An educator's view would be that formative assessment has an important role in the learning process. This study was carried out to obtain a student perspective of the place of formative assessment in the curriculum. Final-year medical students at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital took part in four teaching sessions, each structured to integrate teaching with assessment. Three assessment methods were used; the group objective structured clinical examination (G-OSCE), structured short answer (SSA) questions and a pre/post-test multiple choice questionnaire (MCQ). Teaching sessions were conducted on the subject areas of traumatology, the 'acute abdomen', arterial disorders and cancer. Fifty-five students, representing 83% of those who took part in the programme, responded to a questionnaire where they were asked to rate (on a 5-point Likert scale) their response to general questions about formative assessment and 13 specific questions concerning the comparative value of the three assessment modalities. Eighty-nine per cent of respondents felt that formative assessment should be incorporated into the teaching process. The SSA assessment was regarded as the preferred modality to reinforce previous teaching and test problem-solving skills. The MCQ was the least favoured assessment method. The effect size variable between the total scores for the SSA and MCQ was 0.64. The variable between G-OSCE and SSA/MCQ was 0.26 and 0.33 respectively. Formative assessment is a potentially powerful method to direct learning behaviour. Students should have input into the methods used.