An accurate and simple method, Raman peak-shift simulation, is proposed to determine the characteristics of a laser-driven shock wave. Using the principle of the Raman peaks shifting at high pressure and the pressure distribution in the gauge layer, the profile of the Raman peak can be numerically simulated. Combined with time-resolved Raman spectroscopy, some main characteristics of the shock wave were determined. In the experiment, polycrystalline anthracene was used as the pressure gauge. The pump–probe technique was used to obtain the time-resolved Raman spectra of anthracene under shock loading. The velocity of the shock wave, the peak pressure and the rise time of the shock front were determined by simulating the experimental spectra numerically. The result shows that the method of Raman peak-shift simulation is effective in obtaining the characteristics of a laser-driven shock wave. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.