What’s So Special About Computer-Delivered IELTS?
HSE Illuminated quite often talks about or at least briefly mention the IELTS exam. And there is nothing surprising about it: HSE students who are planning to go on an exchange or a visiting program are quite often required to submit their official IELTS scores, those who are planning on graduating soon and getting a master’s degree are also often required to take the exam, and, finally, even when it comes to short-term summer programs and, to be quite honest, any educational program in general, IELTS is often a “must”.
Luckily, the English courses here at HSE are, by and large, designed in a way to help students prepare for the independent English test that everyone is required to take by the end of their sophomore year. That test does resemble the IELTS exam which is why all HSE students are familiar with its structure and are, technically, ready to take it. The bottom line is that a vast majority of students will most probably take the IELTS exam at some point since it has, along with TOEFL, become an international standard when it comes to testing one’s English language abilities.
However, what a lot of people don’t know is that even if one has already decided to take the IELTS exam there are, in fact, many of them: IELTS UKVI and IELTS Life Skills are both required for certain United Kingdom visas, Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS only differ in their Writing and Speaking sections with the latter exam usually being chosen by those planning to move to a different country and the former, which is chosen by 70-75% of all the candidates taking IELTS, is a “way-to-go” for those applying for higher education or professional programs in any kind of English speaking environment. The choice between these different kinds of IELTS depends entirely on what you need to take the test for and is, most probably, quite easy to make if you already have a certain goal you are pursuing.
On the other hand, one can also choose between a paper-based and a computer-delivered IELTS. Since the test itself is exactly the same and the only difference is its way of delivery, students might have difficulties deciding which one of these to choose.
I, personally, have taken IELTS three times with my last attempt being a computer delivered IELTS. Therefore, the purpose of the present article is to discuss some of the advantages of the computer-delivered IELTS in comparison to the paper-based one in hopes of making it easier for anyone planning to take the exam to choose the option that is the best for them.
Even though it might not be that obvious and often simply not mentioned, computer delivered IELTS implies having your own headphone set (provided to you by the testing center) and using it for the listening section of the exam. That, on its own, is already a huge advantage since you can adjust the size of the headphone set and the volume. In a way, IELTS delivered on a computer allows for more personalization and enables students to adjust quite a lot of things and settings in a way they want. Therefore, it is extremely useful to figure out what helps you, personally, to concentrate better, to be more attentive and then to make sure you simply re-construct this exact “environment” by adjusting the settings. Chances are, taking the test in a setting you are already familiar with will make you less nervous and, in the end, you’ll be able to get the exact score that you aim for. What does need to be mentioned is that using a personal headphone set also means that no noises or voices would interfere and interrupt the recording. The chances of a candidate missing a particular word because he/she couldn’t hear it properly due to such noises are minimized.
You won’t be given any time to transfer you answers to the answer sheet. However, you will have some time to check your answers. Once the listening part of the test is over, the answers you gave will be automatically loaded into the system. So, you don’t have to worry about making mistakes while transferring you answers and losing points because of that. The interface that is used for the exam also helps a lot, but we will dedicate a separate section to the discussion of it.
One last thing! You are totally welcomed to take notes on a piece of paper provided by the examinators. So, if you are more comfortable writing something down prior to typing it on the keyboard there is no need to worry – you can definitely do that.
When it comes to the reading section, there are quite a lot of advantages that have to be highlighted but, in general, what makes the difference is, undoubtedly, the interface that allows for customization. First of all, IELTS candidates can adjust the text size and its background color. Secondly, one can easily highlight parts of the text and certain words in questions as well. For instance, when it comes to the task of matching names of people mentioned in the text and their main ideas expressed there, highlighting those in different color helps a lot. Additionally, the interface allows for notes taking: one can select a particular phrase or a word and make a note in regard to that. For instance, if there is a part of the text that seems like it contains the answer to one of the questions and you are not quite sure yet but still want to remember it, you can simply highlight that part of the text and make a note saying “probably answer to question #5?” or simply indicate the number of the question.
There are a couple of advantages that are somehow rarely mentioned by the official sources. First off, you are allowed to keep the headphone set on during the reading part. While it might sound like there is no point in doing that, the headphone set can actually help one to concentrate since it is still soundproof even if no audio is playing. Secondly, when it comes to those tasks that require finding a particular word in the text, you can simply copy and paste it instead of typing it. That can not only save you some time but also prevent you from making any unfortunate spelling mistakes.
Texts for the paper based IELTS might be printed out on different sides of the paper sheet which might make it a bit troublesome since one needs to constantly flip the page over and over again. You won’t have to deal with this problem if you are taking IELTS delivered on a computer: the interface allows for scrolling and you can have the whole text right in front of your eyes.
In my personal opinion, the benefits of computer delivered IELTS are the most apparent for the writing section of the test. Anyone who have already taken the IELTS exam for at least once knows that writing is probably one of the hardest sections and requires not only concentration and ability to use your English skills to write those two essays, but also efficient time management. The writing section takes 60 minutes with the general recommendation of spending about 20 minutes on the first task and 40 minutes on the second one since the latter is a lot more complex and is worth more points. Since the writing takes part after listening and reading sections it might be quite hard to concentrate and the pressure that comes with that time limit definitely does not help. If there is any way to minimize the likelihood of making mistakes and getting distracted because of it – you should definitely consider doing whatever it takes to do so. That’s when the interface comes in handy.
One of the main advantages in this case is the ability to type instead of writing your essay on a piece of paper. A vast majority of people are so used to typing their e-mails or writing projects and essays on their computers that writing on a piece of paper, as shocking as it might sound, might be quite hard for them. I, personally, prefer typing over writing with a pen and when I type something, I can do it a lot faster which is crucial since you only have 20 minutes to write one of the essays and immediately move to the second one.
Yet another advantage that makes the difference is the ability to fix any of the spelling mistakes you make right away. Whether it is a particular word or a whole sentence – you can easily delete and re-write it. That is something that would only make your writing messy if you took the paper based IELTS. Here you can easily change the whole structure of your essays by moving the paragraphs around – something that was only made possible with the introduction of computer delivered IELTS.
Finally, if you choose the computer delivered IELTS you don’t need to count how many words are there in your essay – the interface does that for you. You still need to make sure you meet the required minimal word count but it’s a lot easier to do that when you can see how many words you’ve already written. That simply saves you time and gives more control over the situation.
Apart from the advantages that were already mentioned, there are a couple of general features of the interface that make the whole experience of taking the exam better.
First of all, the remaining time is displayed on the screen and turns red when there are 10 or 5 minutes left. That, again, allows for more control and helps with time management. Especially in regard to the reading and writing sections.
All the questions are displayed at the bottom of the screen. Those that are already answered are depicted in a different shape from the ones remaining so that one can clearly see how many questions are left and make sure there is enough time for all of those. Additionally, one can mark a question as the one that needs to be re-visited and come back to later. It is also extremely easy to move from one question to another by simply clicking on it.
In general, if you are worried that it might be hard for you to get used to the interface right away and that will make you more anxious during the exam, we encourage you to take a couple of practice tests online to get accustomed to it. You can find those here: https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/take-ielts/prepare/computer-delivered-ielts/practice-tests. There are also plenty of videos explaining how the interface works and sharing some life-hacks so if you are aiming at a high score make sure to check those out as well.
You might be wondering why we haven’t mentioned anything regarding the speaking test. That is because the speaking part of IELTS is exactly the same for both paper-based and computer delivered IELTS and is conducted in person. What is a bit different is that in case of the computer delivered IELTS you will take the speaking test on the exact same day once you are done with listening, reading and writing.
We shall not forget about another advantage of the computer-delivered IELTS: you’ll get the results a lot sooner. To be precise, it usually takes about 5-7 days for the results to be published on the official website, but you, in fact, might get your results ever faster. There is also more freedom when it comes to choosing when to take the test.
Yet another question you might have is: Are there any advantages to the paper based IELTS? Of course, there are. Paper based IELTS is cheaper than the one delivered on the computer and might seem more familiar to the students since in most cases all the materials for IELTS practice are aimed at those taking the paper based one.
The general idea of this article is not to persuade you to take the computer based IELTS but rather to let you know that there are a lot of advantages to it which you might not have heard of. It is up to you to decide which IELTS to take but we do want you to know that, in the end, it’s your skills and not the way of exam delivery that matters. Try figuring out which of the two ways of delivery fits you better. Once you are ready with that the only thing that you need to focus on is the exam preparation itself since the tasks are exactly the same in these two versions of IELTS.