The purpose of this study was to produce an effective training video on death certification suitable for use by medical students and postgraduates. A 15-minute video was commissioned from a video production unit and two authors (PA and CP) provided advice and support in the process of script writing and production. An evaluation by means of a randomized controlled trial took place among 185 first year medical students at the University of Leicester. The video was shown as an addition to the usual lecture on death certification. Performance in a test of knowledge, skill and motivation was recorded in each of the two groups. Students assigned to see the video scored slightly better overall in a test of knowledge and skill (difference in medians = 3, in a test marked out of 68, P = 0.046). The intervention group also gave a significantly higher priority to avoiding distress caused to relatives as a reason for certifying death accurately (60% vs. 35%, difference in proportions = 24%, P = 0.002). There was no evidence that enjoyment or views about the nature or content of the video had an impact on performance in the test. It is concluded that adding the video to the usual lecture had a limited effect on the overall knowledge and skills of undergraduate students but was highly effective in conveying the message that inaccurate death certification can cause distress to relatives. The randomized controlled trial is a practical and simple means of evaluating teaching methods for medical undergraduates.