Unveiling the Truth
Debunking Mistakes and Misconceptions in Exploratory Testing
By Michael M, Founder
August 01, 2023

Software Exploratory Testing

Exploratory testing is a powerful technique for discovering software defects, yet it remains widely misunderstood. Many misconceptions about exploratory testing lead teams to underutilize this effective testing approach.

This extensive article delves deeply into the realm of exploratory testing, illuminating the common mistakes and misconceptions that often hinder this critical testing approach. An indispensable part of the software development process, exploratory testing enables testers to explore the product's functionality and user experience in an unscripted and intuitive manner.

Through astute analysis and real-world illustrations, the objective is to demystify the misconceptions surrounding exploratory testing and provide a clear comprehension of its genuine potential. Valuable insights are provided into the most prevalent errors encountered during exploratory testing and strategies to circumvent them, ultimately enhancing the overall efficiency and effectiveness of testing endeavors.
Exploratory testing is distinguished by its lack of control or rigid management.

Upon receiving a test task, the testing team anticipates an engaging and dynamic activity. However, concerns arise when managers express fears that such experimentation could lead to negative consequences, and they raise questions about functional coverage and time estimation. These doubts also extend to others responsible for critical product decisions based on the test results.

To address these concerns, effective algorithms are employed:

  • Thoroughly analyzing the product, identifying priority areas for testing, and documenting them helps ensure crucial details are not overlooked.
  • If new verification options emerge during testing, they can be incorporated and recorded.
  • Time estimation benefits from past experiences and the summation of estimates for smaller tasks.
One common misconception about exploratory testing is that it is unsuitable for beginners.

Despite stakeholders often preferring experienced team members capable of making informed assumptions about errors, a multi-participant approach can also be justified. For example, in testing a new CMS project, the combination of insights from an experienced tester and an inexperienced user represented by a trainee led to the discovery of numerous defects initially overlooked. Embracing less experienced team members offers diverse viewpoints, providing the testing process with a unique advantage.

Furthermore, exploratory testing manifests in various forms, including cheat sheets, session testing, pair testing, and test tours, providing flexibility to customize the process according to the project's needs and participants' contributions. Ultimately, the adaptability of exploratory testing allows it to accommodate both the project's requirements and the expertise of all team members, making it a valuable asset in the testing toolkit.

Exploratory testing might not be the obvious choice for regression tests.

While exploratory testing might not be the obvious choice for regression tests, this assumption holds some truth. However, for smaller projects with relatively straightforward functionality, it is feasible to replace the conventional set of test scripts with a concise checklist covering the essential aspects of the functionality. In such scenarios, the qualifications of the testers and their familiarity with the project become crucial factors.

In some of our projects, we follow this approach by creating a checklist and conducting regression testing based on it. Each item in the checklist includes a reference to the corresponding feature development task in the task tracker, facilitating clarification of the required behavior if anything appears to be missing. Although this approach extends beyond pure exploratory testing, we still adhere to the core principles of the exploratory testing approach while incorporating helpful cues to guide us in the right direction.
Product research with the intent of developing further tests constitutes exploratory testing.

While some may contend that this statement has merit, research is indeed conducted in both scenarios. However, it is crucial to distinguish between "testing" and "test analysis."

When getting ready to write tests, we genuinely conduct research by analyzing available documentation, strategizing, and setting priorities to determine WHAT and HOW we will test.

On the contrary, exploratory testing is geared towards answering the question, "How does our product meet these expectations?" While designing tests on the fly is a part of the process, it is not entirely precise to categorize exploratory testing solely as preparation for writing tests.

Exploratory testing is grounded in the idea of randomly performing various actions.

Nevertheless, some testers might misconstrue this approach and deliberately attempt to "break" the application by exploring extreme paths and inputting invalid data in all available fields. Instead, testers should consistently bear in mind the product's intended audience and the primary purpose of each functionality. The essence of exploratory testing lies in swiftly identifying critical defects in key modules, and this should be the primary area of focus.

Preparation before exploratory testing is not obligatory.

Many people assume that because this approach often lacks documentation, test preparation is unnecessary as requirements will naturally unfold during testing. However, neglecting to establish a basic testing scheme and promptly address emerging issues can lead to errors in estimating testing time and comprehending the product's ultimate goals. I recommend investing an hour or two to familiarize oneself with the project and determine the primary set of test data and check priorities.

There is no requirement for timely updates on the status of checks.

Testers often choose to mark tested features and report defects at the end of the day, viewing it as a summary of their work rather than an evaluation of the product's state. They argue that in exploratory testing, accurately predicting the completeness of testing for a specific function is impractical as each subsequent test builds upon the results of the previous one.
Nonetheless, having real-time access to testing progress and results is crucial to promptly address potential issues and make timely adjustments to the testing strategy.
Myth #1: Exploratory Testing is Ad Hoc and Unstructured

One of the biggest misconceptions about exploratory testing is that it is informal "ad hoc" testing without any structure. In reality, good exploratory testing requires rigorous critical thinking to methodically investigate what could go wrong with the software. While exploratory testing gives testers freedom to dynamically design and execute tests, it is not simply random tinkering. The best exploratory testers take a highly systematic approach to exploring software capabilities and identifying potential flaws.

Myth #2: Exploratory Testing Provides Minimal Coverage

Some think exploratory testing only scratches the surface of testing needed for comprehensive quality assurance. However, skilled exploratory testers can provide excellent coverage across various software functions, interfaces, integration points and usage scenarios. By effectively combining diverse test techniques like boundary analysis, error guessing and user scenario testing, seasoned exploratory testers can probe deeply into key areas of risk. Structured sessions focused on specific project risks can achieve targeted coverage and complement other testing approaches.

Myth #3: It's Only Good for Initial Testing

While exploratory testing is extremely useful early on to get quick feedback on a software build, its value extends throughout a project. As new code continues to be developed, exploratory testing can quickly validate those incremental changes. Bugs often get introduced as new features are added, so continuous exploratory testing helps prevent regressions. Even as launch nears, new user workflows discovered through exploratory testing can strengthen test cases for final verification.

Myth #4: Exploratory Testing Requires No Documentation

Exploratory testing relies heavily on a tester's skills, intuition and experience. But that doesn't mean it can't produce useful documentation. Session-based test management provides a useful framework to document exploratory testing. Charter documents outline scope and objectives. Test results including session notes, bug reports and test cases give vital insights. Mind maps illustrate coverage. Documentation improves test tracking, reporting and estimating.

Myth #5: Anyone Can Explore Away Effectively

While anyone can tinker with software in an unstructured way, effective exploratory testing requires diverse skill sets. You need strong critical thinking abilities to design tests on the fly and spot subtle issues. Technical expertise helps you understand the system internals and potential failure points. Investigation skills let you research risks, reproduce elusive bugs and isolate root causes. Mastering exploratory testing takes training and hands-on experience.

Myth #6: Exploratory Testing is a Replacement for Scripted Testing

While exploratory testing offers many benefits, it's not a wholesale replacement for scripted testing approaches like automated regression testing. Rigorous, repeatable scripted tests provide vital confidence at all stages of development. However, over-reliance on scripting can miss many bugs only discovered through human intuition and creativity. The most effective quality assurance programs integrate exploratory and scripted testing to leverage their unique strengths.


In conclusion, exploratory testing proves to be a dynamic and flexible approach that offers invaluable insights into the software testing process. While it may not always require prior preparation, investing time in understanding the project and establishing testing priorities can significantly enhance its effectiveness. Moreover, keeping track of test progress and results in real-time empowers testers to adapt swiftly and make well-informed decisions throughout the testing journey.

As we debunked misconceptions and addressed common mistakes, we discovered that exploratory testing is not just about randomly performing actions but rather a thoughtful and purposeful exploration of the product's functionality. It is a valuable tool that complements traditional testing methods and provides unique perspectives on the product's quality.

By embracing exploratory testing as a collaborative effort and involving both experienced and less experienced team members, we open doors to fresh insights and uncover defects that might have remained hidden otherwise. The adaptability and openness of exploratory testing make it a valuable asset in today's rapidly evolving software development landscape.

We trust that this article has provided you with a clearer comprehension of exploratory testing!
QA Camp crew

You may also like: