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Learn about the two exam modalities, Paper based or Computer based. Find answers to your questions about the Cambridge official exams.
Learn about the two Cambridge exam modalities.

We are often asked what the difference is between the Computer based Cambridge English exam and the exam on Paper. Here’s my thoughts.


Most students have completed exams on paper and feel very comfortable doing it this way. Just as at University your answers must be copied onto a separate answer sheet. You are able to carry out the strategy for each part, underlining keywords, writing synonyms etc.

Fewer exam dates have an impact on the number of students taking the exam which is usually quite high with as many as 100 students sitting the exam. This affects the Listening, with people sneezing, coughing, as well as problems with echoes due to the large room needed for so many candidates. The need to copy your answers onto an answer sheet can also cause problems if you do not pay very close attention to the time – not copying all of them, or completing the wrong sections can result in a failed exam purely for technical reasons rather than level.


There are many more exam dates and so fewer candidates in the exam. The experience itself is usually less intimidating with as few as 6 students sitting the exam. Listening is done with headphones and you are able to control the volume so it is optimum for you.

Perhaps the greatest problem is your own ability using the software for the exam as well as typing in English. There are Computer based practice tests online and we also provide computer based tests for you to try. You can also watch a tutorial that helps you understand how to use the software but for some students this makes little difference – it’s hard enough remembering English structures and words without worrying about how to use the computer!

There is also the problem of how to do the strategy for each part. Although the software allows you to do this it isn’t very intuitive and slows you down. I would only recommend the Computer based exam if –

You are very comfortable using a PC
– You don’t rely on doing the strategy for each part
– You have a natural ability with listening as it is impossible to do the strategy for this part.


A good teacher will know your key strengths and weaknesses and will guide you as to which exam to take. They should also allow you to practice both the paper based and computer based exam to be sure there are no problems. At ABC English students receive 20 hours of Paper based Exam Practice classes as well as for PC. If you do not receive the same I suggest you look for a better school. 

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