What is Exploratory Testing in Software Testing? [A Brief Explanation]

What is Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory testing is a flexible and spontaneous approach to software testing where you do not rely on predefined test cases but instead actively investigate an application’s features and functionalities.

This method encourages creativity, intuition, and real-world user perspectives, enabling you to uncover hidden defects, improve usability, and adapt to changing requirements or updates more efficiently. Usually, exploratory testing is conducted after different types of formal software testing, such as unit testing, integration testing, and system testing.

Exploratory testing is also sometimes referred to as ad-hoc testing. However, if you are interested to know the types of testing, explore our in-depth guide on the different types of software testing. Performing each type of testing mentioned helps you to deploy high-quality software.

Why is Exploratory Testing Important?

Here is the list of reasons why you should opt for exploratory testing.

  1. Discover New Insights Through Creative Testing Approach

    Think outside the box and use your intuition to identify test scenarios that may not have been anticipated during scripted test case creation. This can lead to the discovery of defects or areas of improvement that could have been missed otherwise.

  2. Find the Hidden Defects or Issues

    As a software tester, exploratory testing can be a valuable tool for uncovering hidden issues. Utilizing your knowledge and experience, this method imitates real user behaviour to complement other testing methods. Ultimately, it strengthens the application and enhances the overall user experience.

  3. Saves Your Time for Writing Predefined Test Cases

    Exploratory testing does not require you to create detailed test cases in advance, which can save your time and resources. You can dive into testing activities immediately and focus on finding defects, making the testing process more efficient.

  4. Adaptable to Dynamic Requirements Changes

    Exploratory testing is highly adaptable to changing requirements and application updates. As exploratory testing is a type of manual testing, there is less chance when compared to automated test cases.

    In exploratory testing, as new features are added or existing ones are modified, you can quickly adjust your testing approach to accommodate these changes.

    So, it helps you to ensure that the application remains robust and functional. Are you unaware of manual testing, here is our article on what manual testing is. Knowing manual testing helps you to better understand exploratory testing and its working flow.

  5. Using Real-world Perspective to Uncover Issues

    Exploratory testing allows you to simulate real user interactions and uncover issues that might not be detected during scripted testing. This can lead to a better understanding of how the end-users will interact with the application and the identification of potential usability or user experience issues.

Further, let’s check the core components of exploratory testing.

What are the Key Components of Exploratory Testing?

Here is the list of key components for performing exploratory testing.

  • Test charter: A high-level objective or mission statement that guides the tester’s activities during the testing session.
  • Timebox: A predetermined amount of time allocated to the testing session.
  • Test ideas: Test ideas are generated during the testing session and may include potential issues or areas of interest within the application.
  • Test notes: Testers document their observations, thoughts, and findings during the testing session to be used for future reference or analysis.

Next, let’s learn about the different types of exploratory testing.

What are the Different Types of Exploratory Testing?

Here are the 5 key types of exploratory testing that every exploratory tester knows.

  • Freestyle exploratory testing: The most common type of exploratory testing, where you use your creativity, expertise, and knowledge to design test scenarios.
  • Session-based exploratory testing: This approach involves planning, executing, and documenting exploratory testing activities within a predefined time frame or session.
  • Charter-based exploratory testing: Charter-based exploratory testing is a type of exploratory testing that involves creating a predefined set of goals or objectives, known as a “charter,” to guide a tester’s actions during a testing session.
  • Scenario-based exploratory testing: In this method, you focus on testing specific scenarios or use cases, aiming to uncover potential defects or issues that may arise in these scenarios.
  • Strategy-based exploratory testing: This method helps you to identify the more challenging bugs in the application. This method includes boundary value analysis, equivalence technique, and risk-based technique for detecting uncover bugs.

If you are unsure when to perform exploratory testing, check the next section.

When Should You Use an Exploratory Testing Method?

Go through the following scenarios to find what scenarios are perfect to conduct exploratory tests.

  • Early stages of development: During the initial stages of software development, when the application is still evolving, exploratory testing can help identify potential issues and improvements, allowing developers to make necessary changes early on.
  • New functionality or features: When new features or functionalities are added to an application, exploratory testing can help ensure that they integrate seamlessly and function as intended, while also checking for any unexpected side effects.
  • Agile development environments: In agile methodology, where requirements change is frequent, exploratory testing can be used to act on rapid feedback and ensure the application remains robust and functional.
  • Limited or incomplete documentation: In situations where the application’s documentation is incomplete or insufficient, exploratory testing allows testers to learn about the application while testing, making it easier to identify potential defects.
  • Usability and user experience testing: Exploratory testing is useful for evaluating the usability and overall user experience of an application, as software testers can simulate real user interactions and uncover potential issues from a user’s perspective.

    Moreover, you can conduct usability testing separately to ensure the utmost level of user experience. If you are unaware of usability testing, then read this article on what is usability testing.

Moreover, if you are looking to know how exploratory testing is different, the next section answers your question.

How Does Exploratory Testing Differ from Other Testing Methods?

Here is the list of reasons that describes how exploratory testing is different from other testing methods.

  • Planning: In exploratory testing, you do not create detailed test plans before starting their tests. Instead, they use their knowledge and intuition to guide their testing activities.
  • Execution: Exploratory testing is performed manually by exploratory testers, while other testing methods may involve test automation tools or test scripts.
  • Documentation: Exploratory testing requires less documentation compared to other testing methods, as the focus is on actively exploring the application rather than following a predefined set of test cases.

Examples of Exploratory Testing Scenarios

Here is the list of examples that help in scenario-based exploratory testing.

  • Testing a web application’s login functionality by trying various combinations of valid and invalid credentials.
  • Exploring an e-commerce site’s checkout process by adding items to the shopping cart, applying coupons, and attempting to complete the transaction.

What Are the Limitations of Exploratory Testing?

Here is the list of limitations where exploratory testing lacks and you need to perform additional testing for ensuring the reliability of the software.

  • Limited test coverage: Since testers rely on their intuition and experience, they might not cover all possible scenarios or paths within the application.
  • Reproducibility: Due to the unscripted nature of exploratory testing, reproducing specific test scenarios can be challenging, especially when the tester needs to communicate their findings to other development team members.
  • Scaling: Exploratory testing can be labour-intensive and time-consuming, making it difficult to scale in larger projects or organizations that require extensive testing efforts.
  • Subjectivity: The quality of exploratory testing depends on the skill and experience of the tester, which can result in varying levels of effectiveness and thoroughness.

In summary, exploratory testing is a valuable and essential part of the software testing process. It allows testers to use their creativity and intuition to uncover hidden defects and improve the overall quality of the application.

Balancing exploratory testing with other testing methods and addressing its limitations will help you achieve a more comprehensive and effective testing strategy.

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Rakesh Patel

Written by

Rakesh Patel is the Founder and CEO of Space-O Technologies (Canada). He has 28 years of IT experience in business strategies, operations & information technology. He has expertise in various aspects of business like project planning, sales, and marketing, and has successfully defined flawless business models for the clients. A techie by mind and a writer at heart, he has authored two books – Enterprise Mobility: Strategy & Solutions and A Guide To Open311

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