The study used the Approaches to Studying Inventory of Ramsden and Entwistle (1981) on a sample of 1095 internal and external students at the Capricornia Institute and the Tasmanian State Institute of Technology in Australia. The inventory yields scores for sixteen sub-scales relating to approach to study. Discriminant analyses were performed separately for external and internal students, using the sub-scale scores as discriminating variables. The variables distinguished significantly between those who persisted with a course and those who withdrew or failed. Discriminant functions were also produced to distinguish students receiving pass grades from those achieving a higher grade. A different set of variables appeared in this discriminant function showing that withdrawal or drop-out could not be treated as part of a continuous scale of grades awarded. The results are discussed in terms of the relationship between input variables (eg, curriculum, instructional design and learning environment), process (approach to studying) and the output or course outcomes. Surface approach was the major discriminator between withdrawal, or failure, and persistence. The effect of study skills programmes and curriculum changes on surface approach and hence persistence is discussed.