How do we define competence in emergency medicine (EM), and how do we know when a resident has achieved it? In recent years, the idea of physician competence has become widely recognized as being multidimensional. This has resulted in an emphasis on competency-based education and assessment. We describe an up-to-date model to assess competence in EM. An overview of appropriate EM assessment tools is provided, along with their significant strengths and limitations. Sample behaviours representative of core competencies commonly assessed in EM training are matched to appropriate assessment tools. This review may serve as an introductory resource for EM clinicians, teachers and educators involved in EM trainee assessment.