Background: Students in higher education may adopt different approaches to studying, depending upon their perceptions of the academic quality of their courses and programmes, and both are likely to depend upon the nature of the curricula to which they are exposed. Aims: Perceptions of quality and approaches to studying were investigated in students taking pre-registration programmes in a school of health professions. Two of the programmes were 3-year undergraduate programmes with subject-based curricula, and two were 2-year entry-level masters programmes with problem-based curricula. Method: The Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) and the Revised Approaches to Studying Inventory (RASI) were administered to the students within a single survey. Their teachers were also surveyed with regard to their beliefs and intentions about teaching. Results: The teachers on the two kinds of programme exhibited similar beliefs and intentions about teaching. However, the students on the masters programmes produced higher ratings than did the students on the undergraduate programmes with regard to the appropriateness of their assessment, the acquisition of generic skills and the emphasis on student independence. The students on the masters programmes were also more likely to show a deep approach to studying and less likely to show a surface approach to studying than were the students on the undergraduate programmes. Conclusions: The CEQ and the RASI provide complementary evidence for use in research, in quality assurance and in quality enhancement. In comparison with subject-based curricula, problem-based curricula seem to enhance students' perceptions of their programmes and the quality of their learning. Practice points Evaluations of academic programmes in the health professions need to take into account students' perceptions of academic quality and the approaches to studying that they adopt. The CEQ and the RASI can be recommended for use as research instruments and together provide complementary evidence for use in quality assurance and quality enhancement. The introduction of problem-based curricula in the health professions can enhance students' perceptions of the quality of their programmes and the quality of their learning.