the paper-based exercises

This is not really a problem for the Reading/Use of English and Writing parts of the exam, but it can be a problem for the Listening part of the exam. In the Listening part you don't have a lot time before each of the audio recordings start. So, the more time it takes you to mark the keywords in the questions and answers, the less time you have to listen to the audio recordings and identify the correct answers. 

  • Word count 

When typing up your answer to the Writing part, the computer automatically keeps track of the number of words you’ve written. So you don’t need to worry about this or spend time manually counting (unless you do this on your note paper). 


Still unsure? 

Cambridge Assessment English has a computer-based practice exam that you can do for free on their website here. You might have an idea which exam format you prefer, however, we recommend you do a practise test before booking your exam just to be sure.  

You can see our full list of Paper-Based and Computer-Based Cambridge exam dates here, and book directly on our website. 

Preparation is key 

Whichever format you decide to do, make sure you are as prepared as you possibly can be in order to achieve the result you are aiming for. IH Bristol offers full-time and part-time Cambridge preparation courses, both online and in Bristol. If you are not sure which level exam is most suitable for you, contact us for a free assessment and we'll be happy to advise you.


Based elsewhere in the UK?

IH Bristol is part of a worldwide network of quality language schools. In the UK, you can prepare for and take the Cambridge exam in Portsmouth or Belfast; over in Ireland you can prepare for and take the Cambridge exam in Galway. All schools also offer IELTS, and you can also take IELTS in Manchester