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Top 10 Toughest Exams in the World in 2024

Updated on 05 June, 2024

Shivangi Mishra

Shivangi Mishra

Sr. Content Editor

Study Abroad

In a world where academic and professional excellence is celebrated, certain examinations emerge as Herculean tasks, challenging the intellect and resolve of the bravest souls. These aren't just tests; they're monumental milestones that carve paths for the future leaders, innovators, and pioneers. From the intense pressure of China's Gaokao to the intellectual marathon of India's UPSC Civil Services, we uncover the top 10 toughest exams that promise glory to those who dare conquer them. Prepare to be amazed, inspired, and perhaps, a bit intimidated. The world is full of challenging exams, but some are true 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 10 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 10 most challenging exams:

1. Mensa IQ

Mensa International, UK, 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. Those who have achieved a score at or above the 98th percentile on a standard test of intelligence qualify for Mensa.

Mensa IQ: Highlights

No. of exam takersThe test is open to anyone who can demonstrate an IQ in the top two percent of the population
Exam patternAs part of the test, 35 riddles in the form of visual patterns must be answered in the allotted 25 minutes for this test
Pass rateIndia has around 3000 members who have qualified for Mensa membership. There are around 140,000 worldwide

2. 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. The full exam must be taken again if all three sections are not passed within three years. 

Master Sommelier Diploma : Highlights

CountryUK and USA
No. of exam takersStudents 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%
Exam patternIt 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
Pass rateThe Master Sommelier Diploma Examination-THEORY has a pass rate of about 10%

3. 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. 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 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.

All Souls Prize Fellowship: Highlights

No. of exam takersOxford students can apply.
Exam patternThe examination includes written papers, a viva voce, and an assessment by the Fellowship
Pass rateEvery year, the college elects two fellows. They must be enrolled at Oxford or completed a first degree from the institute

4. The California Bar Examination

 The California Bar Examination is a 2-day examination administered by the State Bar of California. The exam covers a wide range of legal subjects and applicants must score at least a 1440 out of 2000 points in order to pass the exam. This pass score required is higher than in some other US states. 

California Bar Exam: Highlights

No. of exam takers3000+
Exam patternFive one-hour essay questions. One 90-minute Performance Test. The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), typically 200 multiple-choice questions
Pass rate51.5% in 2023

5. Gaokao

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.

Gaokao: Highlights

No. of exam takers10,00,000+
Exam patternThe two main subjects, Chinese and math, are each worth 150 points. Other subjects are each worth 100 points
Pass rateUnder 1% for admission to top colleges

6. 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.

UPSC: Highlights

No. of exam takersApproximately 10,00,000
Exam patternPrelims, Mains, and Interview
Pass rateLess than 1% 

7. Indian Institutes of Technology Joint Entrance Examination

Who doesn’t know the competitiveness of the IIT exam in India? The IIT-JEE, also known as JEE Advanced, is a highly competitive entrance exam conducted in India for admission to undergraduate engineering programs at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Students must pass JEE Main to appear for JEE Advanced. The exam assesses students' knowledge in Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics.

IIT-JEE: Highlights

No. of exam takers10 lakh + in JEE Main
2 lakh + in JEE Advanced
Exam patternMCQ-based
Pass rate25-30% in JEE Advanced

8. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Examination

Overview: The CFA Examination is a global passport to the world of finance, offering three levels of exams that test candidates on a wide range of investment topics. Regarded as one of the most difficult financial certifications, it demands an average of 300 hours of study per level.

CFA Exam Highlights
No. of Exam TakersOver 250,000 candidates take the exam annually worldwide.
Exam PatternEach level of the exam features a mix of formats, including multiple-choice questions, essays, and item set questions, covering topics from ethical and professional standards to portfolio management and wealth planning.
Pass RateHistorically, the pass rates hover around 42% for Level I, 45% for Level II, and 56% for Level III, reflecting the exam's challenging nature.
Path to CertificationCandidates must pass all three levels and gain relevant work experience to earn their CFA charter, a journey that often takes four to five years.

9. United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)

Overview: The USMLE is a three-step examination for medical licensure in the United States, assessing a physician's ability to apply knowledge, concepts, and principles, and to demonstrate fundamental patient-centered skills.

USMLE Exam Highlights
No. of Exam TakersMedical students and graduates from the U.S. and around the world.
Exam PatternThe USMLE consists of three steps, including multiple-choice questions and patient simulations. Step 1 tests basic science knowledge; Step 2 CK (Clinical Knowledge) tests clinical science principles; Step 2 CS (Clinical Skills) assesses clinical skills through patient interactions; and Step 3 focuses on patient management in an ambulatory setting.
Pass RatePass rates vary by step and applicant type but are generally high, with first-time takers from U.S. medical schools achieving rates above 90% for Steps 1 and 2 CK.
Path to CertificationPassing the USMLE is essential for any medical graduate seeking to practice medicine in the United States.

10. Architect Registration Examination (ARE)

Overview: The ARE is a multi-part professional licensing examination that architects must pass to practice in the United States. It assesses candidates on various aspects of architecture practice, including project management, legal considerations, and building design.

ARE Exam Highlights
No. of Exam TakersAspiring architects seeking licensure in the U.S.
Exam PatternThe ARE consists of six divisions, covering practice management, project management, programming & analysis, project planning & design, project development & documentation, and construction & evaluation. The exam format includes multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and hot spot questions, as well as case studies.
Pass RateThe pass rates for each division range from approximately 50% to 70%, depending on the division and year.
Path to CertificationIn addition to passing the ARE, candidates must also complete the Architectural Experience Program (AXP) and meet their state's licensure requirements to practice as a licensed architect.

These examinations are more than mere assessments; they are rites of passage that test resilience, intellect, and the human spirit. To conquer them is to join an elite cadre of individuals who've not only mastered their fields but have also demonstrated extraordinary dedication and perseverance. As we marvel at these academic colossi, let's draw inspiration from the journey of these brave souls, for in the heart of challenge lies the true essence of achievement. 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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