• education;
  • medical;
  • undergraduate/*standards;
  • professional competence/ standards;
  • social behaviour;
  • self-assessment (psychology);
  • attitude;
  • faculty;
  • students;
  • medical;
  • focus groups;
  • feedback

Introduction  Previous research has demonstrated self-assessment inaccuracy in medical students. This study aims to examine students' and assessors' attitudes towards students' self-assessment of personal and professional behaviours.

Methods  Thirty participants (18 Year 1 medical students and 12 personal and professional development assessors) participated in 4 semistructured focus group discussions in April and May 2003. All discussions were audio-taped and transcribed verbatim and the transcripts were theme analysed independently by 2 analysts.

Results  Assessors and students perceived accurate self-assessment to be difficult for students and feedback was deemed to be crucial in helping students develop accurate self-assessment of their personal and professional behaviours. Assessors thought that some students had unrealistically high expectations of their own performance and this was thought to be due to various factors, such as previous academic success and gender. Assessors felt that students with high expectations of their own performance exhibited difficult behaviours if they failed to achieve their expectations. Students suggested that the school and the assessors had too high a level of expectation of their personal and professional behaviours, leading them to underestimate students' performance.

Discussion  These difficulties surrounding self-assessment accuracy support the findings reported in previous literature and suggest that medical educators should encourage students to self-assess their own performance wherever possible. These results need to be triangulated with other sources of data such as expert panels or quantitative data.