The Stages Model of problem-solving as evidenced in the use of the nursing process is the key vehicle for the operationalisation of problem-solving in current nursing practice. An expanded variant of the model formed the theoretical framework for this study which aimed to explore and compare the problem-solving skills of senior student nurses (n = 253) from three pre-registration nurse education programmes (RGN, diploma RN, integrated degree). Students' care planning skills were explored using a video-tape simulation exercise and data were subjected to statistical testing. Findings indicated a large range in the global care plan scores and while performance was similar in a number of areas independent of programme type, certain key differences also emerged. The findings are discussed in the wider context of professional education and practice and the potential for further development of problem-solving skills in pre-registration nurse education is explored. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.