Computer Based Exam Or Paper Based Exam – A Comparison


Rebecca Evans, National ACCA and CIMA Product Manager, Kaplan Financial says December 2017 will be the last time students will be able to attempt F5–F9 as paper-based exams, ACCA has announced. You may, however, be questioning whether you should move to CBE now or wait for the compulsory introduction in the March 2018 sitting.


CBEs have many advantages:

  • They simulate your work environment more closely than a paper-based exam as you type answers into a word processing screen or spreadsheet rather than having to write them on paper.
  • There are no problems with messy handwriting or poor presentation. Markers of handwritten papers often have trouble reading candidates’ handwriting and if it can’t be read they don’t give the mark!
  • You can cut and paste to restructure your answer and if you’ve forgotten to write something you can easily go back and add it in, without having to leave the marker a message where to find the rest of your answer.
  • The days of a sore arm at the end of an exam is over because with a CBE you don’t have to write.
  • Calculations can be quicker and easier using formulae in the spreadsheet answer boxes rather than manually having to type lots of numbers into your calculator. The copy-and-paste function can also be used in spreadsheets to save valuable time.


However there are some drawbacks:

  • You will be facing a slightly longer exam at three hours and 20 minutes,
  • The exam includes objective test questions rather than just multiple choice questions (MCQ), so you may have to actually input a number rather than ‘blob’ an MCQ.

Reassuringly, almost all the students I have spoken to about their CBE experiences have positive stories and are converts to CBEs. Don’t forget that the essence of the examinations are the same: they test the same learning outcomes.

There is also lots of support out there to help you transition from paper to computer. ACCA has provided a wealth of specifically designed resources including specimen papers for each subject, exam technique videos, CBE question debrief videos, and much more. Go to and have a look at the resources that are available for the subject you are going to be sitting next.

Tuition providers are also providing more online resources in terms of online question practice and mocks within part of their standard course. Kaplan and BPP have both written CBE mocks for additional question practice that students, irrespective of their tuition provider, can purchase for a small fee via a link on the ACCA website.

My advice is to take a simple approach. If you are just starting out on the Skills level and will still be studying this level in March 2018, then I’d recommend you attempt CBE as soon as possible – you will have to get used to it in the end.

However, if you are coming to the end of your Skills level studies and feel nervous about changing your approach then stick with paper. Currently, no date has been announced for the Professional subjects to move to CBE, so it’s more than likely you will be sitting your Professional exams on paper and won’t have to get used to CBEs.

Whether you choose paper-based or computer-based exams in December, remember the style of exam isn’t going to make a fundamental difference to your exam performance. Only you can influence your exam outcome through proper exam preparation and question practise.