Everything about Plate Load Test | Test Methods, Examples and FAQs

In the ever-evolving world of construction and engineering, the safety and stability of structures remain a paramount concern. Beneath awe-inspiring skyscrapers, elegant bridges, and humble dwellings, a world of soil diligently supports these magnificent creations. But how can we be sure of the ground's capability? One of the essential tests employed for this purpose is the Plate Load Test. This article explores the test's details, including its equipment, procedure, calculations, advantages, limitations, and more. 

What is a Plate Load Test?

Plate Load Test serves as a field test aimed at determining the ultimate bearing capacity and soil settlement beneath a foundation. It helps engineers and builders assess whether the soil can support the anticipated load of a structure effectively. Plate load test is also referred as Plate Bearing Test in some countries.

Plate Load Test
Plate Load Test (Source: YouTube – Curious Civil Engineer)

The primary goal of the Plate Load Test is to obtain data on how the soil responds to applied pressure and load. Engineers can accurately design foundations and ensure long-term stability by studying this response.
On-site, the test simulates the actual loading conditions that the structure will experience once built.

Apparatus for Plate Load Test on Soil

The apparatus used for the Plate Load Test includes:

  • Loading Platform: The platform on which the plate is placed.
  • Reaction Frame: To support the hydraulic jack.
  • Hydraulic Jack: To apply the load.
  • Load Measuring Device: To measure the applied load.
  • Dial Gauges: To record the settlement.
Plate load test Setup to Estimate Safe Bearing Capacity of Soil

The loading platform is a stable surface where the plate is securely placed. It is essential to ensure that the platform does not deform or settle during the test, as it could introduce errors in the measurement. The reaction frame supports the hydraulic jack, preventing it from tilting or moving during the test.

The hydraulic jack is responsible for applying the load to the plate gradually. The load measuring device, usually a load cell, accurately measures the applied load. Dial gauges are used to record the settlement of the plate, providing valuable data for analysis.


Plate Load Test set up procedure
Plate Load Test set up procedure (Source: ResearchGate)

The Test involves the following steps:

  1. Preparation: Before conducting the test, the engineers carefully select and prepare the test site. They level the ground surface and remove debris or lost materials.
  2. Placing the Plate: Once the site is ready, the engineers position the steel plate on the ground surface. They place the hydraulic jack centrally above the plate to ensure even load distribution.
  3. Applying the Load: The hydraulic jack applies a load to the plate at a controlled and gradual rate. This process simulates the actual load conditions that the soil will experience once the foundation is constructed.
  4. Recording Settlement: During the test, the settlement of the plate is recorded at regular load intervals using dial gauges. Engineers monitor the settlement carefully to understand how the soil responds to increasing load.
  5. Unloading: After reaching the desired load, the hydraulic jack gradually unloads the plate.

Usually, engineers perform the test multiple times at different load levels to understand the soil’s behavior comprehensively under various conditions.

How does a plate-bearing test work?

In the Plate Load Test, engineers place a steel plate on the ground surface and apply a load using a hydraulic jack. Subsequently, they measure the settlement of the plate at various load intervals.Consequently, the test helps determine the bearing capacity of the soil and its ability to support the structure.

The Plate Load Test simulates the actual load that a foundation will experience during its lifetime. By applying a gradual load, engineers can observe how the soil responds and behaves under increasing pressure. This data is crucial for making informed decisions about the foundation design and ensuring its long-term stability.

What size of plate is used in a plate load test?

The plate size used in the Test depends on the project’s requirements and the expected load-bearing capacity of the soil. Typical sizes range from 300 mm to 760 mm in diameter.

Selecting the appropriate plate size is crucial to ensure the accuracy of the test results. A larger plate distributes the load over a larger area, which may represent the actual foundation size more. However, a smaller plate allows testing in restricted spaces and provides valuable data for smaller structures.

Plate load testing of working platforms

Engineers also conduct Plate Load Tests on working platforms to assess their suitability for construction equipment and operations.It helps prevent soil failures and enhances the efficiency of construction processes.

Construction companies use working platforms as temporary structures to support heavy construction equipment, such as cranes and piling rigs. Before commencing construction, engineers conduct Plate Load Tests on these platforms to ensure their stability and ability to bear the equipment’s loads. This testing process helps avoid potential accidents and delays during the construction phase.

Plate load testing in action

During a Plate Load Test, engineers carefully monitor the behavior of the soil and the plate. The recorded data aids in making informed decisions about foundation design and construction.

Plate load testing in action
Plate load testing in action – Hixtra Ltd

The test site becomes a hive of activity during the Plate Load Test. Engineers and technicians work together to set up the testing apparatus, carefully positioning the steel plate and the hydraulic jack. Once the test begins, they monitor the load application and the settlement of the plate, recording data at regular intervals. The engineers then analyze the collected data to determine the soil’s bearing capacity and suitability for the proposed structure.

International Codes and Standards for Plate Load Tests

Plate Load Tests are a pivotal aspect of geotechnical engineering, enabling the determination of a soil’s ultimate bearing capacity for various construction applications. While the provided text focuses on the Indian Standard IS 1888:1982, it’s important to recognize that international standards and codes also provide comprehensive guidance on conducting plate load tests.

1. ASTM D1194 – Standard Test Method for Bearing Capacity of Soil for Static Load Application (Plate Load Test) outlines meticulous test procedures, result analysis, and ultimate bearing capacity calculations.

2. BS 1377-9:1990 – Methods of Test for Soils for Civil Engineering Purposes – Part 9: In-Situ Tests addresses in-situ soil tests, including plate load tests. This comprehensive standard encompasses equipment specifications, test methodologies, and result interpretation, serving as a cornerstone for assessing soil bearing capacity.

3. Eurocode 7 – Geotechnical Design – offers comprehensive guidelines for conducting plate load tests, emphasizing the importance of meticulous soil exploration and the influence of soil variability on test outcomes.

4. Australian Standards AS 1289.6.1.1 – Soil Testing – Methods of Testing Soils for Engineering Purposes – Part 6.1.1: Soil Strength and Consolidation Tests specifies methodologies for determining soil’s one-dimensional compression properties and methods for soil testing and foundation design.

5. Canadian Foundation Engineering Manual (CFEM) provides guidance on conducting plate load tests and interpreting results for varying soil conditions.

6. ISO 12494:2011 – Soil Quality provides guidance on conducting plate load tests to assess soil properties relevant to foundation design.

Plate load test: Methods

There are two primary methods for conducting Plate Load Tests:

1. Gravity Loading Platform Method:

In this method, the plate is loaded with the help of dead weights. It is suitable for small-scale tests.

Furthermore, the Gravity Loading Platform Method is a straightforward and cost-effective way to perform Plate Load Tests. By placing dead weights on the steel plate to apply the load gradually, this method’s advantage stems from its simplicity and straightforward setup, rendering it ideal for small-scale projects or initial feasibility studies.

2. Reaction Truss Method:

In this method, the plate is loaded using a reaction truss. It is suitable for large-scale tests.

Additionally, engineers employ the Reaction Truss Method for larger-scale Plate Load Tests. This method utilizes a reaction truss to apply the load to the steel plate. By providing stability and ensuring even load distribution, the truss becomes an ideal choice for larger construction projects.

Example for Calculation of Bearing Capacity using Plate Load Test

The ultimate load-carrying capacity of the soil can be calculated using the formula:

By using this formula, engineers can determine the maximum load that the soil can support per unit area. Consequently, by comparing this value with the anticipated loads from the proposed structure, engineers can ensure the stability and safety of the foundation.

Example for Calculation of Bearing Capacity using Plate Load Test
Example for Calculation of Bearing Capacity using Plate Load Tests

Calculation of Bearing Capacity of Soil

Clayey Soil:

For clayey soil, the ultimate bearing capacity can be determined by:

The cohesion of clayey soil is a crucial parameter that influences its bearing capacity. The other factors in the equation account for the soil’s internal friction, the foundation’s shape, and the foundation’s depth, respectively. These factors help to provide a more accurate estimation of the soil’s load-bearing capabilities.

Sandy Soil:

For sandy soil, the ultimate bearing capacity can be determined by:

Sandy soil behaves differently from clayey soil due to its granular nature. Therefore, engineers use a separate equation to calculate the bearing capacity. The bearing capacity factor, Nq and Nγ, accounts for the soil’s internal friction and the foundation’s shape.

Interpreting the results of a plate load test

When interpreting the Plate Load Test results, engineers compare the applied load and settlement data to ascertain the soil’s load-carrying capacity. Consequently, they use these results to ensure the safety and stability of the proposed structure.

Results in Plate Load Test
Plate Load Test Results (Source: ScienceDirect)

Once engineers complete the Plate Load Test, they analyze the recorded data.
By comparing the applied load at different settlement points to the ultimate bearing capacity of the soil, they can determine the safety factor, ensuring that the foundation can support the anticipated loads without failure.

Factors affecting bearing capacity

Several factors can affect the bearing capacity of the soil, including soil type, moisture content, depth of the foundation, and surcharge loads.

  • Soil Type: Different soil types have varying bearing capacities. Clayey soils generally have higher cohesion but lower frictional resistance than sandy soils.
  • Moisture Content: The moisture content of the soil influences its bearing capacity. Saturated soils typically have reduced bearing capacity compared to soils with optimum moisture content.
  • Depth of the Foundation: The bearing capacity of the soil increases with depth. Deeper foundations generally have higher bearing capacities.
  • Surcharge Loads: Additional loads imposed on the soil, such as buildings or heavy structures, can affect the bearing capacity.

Engineers carefully consider these factors during the design phase to ensure the stability and safety of the foundation.

Advantages of plate bearing tests

Plate Load Tests offer several benefits:

  • Cost-Effective: Compared to other soil testing methods, conducting Plate Load Tests is relatively affordable. It provides valuable information at a reasonable cost, making it an essential tool for engineers.
  • Real-Time Data: The test provides real-time data on soil behavior. Furthermore, engineers can monitor the settlement of the plate and the applied load as the test progresses. Additionally, this real-time data allows for immediate adjustments or modifications if necessary.
  • Site-Specific Results: Furthermore, the Plate Load Test gives site-specific results, vital for accurate foundation design. Different sites may have varying soil properties, and conducting tests on-site ensures that the results are relevant to the specific construction location.

Limitations of plate load tests

While Plate Load Tests are valuable, they do have some limitations. Factors like plate size, depth of the test, and soil type can influence the test results.

The accuracy of the Test depends on several factors. The size of the plate used in the test is the main factor. A small plate may not adequately represent the load distribution of a larger foundation. Additionally, the depth of the test can influence the results, as the bearing capacity of the soil may vary with depth.


The Plate Load Test plays a crucial role in civil engineering, helping engineers assess the bearing capacity and settlement of the soil. By understanding the fundamentals of this test, civil engineers and builders can ensure their projects’ structural integrity and stability. Conducting Plate Load Tests leads to safer and more efficient construction processes, ultimately benefiting everyone involved.

Is the Plate Load Test applicable for all types of soil?

Yes, the Plate Load Test can be used for different types of soils, including clayey and sandy soils.

What are the advantages of conducting plate bearing tests?

Plate load tests are cost-effective, less time-consuming, and provide valuable data for foundation design.

How do engineers interpret the results of a plate load test?

Engineers analyze the settlement data to determine the bearing capacity and settlement characteristics of the soil.

What factors influence the bearing capacity of soil?

Several factors, including soil type, moisture content, depth of the foundation, and surcharge loads, can impact the soil’s bearing capacity.

What is the purpose of the Plate Load Test?

The Plate Load Test is conducted to determine the soil’s ultimate bearing capacity and settlement beneath a foundation, ensuring it can support the structure effectively.