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Direct laryngoscopy using the Macintosh laryngoscope is a difficult skill to acquire. Videolaryngoscopy is a widely accepted airway management technique that may be easier for novices to learn. We compared the McGrath® videolaryngoscope and Macintosh laryngoscope by studying the performance of 25 medical students with no previous experience of performing tracheal intubation using an easy intubation scenario in a manikin. The order of device use was randomised for each student. After brief instruction each participant performed eight tracheal intubations with one device and then eight tracheal intubations with the other laryngoscope. Novices achieved a higher overall rate of successful tracheal intubation, avoided oesophageal intubation and produced less dental trauma when using the McGrath. The view at laryngoscopy was significantly better with the McGrath. Intubation times were similar for both laryngoscopes and became shorter with practice. There was no difference in participants' rating of overall ease of use for each laryngoscope.