Making Sense of Covid-19 Testing

Testing for the virus is essential – so is being clear about what it can and can’t tell us.

Published: 23 November 2020
All our guides are date stamped and reflect the scientific findings and knowledge available at the time of publication.


In recent months there has been much discussion and confusion around what Covid-19 testing is, how it works, and what testing can and can’t tell us.

This short guide sets out what the tests are used for, how the tests work, the limitations and the differences between RT-PCR test and rapid tests.

Please share the guide widely and tell us what you think: it would be great to hear your thoughts. Get in touch at: [email protected].

A referenced version of this guide can be found here.


This work was funded by the NIHR Birmingham Biomedical Research Centre at the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Birmingham. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Published: 23 November 2020