Start-up demonstration tests were first discussed in the quality/reliability literature about three decades ago. Since then, many variations of these tests have been introduced, and the corresponding distributional characteristics and inferential methods have also been studied. All these developments, based on independent and identically distributed binary trials, have been further generalized to some other forms of trials such as Markov-dependent trials, exchangeable trials and multistate trials. In this paper, we provide a comprehensive review of all these results and highlight some unifications of the results. We also describe a general estimation method and then present several numerical examples to illustrate some of the models and methods described here. Finally, a number of open issues in this area of research are pointed out. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.