Objective To determine the effect of clinical scores that predict streptococcal infection or rapid streptococcal antigen detection tests compared with delayed antibiotic prescribing. Design Open adaptive pragmatic parallel group randomised controlled trial. Setting Primary care in United Kingdom. Patients Patients aged =3 with acute sore throat. Intervention An internet programme randomised patients to targeted antibiotic use according to: delayed antibiotics (the comparator group for analyses), clinical score, or antigen test used according to clinical score. During the trial a preliminary streptococcal score (score 1, n=1129) was replaced by a more consistent score (score 2, n=631; features: fever during previous 24 hours; purulence; attends rapidly (within three days after onset of symptoms); inflamed tonsils; no cough/coryza (acronym FeverPAIN). Outcomes Symptom severity reported by patients on a 7 point Likert scale (mean severity of sore throat/difficulty swallowing for days two to four after the consultation (primary outcome)), duration of symptoms, use of antibiotics. Results For score 1 there were no significant differences between groups. For score 2, symptom severity was documented in 80% (168/207 (81%) in delayed antibiotics group; 168/211 (80%) in clinical score group; 166/213 (78%) in antigen test group). Reported severity of symptoms was lower in the clinical score group (-0.33, 95% confidence interval -0.64 to -0.02; P=0.04), equivalent to one in three rating sore throat a slight versus moderate problem, with a similar reduction for the antigen test group (-0.30, -0.61 to -0.00; P=0.05). Symptoms rated moderately bad or worse resolved significantly faster in the clinical score group (hazard ratio 1.30, 95% confidence interval 1.03 to 1.63) but not the antigen test group (1.11, 0.88 to 1.40). In the delayed antibiotics group, 75/164 (46%) used antibiotics. Use of antibiotics in the clinical score group (60/161) was 29% lower (adjusted risk ratio 0.71, 95% confidence interval 0.50 to 0.95; P=0.02) and in the antigen test group (58/164) was 27% lower (0.73, 0.52 to 0.98; P=0.03). There were no significant differences in complications or reconsultations.