Top 10 Toughest Exams in the world for 2024

Exams are an inescapable part of modern life and have dictated the course of many of our lives. Though exams are not a mainstay in shaping our lives, it is important to keep track of them and be prepared for what is to come. While being prepared is necessary, it is also useful to think about tackling tough exams as challenges depending on your aspirations.

Here’s a look at the top 10 toughest exams in the world. Whether you plan and take these or not, it’s great to know what these are.

Table of contents

Which Country has the toughest exam in the world?

The general consensus is China. The Gokao exam in China has been deemed one of the toughest exams in the world. Spanning 9 hours over 2 – 3 days, the Gokao is the entrance examination that allows Chinese high school students to pursue bachelor’s courses. On an average, less than 0.25% of students typically get into China’s most elite colleges. While there is no specific pass or fail score, a candidate’s score determines which level of university or college he or she can apply to. About 12 million candidates write the Gokao every year.

If you are looking at specialised exams, then, the Master Sommelier Diploma could easily be classified as one of the toughest exams in the world. An exam about wine and wine tasting, the Master Sommelier exam does not reside in any one country. While its origins can be traced back to the UK in 1969, the Court of Master Sommeliers was established in 1977 as an international examining body for sommeliers. Since its establishment in 1969, only 273 professionals have received this diploma.

What are the top 10 toughest exams in the world?

As we take a look at and understand the most difficult exams in the world, it’s important to remember that this is a list of the steepest academic challenges and not a method of proving excellence. If these exams align with your ambitions and goals then you should aim to ace them. If not, then this is great for your general knowledge as well!

1. Master Sommelier Diploma

The Master Sommelier’s Diploma exam is said to be the toughest test for winemakers. It’s long and the last of its three sections is a blind wine tasting through which the candidates are supposed to identify the age and region where the wine was made. Some say there are more details to be provided such as the nature of the barrel it was kept in or the approximate temperature of storage etc. Only 269 people have passed this exam in the last 40 years.

What makes this exam tough?

The Master Sommelier Diploma is a prestigious certificate that is only awarded to those who have demonstrated excellence in wine tasting. It has only been awarded to 273 individuals since 1969.

The exam consists of three parts: Theory, Practical, and Tasting. The first two parts are given over the course of three days, while the third part is done on the last day.

In order to pass, one must achieve a minimum score of 90% in each section.

The exam has five sections:

  • 1) Identifying wines by grape variety and country/region
  • 2) Describing wines by varietal and style
  • 3) Judging wines by taste
  • 4) Pairing wine with food
  • 5) Demonstrating knowledge of wine law and industry practices.

Why do students take this exam?

This exam is one of the most difficult exams in the world. Students take this exam to prove their knowledge and skills about wine. The benefits of taking this exam are:

  • Achieving the highest level of wine certification
  • Getting to work in the wine industry
  • Learning about wines from all over the world

Fun facts and stats

A documentary has been made about the master sommelier exam following the journey of four applicants. Somm (2012) is an entertaining film and educational in understanding the process of becoming a master sommelier.

Candidates need to be familiar with about 10,000 wine grape varietals, the minutiae regarding their taste and storage as well as the legality from all around the world. The study time necessary is comparable to obtaining a medical degree (at least).


The Union Public Service Commission conducts an exam to assess candidates for various high-ranking positions in the executive body of the Government of India. The exam has a success rate of 0.1 to 0.4 percent every year. The exam consists not only of a written round of objective questions but also subjective ones and finally an interview round.

What makes this exam tough?

The UPSC exam is one of the toughest in India. It is hard to prepare for it and the questions are very tricky. Candidates are expected to be abreast of the latest political developments, general knowledge, read newspapers daily and show an aptitude for strategic thinking. However, it offers a lot of opportunities and a lot of job security in whichever field you’re interested in. The application procedure for it is not so tough. One can apply online, with a photocopy of his/her identity proof, the application fee and a short bio-data.

Why do students take this exam?

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is an organization that conducts recruitment examinations for various posts in the Indian government. The UPSC exam is conducted for the following posts:

  • Indian Administrative Service (IAS)
  • Indian Foreign Service (IFS)
  • Indian Police Service (IPS)
  • Central Secretariat Services (CSS)
  • Civil Services Examination (CSE)
  • Engineering Services Examination (ESE)
  • Combined Medical Services Examination and Dental Examination Exam (CMEDE).

All the aforementioned posts are integral parts of the Indian bureaucratic infrastructure. As such these positions hold a lot of prestige, job security, pension, etc.

Fun facts and stats

It takes at least a year to prepare for the UPSC exam. The prelims exam, mains and final interview are conducted over a period of about 9-10 months.

The UPSC examinations feature questions from all fields of inquiry but the most notorious ones known to all are the general knowledge and current affairs sections which feature as mainstays in the examinations history.

3. Gaokao

The Gaokao examination is the only examination that assesses Chinese students for their eligibility to enter any university and is, as such, an equally arduous and important exam. The Gaokao is often prepared for with great effort and diligence on the part of the candidates since it is the sole exam that may determine their fate. The exam is so challenging it rages on for more than a day. A very small 0.2 percent is able to score enough to get into top colleges in the country.

What makes this exam tough?

The Gaokao exam is a national examination that takes place at the end of high school. It is considered to be one of the most difficult exams in the world. In order to prepare for this exam, students are expected to study for over 10 hours every day, which can take up to a year and a half.

The Gaokao exam consists of two sections: math and language. Students are tested on their knowledge of math, Chinese, English, history and geography as well as their comprehension skills in all areas. The Gaokao exam is an important step into China’s higher education system which provides access to university education.

Why do students take this exam?

The Gaokao is the most important exam in China and is taken by all students, who are typically 17 years old. The Gaokao determines what high school a student gets into, which in turn determines what university they will attend. Students take the exam because it has become an ingrained part of society that has been around for generations.

Fun facts and stats

Gaokao is taken very seriously and tends to be a period of solemnity and grimness in China as all the participants, their parents and teachers take it very seriously. This has led to interesting effects like boosting the economy due to parents investing a lot of money on various comforts during this period of time.

Gaokao varies from region to region and is even longer than the SATs! Imagine the amount of dedication it would take to prepare for such an examination!

4. IIT-JEE Advanced

JEE advanced is a competitive exam conducted in India to test students who want to study in IITs. They are prestigious colleges that are often hailed as the best in their league. This exam is an objective type exam and often tests the candidate’s ability to perform quick calculations and estimations. Candidates learn many tricks and shortcuts in order to find a way to ace the examination since only thousands are accepted out of the many lakhs that apply.

What makes this exam tough?

The JEE advanced exam is one of the most challenging engineering exams in India. It is also one of the toughest engineering entrance exams in India.

The JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) advanced exam is a computer-based test for admission to graduate courses in engineering and architecture. It consists of three papers: Paper 1 (Mathematics), Paper 2 (Physics), and Paper 3 (Chemistry).

Paper 1 has two sections- Mathematics and Mathematical Methods, which test your knowledge of mathematics, geometry, trigonometry, and analytic geometry.

Paper 2 has two sections- Physics and Engineering Mechanics, which test your knowledge of physics as well as basic concepts like kinematics, statics etc.

Paper 3 has two sections- Chemistry and Engineering Materials Science, which test your knowledge of chemistry as well as basic concepts like crystallography, thermodynamics etc.

Moreover, the JEE Main is the qualifying exam to even apply for the JEE Advanced. Only the top scorers of the JEE Main exam are allowed to apply for JEE Advanced.

Why do students take this exam?

Students take the JEE Advanced exam to get a seat in the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) and other engineering institutes.

These are the most prestigious institutes in India. The students who get admission here, have a high probability of getting a well-paying job in their field of interest. The competition is tough and hence, JEE Advanced is taken as the first step toward achieving this goal.

Fun facts and stats

Over 6 lakh students registered for JEE in 2022 of which only 160,038 were eligible to take the JEE advanced exam. Furthermore, only 40,712 of that number passed JEE advanced.

An enterprising entrepreneur, Anand Kumar managed to teach hundreds of underprivileged students who went on to qualify in JEE advanced and Mains, a film called Super 30 (2019) has been made about him starring Hrithik Roshan.

5. All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam

The all souls fellowship exam is an examination conducted by Oxford with an extremely narrow success rate for all souls college which is part of the Oxford family. People who get fellowship through this exam get 7 years of free reign over research.

This exam is conducted by Oxford University and is an exam that truly deserves its spot in our list of top 10 toughest exams. Only 80 candidates appear for the exam and out of those only one or two are generally chosen at the end. Candidates are required to write four essays in total. There are other questions that need to be answered within a three-hour duration as well. All the questions are mainly informed by the disciplines that fall under the broad umbrella of the humanities

What makes this exam tough?

This exam is conducted by Oxford University and is an exam of difficulty. Candidates are required to write four essays in total. There are other questions that need to be answered within a three-hour duration as well. All the questions are mainly informed by the disciplines that fall under the broad umbrella of the humanities.

The All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam is a tough exam due to the difficulty of the questions. The questions are designed to test the knowledge of history, philosophy, literature etc. Those who are able to gain the fellowship will then proceed with Oxford excellence in similar fields.

Why do students take this exam?

The all souls exam leads to a prestigious fellowship within the fabled Oxford University. Here students are allowed to pursue research that is important to them with more degrees of freedom than in most academic spaces. Furthermore, those who have obtained the fellowship are encouraged to teach in Oxford as well.

Fun facts and stats

All souls is one of the wealthiest colleges in Oxford with a financial endowment of over 420 million pounds. It however does not count on tuition fees as a revenue income stream and depends almost wholly on its endowment.

The infamous essay portion of the fellowship examination has been a topic of popular discussion. Ranging from morality, integrity to style, water and others. These topics can seem extremely general, making it harder to formulate an excellent essay about the same.

6. Chartered Accountant

The CA exam is again, a three-level exam conducted by the Institute of chartered accountants India. Many try multiple attempts and fail at it. Overall, only about 10 percent of all candidates are able to pass this exam. It is a great advantage to become a chartered accountant as they earn very high salaries compared to many other jobs in the Indian context.

What makes this exam tough?

The Chartered Accountant exam is one of the toughest exams in the world. It is both a professional qualification and a personal achievement. The exam consists of two parts- Professional Practice and Personal Proficiency.

The Personal Practice section of the exam tests your knowledge of accounting, auditing, taxation, business law, finance and economics. The Personal Practice section also includes an ethics paper that tests your understanding of professional conduct and ethics in practice.

The Personal Practice section also includes an ethics paper that tests your understanding of professional conduct and ethics in practice. The Professional Practice section examines your ability to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations.

You will be tested on how you would handle actual work situations using accounting principles and practices to solve problems that arise in day-to-day business life. You will need to show you are able to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations by solving problems that arise in day-to-day business life with accounting

Why do students take this exam?

The Chartered Accountant qualification usually takes 3-4 years to complete, during which students are required to complete a number of exams and courses. Students can work for any organisation, including accountancy firms and non-accounting organisations.

The Chartered Accountant designation is highly sought after by many organisations because it has international recognition and it is regarded as a benchmark of professional competence in the accounting sector.

Fun facts and stats

Most people take a CA foundation course after completing high school (12th standard). And eventually have several attempts at passing the ICAI CA certification exam.

Becoming an ICAI CA in India is very comparable to taking the bar exam (for law) in the US.

7. CFA

CFA or Chartered Financial Analyst is one of the most challenging exams in the world. Every year about a lakh apply from various different countries. The CFA exam is a harrowing 6 hours of 240 questions. The exam is over three levels and the candidates in question have to possess 48 months of professional experience to become a CFA charter.

What makes this exam tough?

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam is a tough test for anyone. The CFA Institute estimates that only about 32% of candidates pass the examination on their first try.

The exam consists of three levels: Level I, Level II, and Level III. The CFA curriculum is divided into six broad areas of knowledge: equity securities, fixed-income securities, derivatives and other investments, financial institutions and markets, investment management and analysis and portfolio management.

Why do students take this exam?

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam is a three-level, ten-section test that covers the breadth of knowledge in the financial services industry.

The CFA exam is taken by students who plan to work in the financial services industry and want to show they have achieved a certain level of expertise. It has been said that taking the exam will help them get a better job, or get promoted faster.

The CFA designation is highly respected and valued by employers because it shows professional commitment to excellence in investment analysis and portfolio management.

Fun facts and stats

To apply for the CFA exam candidates need to have 4,000 hours of relevant work experience!

To pass the CA exam one must pass three 6 hour examinations. This can be brutal for those who do not test well.

8. Mensa

Mensa is a community of the most high IQ individuals in the world. To become a part of Mensa, candidates have to score within the 98th percentile. Those who are a part of Mensa are often considered to be geniuses.

To get into Mensa (or not) one needs to take a standardized IQ test. To become a part of Mensa, candidates have to score within the 98th percentile. While IQ tests are often believed to be the sole indicators of a person’s intelligence, this kind of intelligence can be trained. Certain critics of the IQ test even go so far as to say that it is not culture-fair and hence differences in culture can give certain candidates a disadvantage when it comes to taking it.

What makes this exam tough?

The Mensa exam is tough because it has a lot of questions that are about vocabulary and spelling. The questions are also difficult because they test your ability to think abstractly and solve problems.

The Mensa exam tests your knowledge in many areas, from vocabulary and spelling to abstract thinking and problem-solving. It’s no wonder that some people find it tough!

Why do students take this exam?

Mensa members are people who have scored at or above the 98th percentile on a standardized, supervised IQ or other approved intelligence test. The Mensa exam is different from other tests because it’s designed to measure a person’s ability to think creatively and solve problems in novel ways. Additionally, Mensa is a society within which the smartest minds are inducted.

Fun facts and stats

All national Mensas have to accept children even though sometimes they are not equipped to test them. Children as young as two have entered Mensa in various countries.

Mensas conduct several events for their members and the networking opportunities of the same can be priceless. Most countries hold an event called an Annual Gathering or AG but there are several other national and international events as well.

9. ESE/IES Exam

ESE/IES or Indian Engineering Service examinations are conducted by the UPSC in India. UPSC recruits and delegates the role of managerial and technical services of the Indian government through this exam. The exam itself consists of six tests. Again, hundreds of thousands of engineers apply and only a handful are able to get through this arduous examination process.

What makes this exam tough?

The Indian Engineering Service exam is a tough exam to crack. It is a national-level examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The UPSC was established in 1926 and it conducts examinations for recruitment to various civil services in India.

The Indian Engineering Service exam has two papers – Paper 1 and Paper 2. Paper 1 has objective-type questions while Paper 2 has subjective questions. The paper consists of three sections – General Intelligence and Reasoning, General Science, and Aptitude Test of English Language Comprehension Skills.

The UPSC also provides an online practice test for the aspirants to prepare for the examination before they take it.

Why do students take this exam?

The Indian Engineering Service exam is a national-level examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission. It is an exam to test the knowledge and skills of the candidates in subjects like engineering, mathematics and science.

Some of the reasons why students take this exam are:

  • To become a civil servant in India
  • To work for any central or state government organization
  • To get a job in railways, post and telegraphs, or other departments of the central government
  • To become an engineer for public sector undertakings (PSUs)
  • To get into research organizations

A civil service job is a very secure and beneficial job hence it is understandable that engineers would choose to participate in this exam.

Fun facts and stats

The Salaries of officers on joining can be 56,000 per month but that quickly changes to a range of 85,000 per month within 3-5 years.

The age range is 21-30 on the new year of the year of examination.

10. CCIE

Cisco Certified Internetworking Experts are chosen from a large pool of network engineers to evaluate their ability to design, navigate and debug converged network infrastructures on Cisco equipment. The exam has two phases and six parts. The practical phase itself lasts roughly eight hours and only about one percent of network engineers around the world are able to achieve this level of certification.

What makes this exam tough?

The Cisco Certified Internetworking Experts (CCIE) is a certification which is offered by Cisco Systems. The CCIE certification is the most sought-after certification in the industry, with a passing rate of less than 1%.

This exam tests the knowledge and skills of networking theory and implementation. The CCIE syllabus include network design, LAN switching, WAN technologies, IP addressing and subnetting, routing protocols and services, and infrastructures services such as DHCP and NAT.

Why do students take this exam?

The CCIE certification is an industry-recognized certification that signifies the expert-level knowledge of a networking professional.

CCIE holders are often considered to be the most knowledgeable networking professionals in the world.

The CCIE certification is the most respected and recognized IT certification in the world. It is highly regarded by employers and other IT professionals alike. The CCIE has been called “the gold standard” of Cisco certifications.

Fun facts and stats

After completing the CCIE examination there are further tracks of expert certification if one should wish to take it. This is an even more rarefied professional space and accordingly is highly beneficial to one’s career.

CCIE has a longstanding reputation of leading the networking industry and as such is an extremely prestigious qualification to have obtained.

Exams that almost made our list

1. Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE): As the name suggests, the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) is a postgraduate engineering entrance examination. It is conducted jointly by the Indian Institute of Science and the IITs. Many institutions also use the GATE as a requirement to provide financial aid to master’s students.

2. Graduate Record Examination (GRE): Conducted by ETS, the GRE is one of the most popular standardized tests for students who want to pursue their postgraduate degrees primarily in the USA and Canada. The test is also accepted in some of the European universities, Australia and New Zealand. It tests your reading, comprehension, vocabulary, analytical and quantitative skills. The GRE and the IELTS are two of the most popular standardized tests for aspiring international students.

3. USMLE: The United States Medical Licensing Exam is a three-step exam to get your medical licensure in the US. Doctors with an MD are mandated to pass this exam to be legally eligible to practise medicine in the US.

4. California Bar Exam: Among all the state bar exams in the United states, the California Bar exam is usually considered one of the toughest.

Having gone through a list of the toughest exams in the world, do your woes seem less urgent? Would you like to take up any of these exams? Though exams have had a bad reputation in pop culture and our own antagonistic encounters with them, one can appreciate the fun of writing an exam when your skill matches the demands of the examination. You can also reach out to the experts at TC Global to help you prepare for some of these exams that will secure your position as international students.

Good Luck!

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