The act of taking a pregnancy test can be both exhilarating and anxiety-inducing. A wide range of emotions typically accompany those brief moments.
You take the test and then wait for what feels like an eternity to see the results. You look over and are prepared to see a + or – result, but instead, you see a question mark (?). So, now what?
A question mark means that the test has malfunctioned for some reason and cannot get an accurate reading of the sample. If you get a question mark on your pregnancy test, it means you are going to have to take another test and carefully follow the instructions to get an accurate result.
Pregnancy tests can be finicky and tricky to use correctly. We are going to dive deeper into the world of pregnancy tests in order to help you feel more confident about taking the test and the types of things that may happen in the process.
Question Mark on Pregnancy Test
You did it — you peed on the stick with shaking hands, anxiously waited the appropriate amount of time trying not to peek, and then, when you could finally look, you saw a question mark on the screen.
Huh?! Talk about frustrating and confusing!
What Causes a Question Mark To Appear on Pregnancy Test?
There are a number of reasons why a pregnancy test could be faulty or have an error that would result in a question mark appearing on the screen where you would expect to see “Yes” or “No.”
1. Faulty Test
Some pregnancy tests are just bad and do not work correctly, even if you did everything perfectly. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell if you have a faulty test until it is time to see the result.
For this reason, it is important to always grab a few different pregnancy tests at the store so that you always have a couple of backups.
2. Test Packaging Not Sealed Properly
Pregnancy tests are very sensitive and must be used within 12 hours after the packaging is opened.
Sometimes, the packages are not sealed properly, and the test goes bad while sitting on the shelf at the store.
To avoid this problem, always check your pregnancy tests at the store to be sure the packaging has not been damaged and that the test has not been opened.
3. Expired Test
Make sure that you check the expiration date of your pregnancy test before using it. Using an expired test, especially if it has been over a year since its expiration date, is likely to result in a false negative.
This is because the antibodies in the test that detect the hCG (the pregnancy hormone) eventually evaporate and become ineffective.
4. Absorbent Tip Not Saturated
Pregnancy tests are very sensitive and therefore come with very specific instructions. In order for the test to work, the absorbent tip needs to be saturated with urine.
If you are taking a midstream test, you can do this by peeing directly on the tip or dipping it in a cup of urine.
Test strips, on the other hand, cannot be peed on directly. You will need to pee in a cup and dip the strip in the cup in order to get an accurate reading.
5. Absorbent Tip Overly Saturated
A common misunderstanding surrounding pregnancy tests is that the longer you leave a test in urine, the more accurate it will be. That statement could not be more incorrect!
It is possible to over-saturate the pregnancy test to the point that it will not function properly. You need to ensure that you are saturating the absorbent tip but not so much that it goes onto other parts of the stick.
It is very important to follow the instructions carefully, or you might be left with an inaccurate result. Most tests will ask that you only pee on the tip or hold the test in urine for 5-10 seconds.
Can Invalid Pregnancy Test Be Positive?
If a question mark or only a test line appears on your pregnancy test, it is because an error has occurred and the test was not able to detect if you are pregnant.
This does not mean that you are not pregnant; you very well could be. However, it does mean that you need to take another test and follow the instructions carefully to get an accurate reading.
A false positive result is rare. If you get a positive result on your pregnancy test, it likely is not an error or invalid.
Negative Invalid Pregnancy Test
If you get an invalid test result (meaning a question mark or test line with no control line), you need to take another test because the test was faulty. If you get a negative result, you may want to take another test just for good measure.
If you get two negative results, it is likely that the tests are functioning properly and you are not pregnant.
You may get a false negative pregnancy test if you take the test too early, do not take it correctly, or have extremely diluted urine.
Can You Reuse an Invalid Pregnancy Test?
No. Once a test has been used, it cannot be used again. If you have an invalid test, you will need to take a new test and repeat the entire process. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully.
2 Invalid Pregnancy Tests
While it is frustrating, getting two invalid pregnancy tests in a row is possible. This could be due to an error on your part or because the tests were faulty.
Make sure you read the instructions carefully and follow them exactly in order to avoid human error.
What To Do if You Get Invalid Results on Pregnancy Test
If you get a question mark on a digital test or if only the test line with no control line appears on regular pregnancy tests, the test did not work properly. You will need to ignore those results and try again with a new test.
How To Avoid Pregnancy Test Errors
Most pregnancy test errors happen because the test wasn’t done correctly. It perhaps wasn’t saturated enough, was too saturated, sat out too long, was taken too early, etc.
They’re tricky little boogers! Here are some tips to avoid errors and frustration while taking a pregnancy test:
- Read the instructions. Follow them to a T.
- Take the test at the optimal time. This will be stated in the instructions. It could be a few days before your expected period or the day after your missed period depending on the test.
- Do not check the results too soon. Set a timer for the time in the instructions, and check the test when the timer goes off.
- Avoid drinking too much liquid before you take the test.
- Check the expiration date.
Best Time of Day To Take a Pregnancy Test
The hCG hormone levels are highest in the morning, therefore, it is best to take a test at this time when the urine is most concentrated.
Can I Take a Pregnancy Test at Night?
Pregnancy tests can be taken at any time of day. However, there is a chance that taking the test in the evening could result in a false negative since urine tends to be more diluted at night.
How Many Pregnancy Tests Should I Take?
A woman takes a pregnancy test and, out of excitement or disbelief, takes two more. We’ve all seen it and have likely done it ourselves.
However, in reality, taking a second test immediately after the first is not always necessary.
If you test before your expected period and get a negative result, it is possible that you tested too soon. Wait a few days, and test again when your period is due. If you get another negative, you likely are not pregnant.
Most pregnancy tests are over 99% accurate from the day you expect your period, and false positives are very rare.
If you test on or after the day of your expected period and get a positive result, you can have confidence that you are pregnant.
Amidst the excitement, nerves, and anxiety, pregnancy test procedures can become very confusing and frustrating. Hopefully, your understanding has been enhanced enough to take on your next test with confidence!
Charlynn is an educator and mom to fraternal boy/girl twins. She loves learning through the experiences she has with her littles and using her knowledge to help other moms as they embark on the journey of motherhood.