What is Exploratory Testing? An Introduction to Exploratory Testing

What Is Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory testing is a technique or a method whose aim is to discover the flaws during the process of software development. 

This technique of testing is concerned with the qualitative assurance of the software. It is used to discover the anonymous issues during the process of development of software. 

Along with this, it is also used to know the issues after the process of software development has completed. 

Apart from discovering the flaws, the technique of exploratory testing is also used to get information about the application. In addition, it is utilized in designing the regression and functional tests, which will be executed in the near future. 

How is Exploratory Testing done?

The exploratory test is operated by humans, that is, it is done manually. Moreover, the testing can be open-ended. Open-ended testing requires the person who is testing to know what to test and how to test. 

Furthermore, the testers of exploratory tests should be able to think and analyze like the users of an application. Also, they should be able to determine how the users of the application will behave. 

Generally, exploratory testing is used when the cycle of development of an application is about to reach its termination. This implies that the testing is generally carried when the application is about to end. 

This is to help the testers of the application to obtain a precise view of the working of the application in the production. The exploratory testing is done to find out the working of the software and also, to find how the software will deal with the wide range of cases.

The technique of exploratory testing has achieved fame and focus in the present time. 

Exploratory testing has been successful in receiving the attention of professionals from the industrial sectors. Exploratory testing gives authority to the tester. However, the authority is linked with great responsibility. 

Furthermore, it provides freedom and varied opportunity to the tester of the application to find out and the different spheres in which quality can be enhanced. The tester has the benefit of the show his skills, experience, and knowledge from a distinct point of view. 

It helps to improve the system’s quality, which is under test.

Exploratory testing renders several advantages, but a minor one. Some of them have been described below:

  • Exploratory testing is beneficial as it does not need much preparation. The bugs can be determined at a good pace. The process of exploratory testing does not demand much documentation. The tester just needs to know the objective of the test being conducted to initiate the experiment. Furthermore, the charter of the test recognizes the fields, which combine additional values in the process of testing. Thus, it saves a lot of time.
  • The testers can utilize the strategy of deductive analysis as per the outcome of the previous round of analysis. This acts as a guide for the tests, which are to be conducted in the future. 
  • The technique of exploratory testing does not require finishing a series of tests before they jump to another target. This feature helps in locating the bugs more efficiently. In addition, it accelerated the process of detecting the bug.
  • Along with the process of automated tests being conducted, the testers can also learn simultaneously. The testers can derive adequate knowledge from the feature or document to learn more about the behavior of the system. The testers can understand the causes of failure of a production or a test. 
  • Exploratory testing is beneficial in the changing environment of the production unit. When the product is in a developing stable, which is not stable, the technique of exploratory testing can be used to test the alternating product. 

Exploratory testing helps the tester to identify major loopholes in the software and ensures that the application meets the end-users requirements. This test is an approach rather than a technique. This means the subsequent action to be taken is governed by the current path of action.

Challenges Faced in Exploratory Testing

Several hurdles are experienced during exploratory testing. Some of which are:

  • Learning the application or software used
  • Knowing the cause of failure
  • Determining the requirement of tools 
  • Determining the best test cases for execution based on the application
  • Reporting and documentation of exploratory test results are challenging as it does not have any planned cases to compare the outcomes
  • Determining the endpoint for exploratory testing is difficult as test cases can be developed on further thinking for execution.

When Should Exploratory Testing Be Used?

Exploratory testing is performed when the application or individual feature of any application is nearing completion. This will help the tester to achieve a clear understanding of the functioning of the application as used by end-users. Exploratory testing is used in scenarios:

  • To identify and recognize old and untested bugs in the application
  • To understand the working, functionality of the application and how the interface looks like
  • To determine new queries and find solutions to it
  • To ensure that the application can function to its full capacity in terms of its development
  • When the new tester is involved in the project
  • When the application needs to be evaluated
  • The knowledge gained from performing the exploratory test can be used for preparing test scripts. This can also help in performing tests in a later stage of application development.

Choosing the right testing technique involves considering a number of factors. These factors are external and internal. 

The internal factors include:

  • The model used: Models used to develop the application plays roles in governing the technique to be used. 
  • Testers experience and knowledge: This is another factor that plays an important role. The knowledge the tester has about the system and the technique to be used will have a significant influence on the tests performed on the software or application. 
  • Analogous defects: Having an understanding of the similar types of faults will help in the quick understanding of the bug problems in the application.
  • Documentation: The availability of existing reports and also the reliability of the information (mainly the availability of the latest information) will have an impact on the choice of testing technique. The way the information has been documented will also have an influence on the choice of techniques.
  • Test objective: The tester can make use of cases as a sensible approach if the test objective is to analyze whether the test can cope with the basic operational task. A rigorous and detailed technique that has to be used in the test objective requires thorough testing.

External factors that influence the choice of testing techniques are:

  • Type of system used
  • Risk assessment: The need for thorough and formal testing is higher when the risk is greater.
  • Regulatory requirement: This depends on the standards or guidelines laid by some industries and in turn governs the technique to be used.
  • Budget and duration of the project. This is a crucial factor. As the time allotted for testing is more, the tester can perform follow an elaborate testing technique to get the best out of the testing. When there is a time constraint, the tester will be forced to cut short the testing process. Along with duration, the budget allotted will also play an important role.

Exploratory testing is a simultaneous process of learning, designing a test, and execution of the test process.  

This testing emphasizes the tester's adaptability and learning. Exploratory testing is all about finding, investigating, and learning.

Exploratory testing helps the tester identify major faults in the application quickly. Therefore, it helps in developing the application in such a way to meets the requirements of end-users. 

This testing method is cognitively structured and significantly manageable.



How To Do The Test?

The depth of the exploratory test carried out by the tester is very difficult to interpret in words. However, quantification of work done and time spent has to be provided in metrics and progress reports to the team and the managers. 

The solution to this is the Session-based testing which manages and tracks the work carried out on a timely basis approach. 

There are 5 stages in session-based test management (SBTM) which are:

Create and classify bugs based on Taxonomy

This stage requires the tester to categorize the types of faults (or bugs) found in past projects of the test application. An in-depth analysis of the root cause of the fault has to be carried out. After analyzing, the tester has to find the risks and come up with ideas to test the application.

Test Charter

A test charter should be able to suggest what and how to test the application along with what needs to be looked into. In exploratory testing, the tester will not have pre-scripted test criteria to follow. 

These criteria are developed in real-time as the testing is carried out. The tester can note down ideas as these are the starting point of the test. Test charter can help in determining the way the system can be used by the end-user. 


In this stage of the session, a pair of testers work together on the application for not less than 90 minutes. 

Basically, there should not be any hindrance to time by mails, phone, or messages in those 90 minutes. This session can be extended as well as reduced to 45 minutes. 

The aim of this session is to encourage the testers to act to the response from the system on time to get correct outcomes.

Result analysis

In this stage, the tester will be able to provide an evaluation of the defects and analysis of the areas covered. The tester will also be able to produce the learning from the test which can help in future testing.


This stage involves the cross-checking of the results. The output results produced by the tester are compiled and compared with the charter. This also involves checking the need for any further testing. 

Points to consider during exploratory test execution:

  • The tester should have a clear idea of the mission of testing the application
  • All the questions raised during the testing has to be tracked
  • Always make notes of what needs to be tested and why it has to be done. Also makes assessments on the quality of products
  • For effective testing, it is better to work in pairs
  • Make sure to test more as the chances of executing the right test cases are high

The tester should also monitor the following during exploratory testing

  • Coverage of test: The tester should take notes on the test case coverage and also ensure the improvement of the software quality
  • Risks to be covered: The risks to be assessed in the application have to be noted along with knowing the important ones to be considered.
  • Maintain a test execution log: The test execution logs should be recorded for the purpose of future use and documentation.
  • Queries: All the issues and queries  on the system has to be taken note 

Advantages Of Exploratory Testing

A larger area covered

In exploratory testing, the test is conducted all over the area from the starting to the end. Hence it covers a greater amount of area in less time, compared to other kinds of testing. 

After testing, test execution is done simultaneously in the same area.

No pre-planning or preparation

No preplanning is needed in case of exploratory testing as there is no specific documentation or instructions to follow. Also, the preparation time is very little or no preparation at all. 

That’s why it saves more time & is done more efficiently due to fewer preparation requirements.

Less time required

As we already got from the above statements, exploratory testing requires a very little amount of time. It is very much lesser than the scripted testing, which is a more time-consuming process. 

The less time of exploratory testing makes it a more efficient process, which results in a better product.

Intellectual development

The exploratory testing is solely done by an individual tester, whose knowledge, and experience is all that needed for the test to be conducted. The success of the testing depends on the degree of on-spot cognitive thinking of the tester. 

Therefore, during the test, this boosts the tester’s mind to a higher level. Also, he tries his own skills in this platform of software testing, designing & executing. 

This develops a person's thinking capabilities, exercises his mind & trains him for the upcoming events. The tester gets better ideas in the field of software, which helps him make better decisions & creative approaches in software applications. 

It results in the overall intellectual development of the tester, which further results in the development of future applications.

More bug detection

Unlike scripted testing, exploratory testing works all over the area & watches over every little corner for the mistakes & defects. 

The defects are in the form of bugs, which are detected, and analyzed, by the tester. It is followed by thinking of the replacement solution, and execution. The design testing of the software generates an idea in the tester's mind that if the test-area is completely correct or there are any mistakes. 

If the tester's mind detects any mistakes or bugs, the correction execution is done simultaneously. In this way, the bigger test area covers the detection & correction of all the parts in a consecutive manner, which is different as well as better than the scripted one. 



In scripted testing, due to the patterned structure of study & correction, the tester misses most of the parts, which result in improper final work product. 

Hence, in bug finding, the exploratory testing comes in handy and does the work more efficiently, which is one of the main advantages of it.

Unlike pre-scripted testing, exploratory testing requires the person to read, think, report and learn the testing application effectively and rigorously.

Lesser steps

Another advantage is that in this kind of testing, hardly two to three steps are there, namely a tester, test ideas & the final product. 

It decreases time as well as increases the efficiency of the work. Lesser steps mean lesser confusion, a decreased chance of being tangled in steps and making mistakes or skipping some parts. 

If we compare the exploratory testing with the scripted one, we can easily notice the advantages in the time management & less confusing fields. 

The involvement of several steps in scripted testing reduces to a few in the exploratory which makes it relevant in the software testing field. 

No limitations & restrictions

There is no documentation or pre-planned script provided in case of exploratory testing. Therefore, there is no certain restriction or limitation about sticking to the script or to a planned way. The tester works freely on the application and uses his own knowledge and skills fully to achieve the goal. It helps to get the work done in an easier & better way.

Disadvantages of Exploratory Testing

Difficulty to find mistakes

The exploratory testing does not have any specific standard for the correction of the mistakes. It solely depends on the professionalism & experience of the tester itself. 

This kind of situation results in difficulty to find mistakes & bugs in the software application, because the tester may not get all the mistakes perfectly at once. 

Sometimes some mistakes get skipped by the tester further resulting in a bugged product.

Chances of mistake

Due to some improper skills of a tester, a correct thing can seem incorrect to him. In this situation, the tester tries to correct or modify the already corrected parts of the application. 

This kind of mistakes totally depends on the knowledge of the tester if what he has learned is right or wrong. 

Needs in-depth application knowledge

Ignorance of the tester causes failure of exploratory testing as it needs skillful testers to get conducted properly. Therefore, a very professional & skillful writer is the one who can be perfect for this job. 

To make the most out of it, an exploratory tester needs to have in-depth knowledge about the software application he is working on, or else there are higher chances of finding mistakes in the final product. 

So even if this testing is considered less hardworking & less time-consuming, the drawback is that it takes more time for a tester to get the in-depth knowledge prior to the test.

No prior review or standards

One of the main drawbacks of exploratory testing is that there is no prior review or any standards, which can help to review the application. It makes the task more difficult for the tester in this way that he has to view, then review using his own knowledge completely. 

This does not provide any documentation or script by which the tester can know if he is going the right way or not. No provision of proper script or instruction makes the tester doubt his knowledge & decisions, which results in mistakes in the final product.

Unavailability of test-cases

Other than the unavailability of certain documentation, scripts, or instructions, there is also no availability of past test-cases. Every project in exploratory testing is different from each other. They come with different bugs and different software designs, which is all-new for the tester.

 This is one of the main disadvantages of exploratory testing, that the tester needs to do it all alone only by the knowledge he has, without any test cases for reference. 

In addition, one perfectly done exploratory case cannot be used as a future reference too. 

Difficulties in time-management

It is also one of the disadvantages, which one can stick to a particularly problematic area of an application for so long, that other area does not get that much of time to get analyzed. 

Exploratory testing is mainly done where there is not enough time or there is a certain time limit for completion of the task. 

In those cases, time-management can be very difficult at times which results in an improperly analyzed final product. 

Role Of Exploratory Testing In Agile Projects

Exploratory testing is concerned about the discovery, study, and learning about the bugs in the process of software development. 

This technique does not limit the tester to the given set of commands. Exploratory testing is a crucial happening in the agile atmosphere. It helps the testers to cope with the rapid speed of development of the projects of agile software. 

First, let us get comfortable with the methodology of agile before diving into the process.

The methodology of agile focuses on proper planning, quick delivery, and progressive developments. The methodology aims at delivering rapid responses to changes. As the demand for updates in the software has increased, the need for rapid development and quick delivery has also increased. 

In the methodology of agile, the software is dispatched in small units. Each individual unit goes through a process of planning, estimation, development, integration, testing, and release. 

Due to the continued dispatching, the automation of the test becomes mandatory because the developers require a quick response to the well-being of the application. These checks act as tests for regression and make sure that the software does not regress. 

agile testing cycle

The exploratory testing goes hand-in-hand with the automation of the test. While the automated tests check for the issues in regression, the exploratory testing lays emphasis on new characters, which are developed. 

Exploratory testing allows the testers to make themselves familiar with the application and domain in an agile surrounding.  The testing helps the tester to check each unit separately. Thus, the understanding of the software improves and the testers become more proficient. 

The testing consists of two major spheres. On one side, the programming is supported, whereas, the other side evaluates the product. On the former side, writing of the units of code is performed. Furthermore, on the other side, the final product is checked and evaluated. 

The skilled exploratory testers who work on the agile projects utilize the strategy of exploratory testing to inform the team about the flaws in the product. The testing can be conducted without a structure and freestyle. 

The exploratory testing in agile environments helps the tester to locate the areas, which have high risks. The exploratory testing and agile methodology can be combined as an excellent approach for testing.

Exploratory Testing Technique 

Exploratory testing is described as finding, investigating and studying. The testing is concerned about the liberty and responsibility of the person who is testing to judge the system while it is being executed.

The cases for testing are not built beforehand. The technique of exploratory testing is made to fulfill the requirements and they render the need for exploration during the course of testing. 

The technique of exploratory testing includes investigation and improves the design.. The process of the exploratory technique is structured and continuous. 

The technique of exploratory testing demands less amount of planning. The technique is based more on execution. The process of exploratory testing does the base work and makes a path for the automation of the test. 

In the process, the testers of the application are required to work on the application and explore the bugs within the system. The planning of the technique requires the advancement of the charter of the test. 

It defines and decides the objective of the approach. Along with the execution of the test, documentation of the main elements in the process of the test is also done. 

As the technique of exploratory testing is a rapid and process which is quick in adapting the changes within the environment, it is used in agile environments. Along with this, the testers gain the freedom and flexibility to determine the bugs.

Types Of Exploratory Testing

Exploratory testing can be done in several ways. Scenario-based exploratory testing, Strategy based exploratory testing, and Freestyle exploratory testing are some of the types of exploratory testing. 

Scenario-based exploratory testing

The scenario testing is a method of testing the software, which takes into consideration the scenarios for performing the tests. 

The scenarios can be hypothetical stories or situations, which assist the tester to fix a challenging situation. The tester can understand and evaluate the scenario in order to work on the system of the test. 

In an ideal situation, the test is a challenging, complex, and credible story whose solution is easy to comprehend. The cases of tests differ from that of scenario-based cases of the test. The test cases have a single case under consideration; whereas, the scenario-based test cases cover a vast range of tests. 

In scenario-based exploratory testing, the scenarios can be the actual scenario of the user, scenarios of the test or that end-to-end. After the primary testing has been performed, the testers can insert the modifications based on their observations and learning. 

Strategy based exploratory testing

In the strategy based exploratory testing, the approach of the test is focused. This kind of testing lays emphasis on the objective of the cycle of development of the software. 

The strategy based exploratory testing is built to throw light on the major issues, which are involved in the process of testing. This kind of testing focuses on the objectives and tactics of testing advanced functions. 

The estimated time and resources which are needed for the project and the environment of testing is also given importance. The tactics of the test manifest the mitigation of the risks from the stakeholders to the levels of the test. In addition, it describes the kinds of tests, which are needed to be performed, and the criteria of their exit and entry. 

The design of the development documents forms the basis of the strategy for these tests. Primarily the design of documents of the system is used and the design based on the concept can be utilized occasionally. 

The design of the documents demonstrates the software’s functionality to be utilized in the latest release. For all the stages of design’s development, a related strategy of the test has to be built in order to test the latest features of the sets.  

Freestyle exploratory testing

The freestyle kind of exploratory testing does not follow any rules or regulations. They do not hold themselves accountable for the purpose of any kind of coverage. 

Moreover, freestyle kind of exploratory testing is beneficial when the user needs to get familiar with the application at a good pace. 

When the user needs to evaluate the work done by the testers, freestyle exploratory testing is used. Furthermore, the user can investigate the flaws and conduct a quick survey with the help of freestyle testing. 

Exploratory Testing Tools

Exploratory testing tools are utilized for storing information and data. This stored information determines the process of testing and plans and the activities during the process of testing. 

The tools of exploratory testing render the idea of shaping the process of testing and enable the analysis of data at a good speed. 

The tools of testing allow the user to communicate across several projects of the team. The testing tool consists of everything which is needed to perform the task  and eliminates the extra efforts required to install several applications.  

Session tester

Session Tester

Session tester is an exploratory testing tool for managing and recording Session-Based Testing.

Session tester helps the users to have a command over the management and metrics of the process within the test. 

Session tester forms the structure for the basic major improvements in the sphere of detection of error and productivity. 

Session testers prove themselves beneficial when the formal needs are dynamic in nature or else when there is an absence of formal needs.

Test studio

Test studio makes the process of exploratory testing effortless and less time-consuming. Along with this, Test studio increases the efficiency in the exploratory testing procedure. 

Test studio is an in-browser kind of extension, which is very easy to be used. The extension makes it possible for the user to send his ideas and respond to the members of the team. The user can report about the bugs and flaws of the system directly from the application,  can also attach annotations and screenshots of the issues. 

Furthermore, the user can share his opinions through electronic mail. Also, the user can send a word documented or PDF containing the description of issues within the system. Test studio supports all the main browsers.

Qtest explorer

qTest Explorer records the interaction of the user with the application. Then, the explorer utilizes the recorded information to create the documents automatically. These documents consist of details about the communication amidst the application and the user. 

qTest Explorer supports a variety of technologies and applications on the web and the apps of the desktop. 

qTest Explorer tracks all the steps during the process of execution of the test. The tools enable the users to prepare notes and capture the screen while the test is being carried. 

Along with this,  helps the users to prepare and submit the documents containing the records of defects in a detailed and precise manner to the tools, which detect the defects. 

 qTest Explorer creates session reports, which fulfill the requirements of the testing based on the session. and records the tests for their analysis.

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Grzegorz Kłos
Grzegorz Kłos - Apphawks Co-founder
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