|101-011| Paper-based or Computer-based

Hello Exam Seekers,

Recently, a friend from a course asked me a question about taking the CPE: “The Computer-based version. Is it worth taking?“, then I realized that this is actually a question people ask when they decide on sitting for an exam. Because of this question, I decided to prepare a text to clear your queries about it. I mean, we have already mentioned a bit about computer-based x paper-based texts in some of our exams posts (C1: Advanced, and A2: KET), but now I will formally explain the differences for you and help you make your choice.

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1) Are there any differences between the computer-based and paper-based?

When questions like this one come up, the immediate response that comes to mind is: “of course there are“, however, you have to think that you’re not asking questions about different types of exams, you are asking a question about the way you are going to take one single exam. Therefore: yes, there are differences, but they are not related to the content of the exam, they’re related to the amount of effort you are going to put in and other aspects involved.

A) Investment / Price

One of the differences is related to money. The investment in these kinds of exams is usually high, but it can get cheaper or more expensive depending on how you plan to take your exam.

Usually, the Computer-based format is cheaper. That’s because there is no paper involved. When you take the Paper-based format, they have to print all the listening, reading and writing parts of the exam, and it makes the exams more expensive. The high cost is not only due to the printing but for sending the content to England. If you are not aware, all Cambridge exams are corrected in England. They are sent from wherever you are to Cambridge and they are corrected either by a machine or a person (depending on the exam).

If you take the Computer-based, all of these costs are not involved.


B) Exam dates

Usually, the Paper-based version of the test has fewer options for dates to take the exam. Meanwhile, the Computer-based format offers you more options for dates. This usually happens because of prepared teachers available.

Although this is not a rule, you can always check more than one center. The tendency, on the other hand, is going from paper to digital, so more and more people as opting for the Computer-based version, which increases the number of test dates.


C) Exam time

The amount of time is essentially the same, given that the listening activities is a non-stop recording in both formats and the other tasks follow the same idea when the time is up, it’s up and you cannot continue the exam. However, if you take the Computer-based, your exam will probably feel much faster. That’s because for the listening and reading tasks, you simply tick a box and for the writing you just type it. People are usually faster when typing than writing. Moreover, if you are used to making a draft, which is another time-consuming thing, when doing it in the Computer-based version, you don’t need to rewrite your draft, you have a “live draft” which gives you the possibility to correct it on the “same paper”, and then, consuming less time.


D) Receiving your results

Everybody who takes the exam will receive the results twice. First, it’s a Statement of Results which are sent from four to six weeks after the exam for paper-based exams, and two to three weeks after the exam for computer-based exams. Then, about three weeks after results the certificates are available and sent to the center.

As you can see, there is a difference in time to receive the Paper-based or Computer-based results:

  • If you took a paper-based exam, your certificate will be sent to your center seven to nine weeks after the date of your exam.
  • If you took a computer-based exam, your certificate will be sent to your center five to six weeks after your exam date.

That’s also because the online results arrive at Cambridge much faster than the papers, especially if the post office is on strike.


E) Equipment

All centers are analyzed by Cambridge before becoming a center, therefore the equipment should be according to what they expect. The school has to provide a silent environment with all the equipments working. However, some centers cannot offer the Computer-based exam because they don’t have computers enough, so if you plan on taking your exam at a specific center which does not offer computers, you will have to do the Paper-based one. Usually, these centers which offer the Paper-based exam with the only option, they have a radio to play the listening to all the students. On the other hand, when you do the Computer-based one, you have your own headphones and you can adjust the sound yourself to your liking, making it easier to avoid problems during your listening.


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2) Which one is the best?

This is really up to you! When I took the B2: First (FCE), I took the Paper-based format. I had to write everything and I had to put my choices in a separate sheet of paper, but when I took my C2: Proficiency (CPE), I did the Computer-based version.

I prefer the Computer-based format if you ask me. I am a slow writer and I am always afraid of choosing different words and not being able to change it. Moreover, you don’t need to worry about your handwriting since it’s all typed.

One thing you should do, though is practice. Whenever preparing for exams time yourself, be aware of the amount of time you will need and try to make it in a shorter time. this will help you better prepare for the time schedule of the exam.


Which format do you prefer? I hope I have guided you through it and helped you decide.

Have a nice weekend.

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