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Medical students at the Cambridge Clinical School are provided with a list of 42 core conditions they should encounter and 20 core skills they should perform during their attachment. By self-completion questionnaires we assessed their clinical experience and the amount of teaching they received, relating the results to marks gained in end-of-attachment assessments. 103 (93%) of 110 students in year one and 123 (96%) of 128 in year two completed the questionnaires. Of the 42 core conditions, 13 were seen by under 70% of the students in year one. In year two, exposure rate increased for 26 core conditions by a median of 7% (range 2-40) and decreased in 13 core conditions by a median value 4% (range 5-13) (P = 0.0005, chi 2). Only mandatory core skills were performed by over 90% of students. 5% of students did not perform any newborn examinations and under 60% observed neonatal resuscitation or a high-risk delivery. Students' core condition score was associated with their core skill score (r = 0.5), hospital grade (r = 0.3) and exposure to acute paediatrics (r = 0.3) (P < 0.005). There was no significant association between clinical experience and the objective examination score or the amount of teaching received. There was an inverse association between the number of students at a hospital and the number of core conditions with an exposure rate above 70% at that hospital (r = 0.7, P < 0.05). This study suggests that clinical experience may be better judged by the clinical supervisor than by assessment of theoretical knowledge.