Studies of soil erosion on small plots present upscaling problems. The results in the literature on the effect of slope length (i.e. scale) on runoff and soil erosion are contradictory. Furthermore, most studies that examine scale effects measured through erosion plots have been conducted in Mediterranean environments. The objective of this study was to assess the effects of plot size on runoff and soil loss in a subtropical environment. Other measurements were taken to appraise the topsoil property changes inside the plots. The soil was ploughed twice, the surface was leveled with a hoe and it was kept bare during the experiment. Data were collected from 10 paired plots, five plots measuring 10 m × 1 m and five plots measuring 1 m × 1 m, installed in the same pedo-geomorphologic unit. Measurements were carried out from November 2008 to November 2009. During this period, 97 natural storms were registered. The results indicate that the small plots tended to have higher runoff (30% higher) compared to larger plots, especially during periods of greater rainfall volume, duration and intensity. The soil loss was similar in both the 1 m2 plots (6·33 kg/m2) and the 10 m2 plots (6·26 kg/m2). Moreover, the dynamics of the soil loss during the experiment was relatively similar across both plot sizes. The large plots tended to have a greater internal complexity. In these plots, the steps retreat were higher, the overland flow scars were more frequent, and points of rill initiation and protochannels emerged in several parts of the plots. The results of the small plots were comparable to the results obtained on the large plots, especially in relation to soil loss. These plots were useful for short-term assessments of soil erosion.