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What difference does it make in how you decide to take your IELTS English proficiency test? On paper, on computer at a test location, or online at home – which option will fit you best as you try to achieve your highest possible score?

If you dream of unlocking a world of academic and professional opportunities internationally, the IELTS test is your gateway. It’s a critical component in the admissions process for universities worldwide and is also a requirement for working or migrating to some countries too.

Before you embark on your IELTS journey and dive into the depths of test preparations, there is one key decision to make: choosing a suitable IELTS test format. This guide reviews and explores the three test formats available – paper-based, computer-based, and IELTS Online, to help you align your choice with how you work best and what you need.

Understanding the IELTS test formats

Paper-based IELTS test

The IELTS on Paper format involves writing your answers on paper for three sections – Listening, Reading, and Writing. This traditional test format offers a familiar test experience for those who prefer the tactile engagement of writing on paper with a pen. It's particularly appealing to those comfortable with navigating exams in a conventional setting.


IELTS on Computer is a computer-delivered test format for those who are well-versed with using a keyboard and prefer to type answers instead of writing them on paper. The Reading, Writing, and Listening tests are conducted on a computer, while the Speaking test remains a face-to-face engagement. This computer-delivered format suits you if you are used to and more comfortable with typing, as it means you can answer more efficiently and quickly.

IELTS Online

IELTS Online offers a new approach to the IELTS test while still assessing your English proficiency across the same four test sections: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. However, unlike IELTS on Computer where the Speaking component is conducted face-to-face, in IELTS Online, the Speaking test is conducted via video call with an accredited IELTS examiner. It otherwise adheres to the same format and duration as the paper-based and computer-based formats, ensuring you receive an authentic testing experience. It's important to note that IELTS Online is only available for the Academic Test and not for General Training.

IELTS Online is currently accepted by some academic institutions, so it is important to confirm with your institution whether this format is recognised before you book your IELTS Online Test. If your language test is required for visa or migration purposes, you should opt for IELTS on Paper or IELTS on Computer, as these formats are universally accepted for these applications.

Comparing the flexibility and convenience of IELTS test formats

IELTS on Paper: Traditional test setting

The IELTS on Paper format is the most traditional way to take the test, familiar to most, and is offered on fixed dates that are scheduled in advance, typically once or twice a month depending on the location. This format may appeal to those who prefer the tactile feel of writing their answers by hand and can align their schedules with the available test dates.

IELTS on Computer: Enhanced accessibility and speed

Choosing to take the IELTS test on a computer allows you to complete the test sections using a computer at a designated test centre. This test format is known for its greater availability and quicker results. Computer-delivered tests are available more frequently — often several times a week — allowing greater flexibility in scheduling a test date that fits well within your personal commitments. Additionally, results are typically released within 1-5 days after you take the IELTS test, significantly faster than the paper-based option. The computer interface also allows for easier navigation and more efficient editing, particularly in the Writing section, which can help reduce the stress and increase the efficiency of the test experience.

IELTS Online: Ultimate flexibility

IELTS Online revolutionises the way the test is taken by allowing you to complete it from any location with a reliable internet connection, including the comfort of your own home. This IELTS test format includes the same components as the in-person tests, ensuring consistency in what is assessed but with the added convenience of not requiring travel to a test centre. You can schedule the test at a time that is most convenient for you, offering maximum flexibility. This option is perfect for those who need to balance busy schedules or for those who are unable to travel to an IELTS test centre.

Each IELTS test format offers unique advantages, whether it's the familiarity and tactile benefit of the paper-based test, the flexibility and rapid results of the computer-delivered option, or the ultimate convenience of completing the test entirely online. Choosing the right format will depend on your personal needs, how quickly you need the results, and your preferred test-taking environment.

Other practical considerations when choosing your IELTS test format

Geographical location and test centres

The availability of different IELTS test formats can vary greatly depending on your geographical location. In some regions, all three formats — IELTS on Paper, IELTS on Computer, and IELTS Online — may be readily available, offering a broad range of options to choose from. However, in other geographical areas, certain formats may not be administered in specific IELTS test centres or simply due to less frequent scheduling of test dates for a particular format.

Results processing time

The time it takes to receive your IELTS test results can be a pivotal factor, especially if you are working against tight application deadlines for universities or visa applications.

IELTS on Paper traditionally takes longer to process, with results typically available within 13 calendar days after taking the test.

IELTS on Computer streamlines the grading process, allowing for results to be available within 1 to 5 days of your test date. This expedited timeline is made possible by the digital format of the test responses, which can be quickly and securely transferred for grading.

IELTS Online similarly offers a swift turnaround in result processing, aiming to provide results within 3 to 6 days. Taking this test format is invaluable should you need to make timely decisions or meet upcoming application deadlines, wherever you’re at.

Personal experience and comfort

When deciding between paper-based vs online test formats for the IELTS test, your comfort with technology plays a pivotal role. If digital platforms are second nature to you, IELTS on Computer or IELTS Online may deliver a more comfortable testing experience.

However, for those less acquainted with technology, who prefer the classic tactile experience of handwritten responses, or who may have trouble accessing a stable internet connection to take IELTS Online, the paper-based format can provide a less stressful environment conducive to giving your optimal performance without having to worry about getting disconnected.

How to prepare and practice after choosing your IELTS test format


Choosing the right IELTS test format can make a difference for you as you take this foundational step in your educational journey. By weighing considerations such as flexibility, personal comfort, available resources, and practical logistics, you can make an informed decision that aligns with what you need.

Once you’ve selected your IELTS test format, familiarising yourself with it is key in ensuring your test day goes as smoothly as possible. Engaging in practice tests that reflect your selected IELTS format can alleviate anxiety and allow you to focus on reviewing and demonstrating your English proficiency with confidence.

As joint owner of the IELTS test, IDP Education offers a wide range of preparation resources no matter the format, including IELTS practice tests, IELTS preparation courses online, and IELTS online courses with Macquarie University. Additionally, you can download the IELTS by IDP app to access free IELTS mock tests online and more for convenient practice anywhere, anytime.

Embark on your IELTS journey with IDP and leverage on the official resources, expert guidance, and comprehensive support we offer. Book your IELTS test with IDP today and take the first step towards achieving your global education dreams.