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Toughest Exams in the World 2023

Updated on 09 November, 2023

Shivangi Mishra

Shivangi Mishra

Sr. Content Editor

Study Abroad

The world is full of challenging exams, but some are truly tests of endurance, intellect, and skill. These toughest exams in the world are so difficult that they only admit the very best of the best. From the Gaokao in China and IIT in India to the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam, these exams are a gauntlet of knowledge and ability. They require years of preparation and dedication; only a few ever pass.


List of Toughest Exams in the World

Determining the “hardest exams in the world” can be subjective and can vary depending on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. However, several exams are widely recognized for their difficulty and high level of competitiveness. Here is the list of some of the most challenging exams:

Mensa IQ Test

The Mensa IQ test, administered by Mensa International, is designed to evaluate a person's intelligence and cognitive abilities. It aims to identify individuals with exceptional intellect, placing them in the top 2% of the entire world population. Achieving a high score on the test qualifies individuals for membership in Mensa, offering opportunities to connect with intellectually curious peers and engage in stimulating discussions and activities.

  • An IQ score between 85 to 145, where 100 is the population average, is used in this online exam to indicate general cognitive abilities.
  •  As part of the test, 35 riddles in the form of visual patterns must be answered in the allotted 25 minutes for this test.

Master Sommelier Diploma Examination

The Court of Master Sommeliers administers the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination. It consists of three levels: an oral theory test (there is no written test), a deductive tasting of six wines, and a practical wine service test. This is one of the world’s most toughest exams as the difficulty and intricacy of each level rise.

  • For the Master Sommelier level, a passing grade for each section is 75%.
  • Students have three years to pass the remaining two parts of the test after passing the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination-THEORY.
  • A team of Master Sommeliers judges the exam.
  • The full exam must be taken again if all three sections are not passed within three years. 
  • Students may apply to take the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination if they pass the Advanced Sommelier Examination, which typically has a pass rate of between 25% and 30%. The Master Sommelier Diploma Examination-THEORY has a pass rate of about 10%.

 All Souls Prize Fellowship Examination

The All Souls Prize Fellowship Examination is a highly competitive and intellectually rigorous test held at All Souls College, Oxford. Here are the key points:

  • The college sets a written examination, consisting of four papers of three hours each. Two of these are in your chosen specialist subject – Classical Studies, Law, History, English Literature, Economics, Politics, or Philosophy.
  • Consists of essay-based questions requiring in-depth analysis and originality.
  • Fellows may pursue academic careers or non-academic professions.
  • The examination includes written papers, a viva voce, and an assessment by the Fellowship.

The All Souls Prize Fellowship Examination is a significant achievement for candidates, with academic excellence as the primary criterion for selection. It indeed falls into the category of the hardest exams in the world.

The California Bar Examination

 The California Bar Examination is a 2-day examination administered by the State Bar of California. Administered by the State Bar of California.

  • Day one includes the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), which covers topics like contracts, torts, constitutional law, and more.
  • Day two includes the California-specific examination, focusing on state-specific laws and legal practices.
  • Successful candidates can embark on a legal career in California, representing clients and advocating for justice in various legal fields.

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

 The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exam is a globally recognized and highly respected certification program for finance and investment professionals. Here are the key points:

  •  Comprises three levels: Level I, Level II, and Level III.
  • Tests candidates on a wide range of topics, including ethics, economics, financial reporting, portfolio management, and more.
  • Level I is offered twice a year (in June and December), while Level II and Level III are offered once a year (in June).
  •  Candidates must pass all three levels sequentially, and the pass rates are generally low.
  • CFA charter holders are qualified for various roles in finance, including investment analysis, portfolio management, and financial advisory services.


Gaokao, also known as the National College Entrance Examination, is China's standardized national examination for high school students.

  • Conducted annually in June, Gaokao is a crucial test for Chinese students seeking admission to undergraduate programs at Chinese universities.
  • The examination covers subjects such as Chinese, Mathematics, Foreign Languages, and Sciences, with additional subjects based on the student's chosen major.
  • Gaokao results have a significant impact on a student's future education and career opportunities in China.

UPSC Civil Services Examination

The UPSC Civil Services Examination is a prestigious and highly competitive examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in India. Conducted annually, the exam is a gateway to various prestigious civil services and administrative positions in the Indian government. Successful candidates join the IAS, IPS, IFS, and other esteemed civil services, contributing to the nation's governance and development.

  • Comprises three stages: Preliminary Examination, Main Examination, and Personality Test (Interview).
  • Tests candidates on a wide range of subjects, including General Studies, Essay Writing, and Optional Subjects.
  • The Preliminary Examination consists of objective-type questions, while the Main Examination is a written test.
  • The Personality Test evaluates candidates' communication skills, personality traits, and suitability for administrative roles.

Indian Institutes of Technology Joint Entrance Examination

Who doesn’t know the competitiveness of the IIT exam in India? The IIT-JEE (Indian Institutes of Technology Joint Entrance Examination) is a highly competitive entrance exam conducted in India for admission to undergraduate engineering programs at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).

  • The exam assesses students' knowledge in Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics.
  • Consists of two parts: JEE Main and JEE Advanced.
  • JEE Main is the first stage and serves as a qualifying exam for JEE Advanced.
  • JEE Advanced is the second and more challenging stage, allowing admission to the IITs.
  • It is one of India's toughest engineering entrance exams, and offers students a chance to study at prestigious IITs.

Recommeded Article: How to Study Abroad

The toughest exams in the world are a rite of passage for some of the most brilliant minds on the planet. They're a test of your intelligence, your dedication, and your ability to handle pressure. But if you're able to pass these exams, then you'll be well on your way to achieving your goals.

Read More:


How can candidates prepare for world's most difficult exam?

Preparation usually involves intensive study, practice, and dedication. Many candidates opt for coaching, study materials, and mock tests to enhance their chances of success.

Which is the toughest exam in the world?

Overall, Mensa IQ test is considered to be the world’s most toughest exam.  It aims to identify individuals with exceptional intellect, placing them in the top 2% of the entire world population. IIT-JEE, UPSC, Gaokao, All Souls Prize Fellowship Examination are some of the other tough exams. 

Shivangi Mishra

Sr. Content Editor

She is an experienced writer and journalist who has extensively covered the education sector in India and Abroad. Now helping Indian aspirants realise their foreign education dream by providing them with relevant content and information through upGrad Abroad. Amateur traveller, loves to read Architectural Digest!

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