Step-stress accelerated life testing is a design strategy where the stress is modified several times during the test. In this work we address the problem of designing such a test. We focus on temperature accelerated life testing and we address the problems of setting the step duration and the stress levels. Assuming an Arrhenius model, maximum likelihood estimates of the parameters are computed. Relying on the properties of these estimators we compare different criteria for assessing the optimality of the plans produced. Some tables are presented to illustrate the method. For a fixed number of steps and a set of temperatures, a table of optimal length steps can be computed. For fixed step lengths, sets of temperatures leading to optimal plans are also available. Thus, this work provides useful tools to help engineers make decisions in testing strategy. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.