DEFINITION of 'Backtesting'

The process of testing a trading strategy on prior time periods. Instead of applying a strategy for the time period forward, which could take years, a trader can do a simulation of his or her trading strategy on relevant past data in order to gauge the its effectiveness.

Most technical-analysis strategies are tested with this approach.

BREAKING DOWN 'Backtesting'

When you backtest a theory, the results achieved are highly dependent on the movements of the tested period. Backtesting a theory assumes that what happens in the past will happen in the future, and this assumption can cause potential risks for the strategy.

For example, say you want to test a strategy based on the notion that Internet IPOs outperform the overall market. If you were to test this strategy during the dotcom boom years in the late 90s, the strategy would outperform the market significantly. However, trying the same strategy after the bubble burst would result in dismal returns. As you'll frequently hear: "past performance does not necessarily guarantee future returns".

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