The following is from Oxford's Application Guide webpage. It's talking about the English proficiency test that one must take:

The University only accepts certain standardised test results – IELTS, TOEFL iBT, Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) and Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE). The English language test must have been taken within two years of the date your programme will commence.

I can't figure it out. Would this mean two years BEFORE the date of the programme commencement or AFTER?

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Chenmunka, jimsug, Em1, CoolHandLouis Jun 25 '14 at 14:40

  • This question does not appear to be about learning the English language within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about interpretation of wording which is inherently ambiguous at the level of the English language. ELL is not here to pass judgement on what official requirements actually apply at any given establishment using these words. – FumbleFingers Jun 24 '14 at 21:15
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    ...logically one might suppose in OP's case, within = before, but much the same wording occurs in For an innovation patent, substantive examination must be completed within six months of the date of the Examiner's first report, where it seems pretty obvious that within refers to following time. – FumbleFingers Jun 24 '14 at 21:22
  • I'm agreeing with FumbleFingers, deleting my answer, and voting to close. – CoolHandLouis Jun 25 '14 at 14:40
  • I guess there's a rule of thumb that if you ever think you might need to to say "but make sure you check with..." -- even as a small caveat -- then it might just fall under this close vote reason. :) – CoolHandLouis Jun 25 '14 at 14:45

Answer withdrawn. I have concluded based on other comments it could mislead future language learners.

Also, nobody should rely on anyone's stackexchange opinion (including selected correct or highly rated answers) regarding official standards that you must comply with. Check with the department to validate anything

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    I think, out of context, its literal meaning would be: abs(FutureDate - TestTakenDate) <= 2 years. The ambiguity didn't occur in the context because it's only logical, according to the context, to understand it as the TestTakenDate must be before FutureDate. In other words, the condition is: 0 days <= FutureDate - TestTakenDate <= 2 years. – Damkerng T. Jun 25 '14 at 13:20

From what I can tell without context, it's poorly written. The combination of "have been" and "will" makes the timeframe difficult to determine. It would be better to write either of the following options:

The English language test must be taken within two years prior to the date your programme will commence.

The English language test must have been taken within two years of the date your programme commences.

In the original form, "have been" and "will" seem like they were intended to sandwich the reference frame between a point in the future and a point that will definitely be in the past by the time this future point is reached (and may already be in the past).

In any case, it means that the results of the test can only qualify you for admittance for programs that begin two years after you take it. If it will have been more than two years since the test by the time the program starts, you must take the test again.


The question is: is the test a condition for admittance/commencement?

If the test is required for admittance and beginning the program(me), I read this as "you must have taken the test within the 2 years immediately prior to your starting date." So BEFORE.

This seems like the most likely scenario.

If, however, the test is a condition of graduation/continued enrollment that need not be complete before beginning the program, then you could read it as 2yrs either before OR after the start date. It depends on the actual requirement.

The easy solution: take it twice! A few months prior for a baseline score, and after nearly 2yrs in the program when your score will have surely improved :)

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