Three hundred veterinary students were divided randomly into two groups to answer a questionnaire inquiring how painful they considered 23 conditions affecting cattle (seven of which were illustrated) to be, on either a numerical rating scale (NRS) or a visual analogue scale (VAS). The individual responses were used to assess whether cluster analysis could be used to divide the population into distinct groups. The ratios of men to women in the two groups were similar. The NRS scores ranged from 1 to 10 and the VAS scores ranged from 0 to 10. The conditions that were illustrated with a picture had a wider range of scores (2·65 to 9·0 v 2·67 to 7·93) and a slightly higher mean score (5·71 v 5·34) than those without pictures. Fracture of the tuber coxae, dystocia requiring the help of two people, and serious mastitis, were scored as the most painful conditions in adult cattle. Using the median score of each student as an outcome, their sex and year of enrolment and the scoring scale were significant. Women scored 0·9 points higher than men. Cluster analysis revealed two distinct groups in both the VAS and NRS, but the distribution was more even among the students using the VAS. This group was used in further analysis, and one cluster had the most men and more students with several siblings.