Information on the performance of the Rothamsted organic carbon turnover model (RothC model) in predicting changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) in short-term experiments is scarce. In Mexico, it was found that these experiments covered not more than 20 years. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate short-term SOC prediction performance of the RothC model in the following systems: (1) farming with residues added (A+R), (2) farming with no added residues (A−R), (3) pure forest stands (F), (4) grasslands (GR) and (5) rangeland (RL). Work was done in five experimental sites: Atécuaro, Michoacán; Santiago Tlalpan, Tlaxcala; El Batán, State of Mexico; Sierra Norte, Oaxaca; and Linares, Nuevo León. Carbon (C) inputs to the soil were plant residues and organic fertilizers, which need to be known to operate the RothC model. The adjustment coefficients for site modelling had R2 values of 0·77–0·95 and model efficiency (EF) was −0·60 to 0·93. When RothC performance was evaluated by a system, R2 values were 0·06–0·92 and EF was −0·24 to 0·90. The low R2 and EF values in rangelands were attributed to the fact that these systems are complex because of heterogeneous vegetation, soil and climate. In general, the evaluation of the RothC model indicates that it can be useful in simulating SOC changes in temperate and warm climate sites and in farming, forest and grassland systems in Mexico.