Which exam should I choose?
Which is better?
I get this question all the time from my students in my Cambridge exam prep groups, so I decided to put together a nice little post for you on the topic.
To start with, let's clarify that we are indeed discussing the very same exam here! Cambridge exams can be taken both on the computer or in paper format, the only difference is the way you take the exam. The computer-based exam is the digital version of the same Cambridge Exam, and they are fully identical regarding the content, the scoring, and the final certificate. You take both the paper-based and the computer-based exam at an official Cambridge Exam centre or at a specific location assigned by the British Council, which organises all Cambridge exams.
In the computer-based exam, three out of the four papers of the exam are taken on the computer, while the Speaking Paper takes place physically with two examiners and candidates, just the same way as in the paper-based exam. No difference there; there is no computer version for the Speaking Paper!
Which one should I choose?
Well, that's a matter of personal preference. Although the answer is completely subjective, there are pros and cons to each method.
Let's dive into all of them!
Quicker to highlight / mark
If you prefer and are used to working or studying solely on paper, and you never use E-books, online sites, or PDFs for studying, the paper-based exam might be more suitable for you. You can use your pencil not only to highlight or underline the text but to draw all sorts of marks or remarks which might help you to complete the reading activities. This will be much quicker for you, if you are not used to highlighting and annotating on PDFs.
Although it can be much faster to underline and highlight important parts on paper with a pencil, but in the end you need to take the time to transfer your answers to the separate answer-sheet , with which you lose valuable time. I highly advise you against writing your answers directly to the answer sheet because mistakes are much more difficult to be recognized and corrected, especially for the Use of English Paper. So, yes, because of the extra time you need to transfer your answers to a separate answer sheet: altogether you have less time for the paper-based exam!
You have to count your words for the writing paper
Although staying within the word-count is not a must, but highly advisable for the writing tasks. With enough practice, you can do this quite quickly, but surely not as quickly as the computer does it for you.
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You have more time!
Although you have exactly the same assigned time for both computer-based and paper-based formats, timing still comes out better for the computer-based exam. You can save a huge amount of time! How?
You don’t have to transfer your answers to the answer sheet! You don't have to rewrite whole sentences or sections for the writing paper, just press delete or copy-paste if you want to rearrange your paragraphs.
No need for counting words, the computer automatically counts it for you
No need to look through skipped answers: You know exactly which questions you did not answer or marked for “review” because the computer shows this to you and won’t let you submit your final choices without finalizing your answers.
WORD COUNT SHOWN
Highlighting can take more time
Did you know that you can also highlight texts online in the computer-based exam? (right-click, highlight) However, I would only recommend highlighting during the listening tasks if you are accustomed to working on PDFs and highlighting comes naturally and quickly for you! If you are not used to this, you will use valuable time, especially in the Listening Paper. Beware: highlighting / underlining is essential for both reading and listening tasks if you want to achieve high marks!
HIGHLIGHT ON THE COMPUTER
You will have to use an English keyboard
Ok, this one sucks when you are used to a non-English keyboard! You have to be extremely vigilant to avoid typos."
Emotional pressure if you are unfamiliar with the platform/layout
Seeing the layout of a software for the first time under exam stress can be daunting for some. Getting used to the screen, platform, etc. takes time. If you haven’t used the interface before, this can add stress and take you extra time from you during the exam – especially if you are prone to anxiety. That is why I always send mock exam links for my Cambridge groups and ask them to complete at least one computer-based test before sitting for the exam! It is a must!
If you are fully prepared, you cannot lose time with the computer-based exam, since your answers are recorded automatically when you click on them or type them.
I personally can see a lot more advantages for the computer-based exam!
Computer-based testing is ideal for students who are more comfortable with a keyboard and mouse than with pencil and paper. On the computer, you can change or improve your text in a matter of seconds and keep your work readable – if this is an issue for you. Most of us are already typing everything, so we feel much more natural with the keyboard.
However, if you only work or study on paper, the online solution might be strange or unfamiliar to you. In this case: choose the paper-based exam.