What is Exploratory Testing in Software Testing?


Monday February 18, 2019

What is Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory testing is a testing approach where you explore the system and venture into those aspects and functionalities which may or may not directly affect the system’s outputs, in order to find underlying errors.

It is all about exploring the system, discovering hidden errors, investigating their cause and rectifying them. There are no pre-defined test cases formed in exploratory testing and therefore the testers explore the system aimlessly in hopes to find unforeseen bugs.

Exploratory Testing

The purpose of performing exploratory tests is to learn more about the system and its functionality and using your existing knowledge about the system to find errors.

Testers need to be very creative and innovative in order to perform exploratory testing as the aim is to test the system for unexpected errors using unexpected techniques.

Even though there are no pre-defined test cases, testers may note down or document their ideas and things they want to test before performing the test.

How is it different from structured testing?

1. Flow of the test

In structured testing, the flow of the test is directed by test cases that are prepared ahead of time.

Test cases are not determined in advance in exploratory testing and the flow is directed from exploring the system.

2. The objective of testing

The main objective of structured testing is to find foreseen errors whereas in exploratory testing the aim is to learn about the system and gain knowledge about its functionality.

3. Nature

Structured testing is predictive in nature as the flow of the test is predicted in advance.

Exploratory testing is spontaneous and investigative in nature. Tests are performed on a proper investigation is conducted.

4. The end results

The end results of structured tests are known and anticipated. However, the end results in exploratory tests are unknown and unexpected.

Exploratory Testing Process

The process followed during exploratory testing is:

1.      Learning

This is the first step of exploratory testing and one which is very crucial. Learning about the system is important because you will be able to better analyze all the minor and major functionalities of the system and check it for bugs.

Your knowledge about the system will help you explore the system and create test designs and plans accordingly.

Unless you do not have knowledge about the system you will not be able to explore it in detail.

2.      Test Design

Tests designs are created spontaneously during exploratory testing and there is no need for documentation of test cases, scripts and the conditions of the test.

3.      Test Execution

Test execution is performed along with test designing. As soon as you plan and design your test you execute it without waiting for formal documentation. Only the key components of the test are recorded like the bugs that are detected or ideas for the next test.

4.      Analysis

When some bugs are detected on exploring the system, proper analysis and feedback are made in order to rectify the errors.

The previous test result feedback helps testers to prepare for future tests and apply logical reasoning to guide the future of the software testing life cycle.

Advantages of Exploratory Testing

  1. During exploratory testing, there is no preparation time required before a test. It saves a lot of time and effort from the testers as they can focus solely on exploring and learning about the system rather than preparing test cases and documentation.
  2. It allows testers to find critical and hidden bugs and errors that cannot be found through formal testing approaches. All the bugs which do not directly affect the system outputs and get overlooked during initial testing can be detected through exploratory tests.
  3. The results of the previous tests help testers guide their future tests and explore the system in a better and more detailed way. This speeds up the testing process and testers are able to find more bugs easily.
  4. Exploratory testing helps testers gain in-depth knowledge about the system. When a bug is found they can learn its scope, size, nature, etc. and provide better solutions to the developers.
  5. When the system under test is intricate, complex and vast, exploratory testing may generate better results and prove to be more efficient in finding bugs than formal testing techniques.
  6. When there is very little time for testing a system, exploratory testing is the best way to detect bugs quicker and in more efficient ways. Lots of time is saved when the documentation process is eliminated.
  7. The most significant advantage of exploratory testing is that it helps testers learn about the system. Testers are able to develop and test the system for different scenarios and get to know how the system will perform under such circumstances.

Disadvantages of Exploratory Testing

There are some disadvantages related to exploratory testing which makes it a little harder to implement.

  1. The tests that are performed during exploratory testing are spontaneous and not documented which makes them hard to review and keep for future references.
  2. Since there is no documentation involved, keeping a track of the tests performed and the functionalities already explored is difficult.
  3. Repeating a test performed during exploratory testing the exact same way again is not possible. This is a huge disadvantage when you need to repeat a test to find a specific error found in a previous test.

Performing Exploratory Tests

Exploratory testing does not follow a particular structure; however, there are a few steps that are common to each exploratory test. The preparation of exploratory tests is a 5 step process:

1.      Learning and classifying errors

The first stage of exploratory testing is gathering the results of the previous exploratory test in order to learn the errors found in the past projects. Testers need to analyze these errors and understand the root causes of the bugs so that they can develop a test plan or strategy to test their system.

2.      Test Charter tool

Test charter is a tool that is used to run exploratory tests. The stakeholders define the scope of the test and risks that need to be found using the test charter. Thus the charter should tell testers the following things:

  • What tests should be performed
  • How the system can be tested
  • What risks should be focused on while exploring the system

3.      Time Box

Time Boxing is the practice of setting a fixed amount of time known as a timebox during which a tester or a team of testers work together to find bugs. The time box session should not be interrupted and the testers should only focus on testing the system.

The testers working in pairs or groups can come up with the most creative exploration techniques and device efficient solutions to the errors found.

4.      Analyzing the results

Once the testing process is completed, the results of the test are reviewed. The defects found are evaluated and testers learn the causes of the defects in order to come up with the best solutions.

5.      Feedback

The results are compiled and compared with the charter. This helps testers identify whether they have tested the system according to the stakeholder’s needs and demands.

Things to keep in mind for exploratory testing

1.      Understand the main aim of testing

Exploratory testing is all about learning about the system and understanding its core functionality by exploring unexpected system paths. During this process, certain unforeseen bugs are detected.

2.      Planning the test is very important

Although test cases are not pre-defined during exploratory testing, it does not mean that exploratory tests are completely unplanned. Testers study the system and previous test results in order to figure out and plan their test. This helps them save a lot of time as they know what they are looking for.

3.      This is skill-based testing

Testing skills are an essential part of exploratory testing. Testers completely rely on their skills in order to explore the system and test it for defects. Therefore exploratory testers should be highly skilled and have good knowledge of all software testing techniques.

4.      Keeping a record of the test can be very beneficial

Even though exploratory tests are not documented, recording the findings, results, and defects found or any other outcomes of an exploratory test can be very beneficial.

5.      Exploratory testing should be a team activity

It is always better to perform exploratory tests in pairs or in a team. This helps testers to come up with better test plans, exploration techniques and solutions to the defects found.


It overcomes all the shortcomings of structured testing. It helps testers detect errors that go unnoticed during scripted tests as they do not directly affect the outcome or working of the system.

This is the reason exploratory testing has become a very popular testing approach, especially for complicated systems. Exploratory testing has many advantages over scripted testing and helps testers focus on gaining knowledge about the system.



Cost Calc.


Call Us