Moderated vs. Unmoderated Tests

At a Glance

Gather real human insight using moderated and unmoderated tests to support and facilitate your goals. This article guides you on when to choose a moderated or an unmoderated test.


What is a moderated test?

When to use a moderated test

What is unmoderated usability testing?

When to use unmoderated tests

Moderated vs. unmoderated tests


What is a moderated test?

A moderated test is a real-time interview with someone who tests your product or service (or the concept, prototype, or design of that product or service). Such interviews can also focus on collecting information about user behavior and decision-making. 

This type of test can be done remotely or in person. If done remotely, as a Live Conversation, your interaction with the contributors occurs in real time, in the same “virtual” space. Contributors connect with you using a remote conferencing tool that allows you to communicate through VoIP, phone, chat, or a combination of methods.

When to use a moderated test

Moderated usability tests are great when you would like to...

  • Ask individualized follow-up questions in real time.
  • Ensure that contributors do not get stuck while doing something technically difficult, like dealing with a complex or low-fidelity prototype when testing concepts or ideas.
  • Ensure quiet contributors are more vocal since the moderator can prompt them to share what they are thinking.
  • Observe body language and pick up on the subtleties of contributor behavior.

Resource: What does a moderated test look like?

What is unmoderated testing?

An unmoderated test is when contributors complete predetermined tasks without the guidance of a moderator. The contributor decides when and where they would like to complete the test, and provides feedback as they record their session.

The contributor thinks out loud as they work the tasks, and the researcher reviews the recorded sessions at a later time. Unlike with a moderated test, the researcher does not communicate with the contributor in real time; they may decide to ask follow-up questions as part of the test. Or, after viewing the session, they may follow up with the contributor. Because modifications can not be done in the moment with the contributor, unmoderated tests may require more effort up front.

When to use unmoderated tests

Unmoderated tests are useful when you would like to...

  • Gather feedback quickly. A test can often be completed by UserTesting contributors on the same day!
  • Ensure you’re getting unbiased contributor feedback. Sometimes a moderator’s presence can influence the response or behavior of a contributor, who may be inclined to want to please the person conducting the test.
  • Complete other tasks while contributors work on their structured activities. This is possible since a moderator does not need to be present during each session.

Resource: Remote unmoderated usability test 

Moderated vs. unmoderated tests

Moderated Test Unmoderated Test

Allows for individualized follow-up questions in real time

Often features a quick turnaround in receiving contributor feedback

Real-time assistance from the moderator

Suitable for obtaining larger sample sizes

Can be conducted remotely or in person

Is self-guided and unmonitored


Recap: The primary difference between moderated and unmoderated tests is that with moderated tests you (or a moderator) have to be present to guide the contributors through the tasks. With unmoderated tests, you do not need to be present, and contributors are in their natural environment. Whether you require a high level of interaction with your contributors or need contributors to do self-paced tasks, the UserTesting Platform accommodates both approaches.

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