Difference between Exploratory testing and Ad-hoc testing not everyone knows about

Difference between Exploratory testing and Ad-hoc testing not everyone knows about

Exploratory and Ad-hoc

We have all seen articles recommending explorative (exploratory) testing as a way to spot bugs faster and earlier in the development process. You may also have wondered if that is really the case. On the surface, ad-hoc testing offers many of the same benefits as exploratory testing. However, there is a small difference between exploratory and ad-hoc testing by definition. And knowing the difference would save you from potential miscommunication. Let’s compare.

Ad-hoc testing is an informal, free-form method of software testing, which you can perform without profound knowledge of test subject that offers the possibility of unearthing critical bugs missed by automated or regression testing.

In another words, it is far from structured. Therefore, it doesn’t have any rules, goals, documented plan or target, so the efficiency of such kind of testing really depends on the experience level of the tester. It can be missed that without any specifications, ad hoc testing is difficult to manage and often inherent lack of documentation means that any discovered bugs will be difficult to reproduce as well.

Exploratory testing, on the other hand, offers the freedom of ad hoc testing with more advantages from somewhat formal testing. While leaving the room for tester to think creatively and critically when executing their test, it is mandatory to create documentation of test cases and have a set of goals. It is a kind of testing in which the tester thoroughly asks the questions about what the product can do and how to sort out appropriate testing.

Because of that, it is structured enough to provide reliable results and it can effectively locate new difficulties in test cases.

Explorative testing is not that easy.

As previously mentioned, both ad-hoc and exploratory testing are experience based test methods that takes experience and intuition. If one has no testing expertise with the correct know how, he wouldn’t be able to test exploratively. In addition, what becomes crucial here is test case creation. Since the tester would learn as he goes about and explore, test case creation and documentation require skills ultimately to create proper and maybe better test cases that can be reused.

When do we use them?

Ad-hoc testing sounds impromptu, it is, but there is a use for it. For simple functions like registration and login, it is better to use ad-hoc testing as you don’t want to waste your time documenting and creating thought-through test cases.

Exploratory testing can be useful for more complex functions, as it is more reliable and it can be later assigned to junior testers as they are able to execute the same test cases after completed once.


As you see, the difference is very small, but it is relevant and sets the expectation of how it should be managed and what the outcome should look like. Most important thing to note is both exploratory and ad-hoc testing should only be executed by the appropriate testers, because if a wrong person executes it, it is nearly possible that the tests would be effective and errors will be found.

I hope this article helps and prepared you to have a discussion in your team before deploying those techniques.

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