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As Cambridge embraces widening participation, the emerging attention to awarding gaps incudes the recognition that the ‘hidden curriculum’ around examination practices can privilege particular cohorts of students over others. The hidden curriculum runs alongside the formal curriculum (classroom- based, actively taught) and the informal curriculum (opportunities for learning that arise outside of formal teaching encounters). It involves the unwritten rules, assumptions, rituals and taken-for-granted aspects of assessment which students are expected to conform to, which are not necessarily evident in the formal curriculum, or known by students before they arrive at the University.

For instance, a key recommendation from Re-imagining Attainment for All (RAFA 2, 2020) is to provide greater transparency in the process of assessment and the communication of high expectations to all students; that is, a focus on ‘assessment literacy’.

Assessment literacy means having a sound knowledge of the connection between assessment and learning, the expectations of particular methods of assessment, and an understanding about how they will be evaluated (Price et al 2012). This is helpful for students as it enables them to progress in their learning by making the most of formative feedback and how they are progressing, and it is helpful for staff as it builds a shared 3 understanding of assessment mapped across the programme. In their report Disparities in Student Attainment Cousin and Cureton (2012, p16) observed that good assignment briefs increase assessment literacy for both staff and students, reduce student anxiety, and raise students’ confidence in their ability to achieve and, crucially, impact on their attainment.


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