We compare seasonal changes in cloud‐radiative forcing (CRF) at the top of the atmosphere from 18 atmospheric general circulation models, and observations from the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE). To enhance the CRF signal and suppress interannual variability, we consider only zonal mean quantities for which the extreme months (January and July), as well as the northern and southern hemispheres, have been differenced. Since seasonal variations of the shortwave component of CRF are caused by seasonal changes in both cloudiness and solar irradiance, the latter was removed. In the ERBE data, seasonal changes in CRF are driven primarily by changes in cloud amount. The same conclusion applies to the models. The shortwave component of seasonal CRF is a measure of changes in cloud amount at all altitudes, while the longwave component is more a measure of upper level clouds. Thus important insights into seasonal cloud amount variations of the models have been obtained by comparing both components, as generated by the models, with the satellite data. For example, in 10 of the 18 models the seasonal oscillations of zonal cloud patterns extend too far poleward by one latitudinal grid.