This study assessed the effect on coagulation tests of fresh frozen plasma (FFP), given according to guidelines compared with higher doses in critically ill patients. Group 1 (10 patients) received 12.2 ml/kg and group 2 (12 patients) 33.5 ml/kg FFP. Prothrombin time, activated partial thromboplastin time and factors I-XII were measured before and after FFP infusion. Factor levels of 30 IU/dl (1 g/l for fibrinogen) were considered haemostatic. A retrospective review showed 10 of 22 (five in group 1 and five in group 2) patients had not required FFP. Of those that needed FFP, one of five in group 1 and seven of seven in group 2 had coagulation factor levels above the target post-FFP. Increments for group 1 versus 2 were: fibrinogen 0.4 vs. 1.0 g/l, FII 16 vs. 41*, FV 10 vs. 28*, FVII 11 vs. 38*, FVIII 10 vs. 17, FIX 8 vs. 28*, FX 15 vs. 37*, FXI 9 vs. 23 and FXII 30 vs. 44 IU/dl* (*P < 0.01). In vivo recovery of coagulation factors was the same for both groups and the observed increments correlated with the dose of FFP. In conclusion, coagulation screens were poor predictors of coagulation factor levels and current guidelines on the use of FFP result in predictably small increments in coagulation factors in critically ill patients and should be reviewed.