Making the decision to do a Cambridge English language qualification can be intimidating. Whether you’re taking it because you need it for work, or just because you want to push yourself and improve your English skills, it requires time and dedication to reach your potential.

Now you have one more decision to make as well: do you take the written exam or the computer-based exam? And what are the differences between them?

Well, to help make this decision a little easier for you, here is a guide to the features and advantages of the Cambridge English computer-based First, Advanced, and Proficiency exams.


How are computer-based exams different from the written ones?

First of all, it’s important to point out that the computer-based exam isn’t any easier than the written exam. They are identical in difficulty and time, all the different sections are the same, and you will receive the same qualification at the end.

However, other than just being able to leave your pens and pencils at home, there are still some important differences you should know about:

  • You can register for an exam closer to the time
  • With the written exams, the closing date for registration is at least four weeks before the date of the exam. However, you can register for the computer-based ones just three weeks beforehand, giving you more time to make sure you feel ready for it.

  • You will receive your results much sooner
If you need your certificate as soon as possible, then the computer-based exam is the one for you. Rather than waiting for four – six weeks with the written paper, you’ll get your results in just 14 days.


What are the advantages of the computer-based exam?

A guide to the Cambridge English computer-based exams | Advantages | Oxford House Barcelona

The majority of our students comment at the beginning of our exam preparation courses that they haven’t used a pen and pencil since school! So, apart from being able to use a more familiar computer screen and keyboard, what others advantages do these new exams have?


  • You are given your own set of headphones in the listening paper. This means you don’t have to worry about bad sound quality or struggling to hear the speakers in a big room. In addition, you have full control over the volume in the top right-hand corner of the screen, without distraction or interruption.
  • Your answers are automatically saved while you’re doing the test. Therefore, you don’t need to copy your answers onto the Answer Sheet at the end (like in the written paper), and therefore won’t make any silly mistakes when doing so.

Use of English and Reading

  • A great feature of the computer-based exams is that you can click, highlight, and make notes on all of the questions or answers. This is really useful for the Reading exam if you want to remember where you found an answer, or to write ideas that you can come back to. Although lots of students like to decorate their written exams with different highlighter colours, this computer feature ensures all your notes are neat and easy to refer back to.
  • If you’re not sure of an answer, and want to return to it later, you can use the Review button. This will put a circle around that question at the bottom of the screen, where all of the question numbers are displayed, so you can easily find it later. Any question you don’t answer will not be underlined here too, so you can quickly see if you’ve missed anything by mistake.
  • In this section of the exam, there are lots of occasions where you need to decide what the correct word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph is for different gaps in the text. In the computer-based exam you can put or drag answers directly into the missing sections, which really helps you visualise the correct one. If it doesn’t look right, just delete or move it, and use the Review button to make sure you return to it later on.
  • A lot of students find that they run out of time in this part of the exam. To help you manage your time better throughout, there is a countdown clock at the top of the screen for all parts, which flashes red with ten and five minutes to go. This makes it easy to ensure you are managing your time well, and you can always turn it off if you find it distracting.


  • One of the biggest problems students have with the paper-based exam is in the writing paper. Hardly anyone uses pens at work or home anymore, so writing two essays by hand can be painful, time consuming, and messy! Doing the computer-based exams means you can type your answers, which is usually much quicker and easier to read, giving you more time to check and perfect them.
  • It’s a good idea to plan what you’re going to write before you start. In the computer-based exam you can easily plan, expand on your ideas, and go back to edit them without having to cross out anything, which can make them difficult to mark – especially if your handwriting is terrible!
  • Just because you can write more quickly by typing, doesn’t mean you’re allowed to write more. Many students lose marks because they don’t stick to the word limit, but the computer-based exam shows you the word count at the bottom of your answers to help make sure you do.


  • The speaking part is the only section where the computer-based exam and written one are identical. You still meet with the examiner in person at the exam centre (not on the computer or online), and have a partner or two while you do it. This is usually done either on the same day as the other parts, or a day before or after.

Tips and Advice

Whether you’ve decided to do the computer-based exam or the paper one, preparation is the most important thing. Here are a few things you can do to help, so you know what to expect on the day.

Use the computer-based practice exams for First, Advanced, and Proficiency on the Cambridge English website so you can get used to all of the features and differences from the written version.

For more practice, ask your teacher for copies of paper practice exams, and then cut up the question papers so you can physically put the answers into the gaps, just like you do on the computer. This is particularly useful for Reading Part 6 (First and Proficiency, Part 7 Advanced), with the missing sentences or paragraphs.
Watch the First, Advanced, or Proficiency tutorials to make sure you know exactly what to do in the computer-based exam, and where the Settings and Help sections are if you need them.

Above all, finding a good exam preparation class will give you the best chance of receiving a high grade. Oxford House has a range of classes to suit your needs and availability, and their experienced teachers will prepare and guide you through everything you need to do to succeed on the big day.



For more information regarding Cambridge English exams, please see the Cambridge English website.

Discover some top exam day tips in our useful infographic.

Find out how to get top marks in your Speaking paper in our article: How to ace the Cambridge speaking exam.

Learn how to write an effective essay in this blog post.


We hope this has been useful, and good luck with your exams!

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

To point out (pv): to tell someone about something they might not know.

Silly (adj): stupid or foolish.

Neat (adj): arranged in a tidy way, in good order.

To run out of (pv): to finish, or have nothing remaining.

To manage (time) (v): to control or organise your time.

Time consuming (adj): to take a lot of time.

To cross out (pv): to put a line through a word or phrase to delete it.

To stick to (pv): to follow or keep to a rule.


pv = phrasal verb

adj = adjective

v = verb

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