Students can improve through the use of learning logs, journals, diaries and electronic portfolios, the UK's first review of international literature on personal development planning has concluded.
But the review has not unearthed evidence to back claims that PDP improves employability prospects.
PDP - which involves students in planning, monitoring and reflecting on their academic work and extracurricular activities - along with transcripts of student achievement, are the two central planks of the government's strategy to replace degree classifications with student progress files.
Strong evidence to back policy claims about PDP has been lacking.
Universities and colleges have to introduce PDP by 2005 on the recommendation of the Quality Assurance Agency, Universities UK and the Standing Conference of Principals.
The higher education white paper heralded a progress review on the use of personal development portfolios and transcripts. It says: "We want them to be used to enable learners to understand and reflect on their achievements, and to present to employers, institutions and other stakeholders."
The Learning and Teaching Support Network commissioned the PDP review, from London's Institute of Education's Eppi-Centre. A user group of 12 educationists and students sought evidence that "processes that connect learning, recording and action planning improve student learning".
More than 14,000 English-language PDP references were identified on the Eppi-Centre database. Twenty-five were judged to provide the best research evidence and were analysed.
David Gough, head of the research team, said that "in terms of changing attainment via PDP", all the studies suggested that planning was effective.
Norman Jackson, senior adviser at the LTSN Generic Centre, said: "A wide range of positive outcomes were reported, including improved practical and cognitive skills, attitudes to learning and reflection, knowledge of learning styles, and improved autonomy and achievement.
"This is the first time that Eppi-Centre systematic review methodology has been tried in UK higher education. It makes an important contribution to the research literature of student learning."
An inter-agency student progress file implementation group, with representatives from UUK, Scop, the QAA and the LTSN, was established in 2000. It works closely with the Centre for Recording Achievement and the Personal Development Planning in HE Scotland.
A conference is planned in May to bring together teachers, students, education developers, researchers and policy-makers to consider how to make use of the findings.