The top 20 toughest exams in the world are those that require candidates to work harder and spend more time preparing for them. You must have taken a tough exam at one point in your life, find out in this article whether it is one of the world’s most difficult exams that you took.
As students climb up the academic ladder, the examinations only get tougher and tougher. Although an exam is not a true test of knowledge it is still important and helps students in many ways. Exams motivate individuals to work harder, help them to remember what they’ve been learning or practicing so far, improve critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, increase knowledge, and help you handle tough real-life situations.
Even if I have just tried to paint exams as something really good – which it is – it is still one of the worst nightmares among many people, especially among young adults. And the further you go, the more challenging and competitive it becomes and it is even harder for those pursuing some of the world’s toughest degrees.
As a student, you shouldn’t let the pressure and anxiety of an exam get to you completely, just have it in mind that if you prepare well enough and with the right motivation, you can effortlessly ace any exam. Students aren’t the only ones that take examinations, even working professionals and civil servants take exams. There are different examinations for different purposes.
For instance, if you are considering a career in civil service or are already a civil servant seeking promotion, you should prepare for a civil service exam because you are very likely to take it. If you are also a college aspirant seeking financial aid, you should also prepare for a scholarship exam because most schools set this exam before giving out scholarships.
Difficult exams are found in every country but which ones are considered to be the world’s toughest? Let’s find out together.
Top 20 Toughest Exams In The World
Which exams are so tough that they were ranked as the toughest in the world. Listed in no particular order, below are the top 20 toughest exams in the world.
- Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE)
- Mensa International
- All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam
- Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
- Joint Entrance Exam – Advanced (JEE)
- Master Sommelier Diploma Exam
- National Admissions Test of Law (NATL)
- Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Exams
- California Bar Exam
- NASA Astronaut Candidate Programme
- CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Exam
- Common Aptitude Test (CAT)
- The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
- Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert Examination
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- Chartered Accountancy (CA) Exam
- College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT)
1. Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE)
GATE is an Indian exam that happens to be one of the top 20 toughest exams in the world. If you want to pursue engineering at graduate level in India, you must take the GATE examination and which is an entry level. The exam is jointly administered by the Indian Institute of Science and the seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
GATE consists of a single paper question that includes both multiple-choice questions and numerical questions. The exam is taken annually by up to 10 million candidates but only 15% of them qualify, this is undoubtedly one of the hardest exams in the world.
Gaokao is the exam you will take if you want to pursue an undergraduate degree in China. It is an essential national college entrance exam held annually in China and is one of the top 20 toughest exams in the world.
Gaokao is a 9-hour exam that is held for 2 years and covers subjects in Chinese literature, chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, geography, and so on. The overall mark of a candidate is usually the average sum of their individual subject.
3. Mensa International
Mensa is an international organization that was founded in 1946 by a scientist and lawyer with the aim of creating a society where politics, race, and religion are irrelevant. The only requirement to be a Mensa member is your high IQ and to be a member, you must score within the upper 2% of the general population on an approved intelligence test.
This is one of the toughest exams in the world because it determines whether you are among the top 2% of the world’s population with a high IQ.
The exam consists of a two-part test that includes questions on logic and deductive reasoning. There are over 145,000 members of Mensa from different parts of the world with branches in all continents except Antarctica. As a member of Mensa International, you will be open to a new world of exciting social, cultural, and intellectual opportunities.
4. All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam
The All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam is one of the top 20 toughest exams in the world. It is conducted annually by Oxford University to select Prize Fellows. The test is taken annually by more than 50 candidates but only two candidates are selected as winners.
The exam consists of four papers and the duration for each paper is three hours. To pass this test, you may want to employ a mix of your imagination and factual knowledge.
5. Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
The GRE is an exam that is popular among aspiring graduate students. If you want to enter a master’s program, especially for an MBA degree, you must take the GRE which is a requirement by institutions all over the world, especially in the US and Canada. The GRE is ranked among the hardest exams in the US and among the top 20 toughest exams in the world.
GRE is an exam that tests verbal reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills in candidates. There is usually a cut-off mark set by the school and it varies from school to school. Candidates who pass the exam and meet the cut-off mark are admitted into graduate school. If you want to enter a graduate degree, there is a high possibility that a GRE test score would be required.
6. Joint Entrance Exam – Advanced (JEE)
The JEE is one of the hardest exams in India and among the top 20 toughest exams in the world, it is conducted by one of India’s Institute of Technology commonly known as IITs. Candidates who take this exam are those aspiring to gain entry into one of the best engineering colleges in India, it is an entry-level test.
Before candidates can take this test, they must have taken the JEE Mains exam and meet the required pass mark. The JEE Advanced consists of two papers with three hours of time each allocated to complete the exam. About 300,000 candidates take the exam annually but only a handful are selected. Many candidates pass it in more than one sitting.
7. Master Sommelier Diploma Exam
The Master Sommelier Diploma Exam is one of the top 20 toughest exams in the world administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS). The exam is set up to encourage higher standards of beverage knowledge and service in the hospitality business. It is an incredibly difficult examination with only a 10% success rate on average.
Candidates who take this exam are assessed in theory, service, and blind tasting. It is so hard that a regular applicant typically passes the exam on their sixth attempt while it will take an expert up to three attempts to pass. For every wine that you taste, you will be required to state the correct manufactured date and the location where it was manufactured.
The Master Sommelier Diploma Exam is conducted in the UK and since it started in 1969, only 269 women have ever passed it.
The MCAT is one of the hardest exams in the US and the world, it is used for assessing aspiring medical students who want to enter med school. The test assesses the candidate’s problem-solving skills, critical thinking abilities, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and principles required for medical studies.
MCAT is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and has been operating since 1982.
9. National Admissions Test of Law (NATL)
NATL is one of the top 20 toughest exams in the world held annually in the UK for lawyers. The exam assesses the reading comprehension and logical reasoning skills of candidates. The duration of the NATL is 2 hours and 25 minutes consisting of a reading part and then an essay.
10. Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Exams
India sure has a lot of tough exams the UPSC is one of them. It is one of the top 20 toughest exams in the world in India and is conducted by the central agency. The job is targeted at those who want to work in government jobs in India like the Indian Police Service, Indian Foreign Service, and the Indian Administrative Service.
The UPSC exam consists of three stages all of which must be passed before being given employment. The exam has a success rate of 1%, making it one of the toughest exams in the world.
11. California Bar Exam
The California Bar Exam is one of the hardest exams in the US and the world and passing it is one of the requirements to become a law practitioner in California. Topics covered in the exam include civil procedure, community property, criminal law and procedure, trusts, constitutional law, and business associations.
The exam is held twice per year and given over two days. It consists of five 1-hour essay questions, one 90-minute performance test, and the Multistate Bar Examinations of 200 multiple-choice questions. You can find materials for the California Bar Exam online.
12. NASA Astronaut Candidate Programme
You were probably already expecting this to be a difficult exam since it is NASA, after all. And yes, it is hard to pass and be recognized among the top 20 toughest exams in the world. The NASA Astronaut Candidate Programme is also known as ASCAN and is designed to select Astronaut Corps.
Candidates who take this exam must have a minimum bachelor’s degree in engineering, computer science, mathematics, or any science discipline. Additionally, they must possess 3 years of experience or completed 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command in a jet aircraft.
13. CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Exam
The Chartered Financial Analyst exam is for those who have completed the CFA program. It is among the toughest exams in the world and consists of three parts that cover topics on investment tools, valuing assets, portfolio management, and wealth planning.
Some of the world’s prominent finance and investment professionals are CFA-qualified and if you want to be among them and get that big break in your career, then you should consider going for the CFA program and taking the exam. According to Investopedia, candidates study for over 300 hours for this exam to increase their chances of passing.
14. Common Aptitude Test (CAT)
Looks like most of the toughest exams in the world are in India because the CAT is also an Indian exam and is one of the hardest in the nation. The CAT is an entrance exam administered by IIMs (Indian Institute of Management) and is for those who want to pursue an academic degree at any of the IIMs. Aside from the IIMs, some business and management colleges in India accept CAT scores for admission.
The CAT is a highly competitive test taken by thousands of students annually and only very few manage to meet the passing mark. It is a computer-based test and you can find a wide range of CAT coaching resources online including mock practice tests that will help you prepare better for the difficult exam.
15. The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
The USMLE is one of the top 20 toughest exams in the world administered in the US. It is also one of the hardest exams in the US and it is compulsory that you take it after completing med school to become a licensed medical practitioner. The exam consists of a three-part examination that assesses knowledge, concepts, principles, and demonstration of fundamental patient-centered skills and takes over 40 hours to complete.
The three stages of the exam are not taken all at once. The first part of the exam is taken after the second in medical school, the second part is taken at the end of the third year, and the third part is taken at the end of the intern year. Overall, the exam measures the doctor’s ability to apply classroom or clinic-based knowledge and concepts.
NVIDIA is a $279 billion tech company that invented the GPU and they also manufacture interactive graphics on laptops, workstations, mobile devices, notebooks, and many more. I’m sure you are wondering what a tech company is doing among the list of the top 20 toughest exams in the world.
Turns out there is an exam that the company administers and it is one of the toughest in the world. This exam is done is two stages. The first stage is an experimental phase that covers topics on a final state computer, cache control, pipelines, principles of C programming, and virtual CMOS development. The final stage of the exam is the technical interview.
17. Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert Examination
To become a Cisco expert, you are required to take an exam that happens to be one of the toughest in the world. Passing the exam earns you the Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert certification. The exam is administered by Cisco Network and divided into several parts but written in two stages.
The examination covers core enterprise infrastructure technologies, and a hands-on lab exam that covers enterprise networks through the entire network lifecycle, from designing and deploying to operating and optimizing. You have to pass both the qualifying exam and the lab exam to earn the certificate.
18. Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
If you are seeking admission to law school in the US, Canada, or Australia you must take the Law School Admission Test. It is a prerequisite exam in these respective countries and among the toughest in the world. The LSAT is designed to assess candidates’ reading comprehension and logical, and analytical reasoning skills.
The exam consists of 6 sections, 4 out of these sections have multiple choice questions, while the last two are writing and experimental sections.
19. Chartered Accountancy (CA) Exam
The CA exam is also another one from India and one of the world’s toughest exams in the world. The exam is administered by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and consists of three stages. The first stage is the Integrated Professional Competence Course (IPCC) which encompasses 7 subjects and is split into 3 and 4 groups.
The final exam is where all the toughness is and only has a success rate of 8-16%.
20. College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT)
Last but not least of the top 20 toughest exams in the world is the College Scholastic Ability Test. It is a standardized test administered by South Korean universities and managed by the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation.
The CSAT is recognized for its efficiency, high international results, and meritocratic factors. Up to 20% of candidates for the CSAT usually re-apply for the exam.
These are the world’s top 20 toughest exams, which of them have you written, or which ones are you preparing for?