Portfolios need to be evaluated to determine whether they encourage students to develop in capabilities such as reflective practice and ethical judgment. The aims of this study were (i) to determine whether preparing a portfolio helps promote students' development in a range of capabilities including understanding ethical and legal principles, reflective practice and effective communication, and (ii) to determine to what extent the format of the portfolio affected the outcome by comparing the experiences of students at two different medical schools. A questionnaire was designed to evaluate undergraduate medical students' experiences of completing a portfolio at two medical schools. A total of 526 (45% response rate) students answered the on-line questionnaire. Students from both medical schools gave the highest ranking for the portfolio as a trigger for reflective practice. 63% of students agreed their portfolio helped them develop reflective practice skills (p<0.001), whereas only 22% disagreed. 48% of students agreed portfolios helped them understand ethical and legal principles whereas 29% disagreed (p<0.001). In contrast, only 34% of students thought the portfolio helped them to develop effective communication. Students perceive portfolio preparation as an effective learning tool for the development of capabilities such as understanding ethical and legal principles and reflective practice, whereas other capabilities such as effective communication require complementary techniques and other modes of assessment.