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The concept of reflective learning has been widely adopted in many of the nursing curricula today Reflective learning is of particular relevance to the education of professionals, as it encourages students to integrate theory with practice, appreciate the world on their own behalf, and turn every experience into a new potential learning experience While nurse educators have widely accepted the educational benefits of reflection, research into reflective learning is hampered by the lack of reliable and widely accepted methods for assessing whether reflection takes place and the level of any reflection This study attempted to develop and test coding systems for written reflective journals based on two well-known models of reflective thinking The reflective journals submitted by the students were subjected to content analysis at two levels The findings of this study suggest that student writing can be used as evidence for the presence or absence of reflective thinking The process of allocating students to three categories of non-reflector, reflector and critical reflector was straightforward and reliable Identifying textual elements within journals and allocating them to the finer levels of reflection within a more complex model of reflective thinking was, however, more problematic and considerably less reliable