Start exploring Exploratory Testing

by Ulf Eriksson / 24 September 2012 / 6 comments

What is exploratory testing?

Basically, it’s a testing technique in which the tester writes test cases at the same time that he or she runs them and gets acquainted with the system.

In other words, using Exploratory Testing, as the name suggests, there are no ready-made test cases before you testing begins.

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What’s the point of Exploratory testing?

Exploratory testing will help you and your team to find more critical bugs earlier as well as motivating your testers by stimulating their curiosity and creativity.

Hopefully, this article will also stimulate your curiosity so you’ll give exploratory testing a try.

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Defining exploratory testing

The concept of exploratory testing was developed by Cem Kaner and James Bach in the early 1990s. One way to explain exploratory testing is to compare two interview techniques which you probably use to gather system requirements.

In a structured interview, the interviewer follows a set of predetermined questions. However, in a semi-structured interview, the interviewer uses the written questions as a guide so that important topics are not overlooked, while still allowing the interview to flow and evolve spontaneously.

As you can probably guess, semi-structured interviewing is more like exploratory testing and is a more effective approach in certain situations.


Exploratory testing isn’t really all that unusual or hard to comprehend, because testers are naturally curious and eager to explore their environment. In fact, to some extent, all testing is exploratory.

You see an example of exploratory testing in day-to-day work whenever a defect is found: the tester tries to reproduce the defect by examining the conditions that may have caused it. An experienced tester will also try alternative approaches to see if they can find a more fundamental or serious cause behind the problem. When skilled testers retest the defects they’ve fixed, they are even doing regression testing to verify that no new defects have arisen as a result of the repair that was made. All of these are examples of exploratory testing in traditional test work.


In traditional testing, it’s almost impossible to write comprehensive test cases that give unambiguous results or that cover every aspect of the system’s functionality. The tester always has to make some judgment calls while tests are implemented. However, in exploratory testing, there are no clearly predefined outcomes or expectations of specific results, so the testers constantly have to rely on their own experience and knowledge to assess whether the system’s responses and behaviors are correct.

Exploratory testing is therefore a technique for the experienced and skillful tester who can take leverage of his/her testing knowhow and apply it to a new domain.

Next time, we’ll tell you all about How to get started with Exploratory Testing.


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About the author: Ulf Eriksson

Ulf Eriksson

Ulf is the founder of ReQtest and as the Product Owner, decides what features are added to the product, and makes sure that ReQtest is of a consistently high quality. Ulf has written several books and courses as well as a library of articles on the subjects of testing and requirements management, as well as speaking publicly on a number of subjects related to the world of testing.


  1. [...] a previous article, we defined Exploratory Testing. Today, we explain how to get started using Exploratory Testing in your own [...]

  2. [...] series about Exploratory Testing. If you haven’t done so yet, read the first two pieces, Start exploring Exploratory Testing and How to get started with Exploratory [...]

  3. [...] when you also have to look for clues and evidence like a desperate Sherlock Holmes, and of course, exploratory testing would have been a better idea, but needs must, and you try telling the project manager you need a [...]

  4. [...] coined the term in 1983, Cem Kaner now defines exploratory testing as “a style of software testing that emphasizes the personal freedom and responsibility of [...]

  5. Bhavya Hegde says:

    Thanks a lot for your guidance. I am thinking of giving the ISTQB foundation level exam a try after preparing for it by self study.I hope my self study helps me to crack that exam.

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