What is an acceptance test plan?

According to the ISTQB® (International Software Testing Qualifications Board), a software acceptance test plan is “a document describing the scope, approach, resources and schedule of intended test activities. It identifies amongst others test items, the features to be tested, the testing tasks, who will do each task, degree of tester independence, the test environment, the test design techniques and entry and exit criteria to be used, and the rationale for their choice, and any risks requiring contingency planning. It is a record of the test planning process.”
Once the software has been “completed”, tests need to be carried out to show that it is satisfactory for use before being shipped and being made ready for sale/use. To do this, the software needs to be run through an acceptance test. An acceptance test plan is a vital part of a software launch, as it will provide vital guidance to all participating in either an automated or manual testing phase. Therefore, to ensure the accuracy of the results and to make sure a comprehensive acceptance test is carried out, analysts will need to create a comprehensive plan.

Why do you need a software acceptance test plan?

An acceptance test plan is a document that will outline in detail the number of tests that will take place to approve the software.

In order for the customer to accept delivery of the software, they must approve the acceptance test plan to ensure the product will be tested against all the necessary and desired criteria upon execution. Therefore, the document should be detailed, and should contain the mechanism and standards for the feedback. Once these are identified, further development can take place to rectify the problem before being run through the test again. Those carrying out the tests are responsible for checking off the results of the tests and making detailed notes as they do so.

Ultimately, this document is the blueprint for all testing that could determine the success or failure of the sell-off, and so it must be accurately written up prior to the commencement of the testing phase.

Fundamentals of a software acceptance test plan

There are three primary types of acceptance test plans:

  • A Master Test Plan (an overview of each phase and tests within those phases)
  • Phase Test Plans (these detail plans of execution for specific levels of testing)
  • Testing Type Specific Test Plans (these plans outline the steps for major tests, such as those pertaining to security)

There are some things you should include on each plan, starting with identifying clearly which of the above three the document is. Following that, there should be a clear introduction indicating the aim of the plan before listing specific objectives and identifies any areas of prospective challenges or concern. If there are any accompanying documents or references, these should also be included as addenda.

A software acceptance test plan should also include:

  • A list of all items to be tested.
  • Which features are to be tested and which should not be tested.
  • Instructions for the testers regarding the approach to take and how to carry out each phase of the test.
  • Criteria for success – how do testers classify the results of the test as a pass or fail?
  • Next steps – if a software feature has failed testing, what needs to happen next to rectify the problem?
  • A testing schedule.
  • Clearly defined deliverables – what do testers need to provide as proof of the software having undergone that particular phase?

The plan should also clearly indicate what each individual is responsible for at any given phase of the testing, and outline if there is any need for testers to have access to specific equipment or skills. If there are any potential risks associated with the testing, these should also be made clear.
Finally, the plan should include a page on which all the names and roles of the individuals involved in testing can sign off on the results. It should have a clearly identifiable area in which the testers can mark the completed project as being a success or failure, complete with fields for printed names, signatures, and dates to be provided.


When it comes to drafting up an effective acceptance test plan, there are some key things to keep in mind:

  • The plan should be clear, concise, and contain only what is necessary to help testers carry out thorough and effective trials.
  • The plan should be detail-oriented and specific, outlining everything from keys to be pressed, to windows that should be opened. Make sure all instructions are laid out clearly to avoid any possibility of confusion.
  • Ensure all parts of the document and steps within the plan are clearly named/labelled.
  • Make notes of important things like the testing environment and time logs.
  • Update the plan based on feedback from other team members, even if that means it goes through several drafts before being implemented.

Ultimately, an acceptance test is only going to be as good as its plan. Therefore, taking the time to create a document that contains clearly articulated information will help the process run smoothly and increase the chances of success.

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