Which is the Toughest Exam in the World?


Are you one of the students preparing for a long-time to crack an exam that will lead you to your career goal? Or are you currently in a dilemma about how attending these exams will place you later in life?

We all know that living the student life is sometimes hard and puts us in a delicate position to be responsible for many things. Most of them are about getting through the exams, passing them with a top score and being in a good and safe position to move to the next phase of our life with ease.

In today's blog, we will alleviate some of your worries by discussing and sharing the general information about some of the toughest exams in the world, their benefits, and the opportunities it provides the students. Without further ado, let's get into the topic.

Did You Know: - "The world's first recorded Examination was conducted in China in the 19th century by an American Businessman and Philanthropist, Henry Fischel, to appoint government officials in the then Sui Dynasty, which laid the foundation for today's examination."

TOP 10 Toughest Exam in the World

Here are the Top 10 Toughest Exam in the World : 

  • Gaokao
  • UPSC Civil Services Exam (CSE)
  • Joint Entrance Examination
  • Master Sommelier Diploma Exam
  • All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam
  • Mensa IQ Test
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
  • Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE)
  • Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE)
  • Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT)


The National Higher Education Entrance Examination or National College Entrance Examination, popularly known as Gaokao, is a compulsory annual exam for millions of final-year high school students who aspire to higher education in China. It is the Chinese equivalent of the SAT exam in the USA and the A-level exam in England. The exam is usually held between June 7 and 9 each year and can last up to 10 hours.

Though Gaokao is meant for third-year high school students with an average age of 18, preparations for it start much earlier because pupils are charged to commit 12 years of their early lives to prepare for this extremely tough exam. Gaokao's toughness has made it acceptable to some American and European universities.

This exam is so complex that it leaves much psychological trauma on students, parents, and teachers. It has been reported that the rates of suicide, depression and mental breakdowns spike around the Gaokao period. Documentaries have been made on students' mental discomfort sitting for the exam pass-through.

Gaokao examinees are expected to tackle very difficult questions like math, chemistry, biology, physics, Chinese literature, geography, political science, etc. 

UPSC Civil Services Exam (CSE)

UPSC is an acronym for Union Public Service Commission. The Commission is a government organisation responsible for conducting India's Civil Services Examination (CSE). The primary objective of this 100-year-old exam is to identify the brightest candidates for employment in civil service agencies such as the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS), etc. Only around 1000 applicants will eventually be employed out of an annual average of 500,000. You must be up to 21 years of age before sitting for this challenging exam.

The exam is administered in two phases:

  • The preliminary phase consists of two general studies papers with objective questions. It is conducted in March every year.
  • The main phase includes seven subjective-question papers followed by an oral interview. It is conducted in December every year.

The interview is for those that have managed to survive the rigorous objective and subjective exams. An interview panel determines each interviewee's suitability via intelligence, personality, and logical reasoning tests. The highest-ranked students in the UPSC exam often do not score more than 40%, a testament to how difficult this exam is.

Joint Entrance Examination

The Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) emerged in 2013 as a replacement for the Indian Institutes of Technology-Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE). It is designed to screen Indian high school students wishing for tertiary studies in its premier engineering institutions. Part of the reasons that make the JEE a nightmare for students is the vast syllabus they have to cover and the unpredictable nature of the exam.

Success rates have been estimated to be around 1%, telling you the herculean task JEE's candidates face. The JEE does not impose an age limit. However, candidates are expected to sit for it within three years of completing grade 12.

It is also conducted on two levels like the UPSC:

  • The JEE Main lasts for three hours and 30 minutes. It comes in three different papers that facilitate entrance into programmes leading to the award of bachelor's degrees in engineering, technology, architecture, and planning.
  • The JEE Advanced lasts for three hours and is meant for students seeking admission into India's dozen IITs.

Master Sommelier Diploma Exam

The Master of Sommelier Diploma Exam is conducted by individuals known as the Court of Master Sommeliers. It is an exam that seeks to encourage improved standards in beverage knowledge and the service provided in hotels and restaurants and the entire hospitality industry. This is one challenging exam to prepare for with a meagre 10% average success rate (often after several attempts). Since 1969 when it was first held in the UK, only 269 men and women worldwide have managed to achieve success in it.

The minimum passing score for each of the three sections is 75%.

Students must first pass the first part of the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination ( i.e. the Theory) and then have three consecutive years to pass the remaining two parts of the examination (Practical Restaurant Wine Service and Salesmanship; and Practical Tasting). Thus, a student who passes one or two parts this year must retake the failed part(s) within two years. If all three elements are not handed over in three years, the entire exam must be retaken.

Quick Read: Diploma Courses in UK for International Students

All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam

The All Souls Prize Fellowship exam is considered the most challenging exam by some. It is extremely hard to prepare for due to the abstract nature of the questions. The questions are also tricky because they are subjective and have no glaring correct or incorrect answers (e.g., is vegetarianism the future?). Consequently, only one-twentieth of Oxford graduates who initiate the process are invited to continue it.

It is conducted by the All Souls College of the University of Oxford. It aims to help the college elect new examination or prize fellows into its ranks by identifying students with exceptional abilities in argument and analysis. Other attributes sought include breadth of knowledge, independence of judgement and thought, clarity and carefulness of exposition, and awareness of unresolved difficulties.

Between 80 to 100 candidates sit for the exam every autumn (September/early October), out of which two (sometimes only one) fellow emerges. The prize is a seven-year fellowship at Oxford University that includes pecuniary remuneration, allowances, and entitlements.

Each of the exam's four papers lasts for three hours. Two of the four subjects are specialist subjects in any of the following areas or topics:

  • economics
  • classical studies
  • English literature
  • law
  • politics
  • history
  • philosophy

Candidates are free to write their two specialist papers under any of the above subjects. The very few candidates who survive the exam are invited to present a viva – an oral explanation of their answers. Among the many notable former fellows include Isaiah Berlin and Joseph Stiglitz. Harold Wilson and John Buchan are some legions that could not pass this very tough exam. Before the exam format was changed in 2010, candidates only had to write a three-hour essay about one word (e.g., love).

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Mensa IQ Test

Mensa is the world's largest and oldest high IQ society. This non-profit organisation conducts a very tough test for intending members to measure their abilities in areas like logic, reasoning, and problem-solving. Any candidates who reach a score within the upper 2% of the entire population from the Mensa test (or any other tests it approves) becomes a member. Age is no barrier since Mensa's membership is known to range from as little as a 2-year-old to those over 100 years of age. Mensa currently boasts a membership strength of around 145,000 in nearly 100 countries.

In a nutshell, Mensa is one organisation that is highly respected all over the world so scaling through its very tasking IQ test is a cause for celebration.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

This is a three-level test organised yearly by the CFI Institute to evaluate the capabilities of professionals in the field of finance. It has been described as one of the toughest exams in finance. The Wall Street Journal sees it as probably the most demanding exam globally. According to the journal, statistics support this claim because less than one-fifth of the examinees manage to scale through this mountain of an exam (though most succeed after multiple attempts).

There are 240 questions to be answered within six hours for each of the three levels of the CFA test. The questions in two levels are in the objective format, while the remaining level comprises subjective questions. After negotiating these three levels successfully (it will take an average candidate four attempts to achieve this), you must garner four years of professional or work experience before finally being awarded the CFA Charter. Over 100,000 finance sector operators in more than 100 nations seek this charter each year.

Quick Reads: CFA Courses

Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE)

Introduced in 1993, the CCIE is CISCO's most prestigious certification for network engineers. It is also the most difficult. Some consider it the strictest certification in the entire information technology industry. According to CISCO, less than 1% of network engineers eventually acquire this career-enhancing certification. Because of its very tough nature, it is recommended that intending examinees have between 7 to 10 years of industry experience, including in-depth knowledge of networking technologies.

Cisco uses this exam to determine the competency levels of those seeking certification to plan, operate, and troubleshoot its vast networking technologies and equipment. The six-part exam comprises two phases – a written exam and an eight-hour practical lab test. In 2020, Cisco made specific changes, one of which saw the CCIE written exam (which can be written on the internet) double as the written exam for another Cisco certification, the CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional).

Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE)

GATE is a computer-based annual examination for engineering graduates pursuing postgraduate degrees or working in PSUs. Apart from India, GATE is recognised in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, UAE, Germany, and Nepal. The IISc and seven other IITs conduct it on behalf of the Indian government.

The 3-hour exam comprises 65 questions, 10 on general aptitude (verbal and numerical ability). At the same time, the remaining 55 are technical questions based on the paper chosen by the candidate. GATE exam questions may not be the most difficult in the world, but what makes the exam challenging is the vast syllabus the students have to contend with. On average, over 700,000 candidates sit for GATE every February.

Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT)

The LNAT is a test developed by some universities in the UK to evaluate candidates applying for a law programme. It is important to note that this complex exam does not seek to measure educational achievement directly but instead focuses on the aptitude of the examinees, especially crucial verbal reasoning skills needed to practice law.

These include:

  • comprehension
  • interpretation
  • analysis
  • synthesis
  • induction
  • deduction

These diverse aptitude measurements make this annual exam a tough nut to crack. The LNAT is divided into two sections and lasts for nearly two and a half hours. Section A consists of 42 objective questions to be tackled in 95 minutes. Section B has three essay questions from which the candidate is expected to select and answer one within 40 minutes.

Exams have been around in one form or the other since ancient times. They are usually meant to elicit particular responses from the examinees. With the rapid adoption of exams and the expansion of education worldwide, many kinds of exams with varying levels of toughness are now available, including on the internet. The ten exams listed above are some of the toughest on the planet. However, this selection can easily be expanded because several other exams can also be considered strenuous. No matter how tough these and other exams are, a hardworking, diligent student will always be prepared and eventually overcome any examination.

USMLE - United States Medical Licensing Examination

USMLE is a medical entrance examination conducted in the US for medical students. This is mandatory exam students have to sit for to earn their medical license or medical licensure, as they say in the U.S, to practice medicine in the country. This is a 3-step test each step assesses a certain level of medical knowledge of the students. Students must clear all three steps to earn their medical license rightfully. USMLE is considered one of the toughest exams to crack in the world.

Chartered Accountant (CA)

Chartered Accountant is one of the fanciest professions in India, meaning highly-regarded and desired by lakhs and lakhs of Indian students. To earn this position, students must take the CA - Chartered Accountancy exam and clear it. The exam has three levels - CA Foundation, CA Intermediate and CA Final. Only if a student clears all the levels passing every single subject in a particular level he/she can be termed and assigned the professional title - Chartered Accountant and legally practice the profession in India.

The ICAI - Institute of Chartered Accountants of India is the governing body of the exam and conducts the exam twice a year in May and November.

Level 1 - CA Foundation

The first level is the CA Foundation exam which has a set of 4 papers. The four papers are,

  • Principles and Practice of Accounting
  • Business Laws and Business Correspondence and Reporting
  • Business Mathematics, Logical Reasoning and Statistics
  • Business Economics and Business and Commercial Knowledge.

Level - 2 Intermediate Course

Level 2 is the Intermediate Exam in which the questions are framed from eight subjects. The level is divided into two groups, each having four papers.

Ist Group

  • Accounting
  • Corporate and Other Laws
  • Cost and Management Accounting
  • Taxation - Direct Tax Laws and Indirect Tax Laws

IInd Group

  • Advanced Accounting
  • Auditing and Assurance
  • I.T and Strategic Management
  • Financial Management and Business Economic Environment

Level 3 - CA Final

CA Final is the last level and has eight papers. The CA Final exam is divided into two groups, each having four papers.

Ist Group

  • Financial Reporting
  • Strategic Financial Management
  • Advanced Auditing and Ethical Techniques
  • Corporate and Allied (Economic) Laws

IInd Group

  • Strategic Cost Management and Performance Evaluation
  • Advanced Management Accounting
  • Direct Tax Laws and International Taxation
  • Indirect Tax Laws

California Bar Exam

California Bar Exam, one of the many toughest exams conducted around the world, is a two-day long exam conducted by the State Bar of California, a branch of California's Supreme Court. Attending the exam is a must for law students to obtain their license to practice Law in California legally. The questions in the exam are prepared by the Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE) so that the students fully comprehend California State's Laws and Orders.

The exam is conducted twice a year in February and July on the last Tuesday and Wednesday in those months. The exam must be taken after students complete their first year of law school.

Indian Engineering Services (IES) Exam

The next in the line of toughest exams conducted in the world is the Indian Engineering Services (IES) exam. The other official name for the IES exam is the Engineering Services Examination (ESE). The exam is conducted by India's Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). By the name, we can conclude the reason for the exam being conducted is to recruit Engineering officers who wish to serve in the Indian Public Sector of Economy.

The Indian Public Sector of Economy consists of Indian Railways, Power, Telecommunications, Central Water Engineering, Defence Service of Engineers and Central Engineering Service. The selected candidates work under the Government of India as Class -1 officers.

The selected candidates work in the four Engineering departments of India namely,

Eligibility - The UPSC allows only Engineering graduates to take the IES exam, and students have to select their papers only from the mentioned 4 departments to work as Class -1 officers.

Exam Pattern - The exam is divided into stages: Stage I, II and III. Students must clear all the stages to be appointed as IES officers. The age limit to attend the exam is from 21 to 30 years.

Entrance Exams to Study Abroad

Studying abroad is an aspiration for many young students worldwide. But many students are unaware of the basic eligibility or the first step to move towards their goal. Suppose a student is a non-native speaker of a language which is the official language of the country they are visiting to pursue their study. In that case, they have to take the country's language proficiency test to study in the country rightfully. Let us see the various most-predominant entrance exams to study abroad.

1. TOEFL and IELTS - TOEFL ( Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS ( International English Language Testing System) are the most popular exams to study abroad, especially in English-speaking countries. Both exams are popular and the most-preferred exams by students because they are the accepted exams by the majority of the Universities in the English-speaking regions.

2. GRE - GRE or the Graduate Record Examination, administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), is a common entrance exam to study various courses like general science courses, engineering, business and law abroad. The GRE score is accepted in various countries like the US, UK, Canada, Europe, Singapore and Australia. Students must have a bachelor's degree to attend the GRE, as it is an entrance exam to study master's in the above-mentioned countries.

3. GMAT - Graduate Management Admission Test is an entrance test mostly taken to study Business courses abroad. The GMAT test score is accepted by the USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and France.

4. SAT - Scholastic Aptitude Test is another entrance exam which can be taken by students all over the world to pursue their higher study in the countries like US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore.

5. MSAT and LSAT - MCAT - Medical College Admission Test is intended for medical students who wish to study medicine in US, Canada and Australia. Similarly, law students or aspirants can take the LSAT - Law School Admission Test to study Law in the USA, Canada and Australia.

Scholarship Exams for Undergraduates to Study Abroad

To avail of scholarships to study abroad (generally called scholarships abroad), students can take the above-mentioned exams (which are mentioned for studying abroad), as abroad universities accept those exam scores to distribute scholarships to the eligible candidates ( students who scored bands or points set by those universities for them to avail scholarships).

AECC, one of the dedicated study-abroad service providers, will expeditiously guide and assist you with all your study-abroad needs. We always strive to provide the best services for students to help them reach their study-abroad goals at the right time. We will match you with our expert in-house counsellors, who will take you forward and solve your needs with maximum liability. Reach us by visiting our offices nearest you or through any social media handles.


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