What Is a Testable Hypothesis?

Understanding Testability

Woman Working in a Lab
A testable hypothesis is the starting point of an experiment. Amanda Rohde/Getty Images

A hypothesis is a tentative answer to a scientific question. A testable hypothesis is a hypothesis that can be proved or disproved as a result of testing, data collection, or experience. Only testable hypotheses can be used to conceive and perform an experiment using the scientific method.

Requirements for a Testable Hypothesis

In order to be considered testable, two criteria must be met:

  • It must be possible to prove that the hypothesis is true.
  • It must be possible to prove that the hypothesis is false.
  • It must be possible to reproduce the results of the hypothesis.

Examples of a Testable Hypothesis

All the following hypotheses are testable. It's important, however, to note that while it's possible to say that the hypothesis is correct, much more research would be required to answer the question "why is this hypothesis correct?" 

  • Students who attend class have higher grades than students who skip class. This is testable because it is possible to compare the grades of students who do and do not skip class and then analyze the resulting data. Another person could conduct the same research and come up with the same results.
  • People exposed to high levels of ultraviolet light have a higher incidence of cancer than the norm. This is testable because it is possible to find a group of people who have been exposed to high levels of ultraviolet light and compare their cancer rates to the average.
  • If you put people in a dark room, then they will be unable to tell when an infrared light turns on. This hypothesis is testable because it is possible to put a group of people into a dark room, turn on an infrared light, and ask the people in the room whether or not an infrared light has been turned on.

Examples of a Hypothesis Not Written in a Testable Form

  • It doesn't matter whether or not you skip class. This hypothesis can't be tested because it doesn't make any actual claim regarding the outcome of skipping class. "It doesn't matter" doesn't have any specific meaning, so it can't be tested.
  • Ultraviolet light could cause cancer. The word "could" makes a hypothesis extremely difficult to test because it is very vague. There "could," for example, be UFOs watching us at every moment, even though it's impossible to prove that they are there!
  • Goldfish make better pets than guinea pigs. This is not a hypothesis; it's a matter of opinion. There is no agreed-upon definition of what a "better" pet is, so while it is possible to argue the point, there is no way to prove it.

How to Propose a Testable Hypothesis

Now that you know what a testable hypothesis is, here are tips for proposing one.

  • Try to write the hypothesis as an if-then statement. If you take an action, then a certain outcome is expected.
  • Identify the independent and dependent variable in the hypothesis. The independent variable is what you are controlling or changing. You measure the effect this has on the dependent variable.
  • Write the hypothesis in such a way that you can prove or disprove it. For example, a person has skin cancer, you can't prove they got it from being out in the sun. However, you can demonstrate a relationship between exposure to ultraviolet light and increased risk of skin cancer.
  • Make sure you are proposing a hypothesis you can test with reproducible results. If your face breaks out, you can't prove the breakout was caused by the french fries you had for dinner last night. However, you can measure whether or not eating french fries is associated with breaking out. It's a matter of gathering enough data to be able to reproduce results and draw a conclusion.