Background: Assessment, as an inextricable component of the curriculum, is an important factor influencing student approaches to learning. If assessment is to drive learning, then it must assess the desired outcomes. In an effort to alleviate some of the anxiety associated with a traditional discipline-based second year of medical studies, a bonus system was introduced into the Histology assessment. Students obtaining a year mark of 70% were rewarded with full marks for some tests, resulting in many requiring only a few percentage points in the final examination to pass Histology. Methods: In order to ascertain whether this bonus system might be impacting positively on student learning, thirty-two second year medical students (non-randomly selected, representing four academic groups based on their mid-year results) were interviewed in 1997 and, in 1999, the entire second year class completed a questionnaire (n = 189). Both groups were asked their opinions of the bonus system. Results: Both groups overwhelming voted in favour of the bonus system, despite less than 45% of students failing to achieve it. Students commented that it relieved some of the stress of the year-end examinations, and was generally motivating with regard to their work commitment. Conclusions: Being satisfied with how and what we assess in Histology, we are of the opinion that this reward system may contribute to engendering appropriate learning approaches (i.e. for understanding) in students. As a result of its apparent positive influence on learning and attitudes towards learning, this bonus system will continue to operate until the traditional programme is phased out. It is hoped that other educators, believing that their assessment is a reflection of the intended outcomes, might recognise merit in rewarding students for consistent achievement.