The purpose of this paper is to gain insight into the relationships between hands-on experiences with formative assessment, students' assessment preferences and their approaches to learning. The sample consisted of 108 university first-year Bachelor's students studying criminology. Data were obtained using the Revised two-factor study process questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F) and the Assessment preferences inventory (API). The study shows that differences in assessment preferences are correlated with differences in approach to learning. Students' preferences for assessment methods with higher-order thinking tasks are significantly lower after actual experience with a formative assessment. Moreover, students also changed their approaches to learning after hands-on experience with a formative mode of assessment. Surprisingly, this change evinced a more 'surface approach' to learning. Nevertheless, this is in line with other recent research findings. The paper ends with some possible explanations, and new directions for research are proposed.