© 2015 Optical Society of America. We demonstrate a highly realistic model of optical coherence tomography, based on an existing model of coherent optical microscopes, which employs a full wave description of light. A defining feature of the model is the decoupling of the key functions of an optical coherence tomography system: sample illumination, light-sample interaction and the collection of light scattered by the sample. We show how such a model can be implemented using the finite-difference time-domain method to model light propagation in general samples. The model employs vectorial focussing theory to represent the optical system and, thus, incorporates general illumination beam types and detection optics. To demonstrate its versatility, we model image formation of a stratified medium, a numerical point-spread function phantom and a numerical phantom, based upon a physical three-dimensional structured phantom employed in our laboratory. We show that simulated images compare well with experimental images of a three-dimensional structured phantom. Such a model provides a powerful means to advance all aspects of optical coherence tomography imaging.