Top 10 Toughest Exams in the World [Most Difficult Exams]

In the realm of academic and professional achievement, certain examinations stand as towering milestones, notorious for their rigorous standards and formidable reputation; Also known as Toughest Exam in the World. These exams are more than just assessments; they are the ultimate tests of intellect, perseverance, and expertise. From the vast, populous classrooms of China to the esteemed halls of Oxford, from the competitive arenas of Indian engineering to the meticulous analyses of global financial markets, these exams span a diverse array of disciplines and cultures.

This article delves into the world’s most challenging examinations, providing a comprehensive overview of each test. We explore the intricate details of these exams, uncovering what makes them so demanding and prestigious. We also provide essential information about the conducting authorities, application processes, and eligibility criteria, offering a guide for aspiring candidates who dare to dream big and aim high. Whether you are a student embarking on a rigorous academic journey, a professional seeking to elevate your career, or simply an enthusiast of intellectual challenges, this article offers a glimpse into the ultimate tests of human knowledge and skill.

Join us as we explore these formidable examinations, the benchmarks of excellence in various fields, and the gateways to some of the most coveted opportunities and careers around the globe.

List of the Toughest Exam in the World

“Here we have listed the top 10 toughest exams in the world, complete with information on the conducting authorities, how to apply, eligibility criteria, and the best books for preparation.

1. Gaokao (China)

  • Details: A pivotal exam for university admissions in China, covering Mathematics, Chinese, and a foreign language.
  • Conducting Authority: Chinese Ministry of Education.
  • How to Apply: Students usually register through their high schools.
  • Eligibility: High school graduates in China.

The Gaokao, or the National College Entrance Examination, is a pivotal exam in China and one of the world’s toughest exam that determines the academic future of millions of high school students. Conducted annually, this high-stakes test is notoriously rigorous and covers subjects such as Mathematics, Chinese, and a foreign language. The scores from Gaokao are the primary criteria for university admissions, making it a highly stressful event for students and families alike.

The exam’s format and content can vary slightly between regions, but its difficulty level is universally acknowledged. Preparation for Gaokao often involves years of intense study, and success in this exam is seen as a path to prestigious universities and lucrative careers. The immense pressure and competition associated with Gaokao reflect the value placed on education in Chinese society.

2. UPSC Civil Services Exam (India)

  • Details: A national level exam for recruitment into various Indian civil services.
  • Conducting Authority: Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
  • How to Apply: Applications are submitted online via the UPSC website.
  • Eligibility: Bachelor’s degree from a recognized university.

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Exam in India is one of the mosttoughest exam in world, serving as the gateway to high-ranking positions in the Indian government, such as the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), and Indian Police Service (IPS). The exam comprises three stages: a preliminary exam (objective), the main exam (written), and an interview (personality test), each designed to assess a candidate’s comprehensive understanding and application of various subjects.

The syllabus is extensive, covering a wide range of topics from Indian polity, economy, and international relations to general knowledge, current affairs, and more. The preparation requires consistent effort over years, and the competition is fierce, with lakhs of candidates vying for a few hundred positions. Success in this exam is often seen as a pinnacle of academic and professional achievement in India.

3. Mensa IQ Test (Global)

  • Details: An intelligence test for admission into Mensa, a high IQ society.
  • Conducting Authority: Mensa International.
  • How to Apply: Contact the national Mensa organization in your country.
  • Eligibility: Score in the top 2% of a standard intelligence test.

The Mensa IQ Test is a globally recognized assessment designed to measure intelligence and cognitive abilities. Mensa, the international high IQ society, uses this test as a criterion for membership. To qualify, candidates must score within the top 2% of the general population on a standard intelligence test. The test evaluates various aspects of intelligence, including logic, reasoning, and problem-solving skills.

Joining Mensa through passing the IQ test is considered an accolade, representing a person’s exceptional cognitive abilities. Mensa members come from diverse backgrounds and are often involved in activities that challenge and stimulate intellectual growth. The test itself, although not academically focused, is considered tough due to the high percentile requirement and the abstract nature of the questions posed.

4. CFA Exam (Global)

  • Details: A series of three exams (Levels I, II, and III) for financial analysts.
  • Conducting Authority: CFA Institute.
  • How to Apply: Register on the CFA Institute website.
  • Eligibility: A bachelor’s degree or equivalent work experience.

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exam is a global professional credential offered by the CFA Institute to investment and financial professionals. The exam is divided into three levels, each progressively more challenging, covering topics such as ethical and professional standards, quantitative methods, economics, financial reporting and analysis, corporate finance, and portfolio management. The CFA certification is highly valued in the fields of investment management and financial analysis.

The preparation for the CFA exams is rigorous, requiring candidates to study a vast array of financial topics in depth. The exams are known for their difficulty, with low pass rates, reflecting the high standard of knowledge and competence required to earn the CFA charter. Professionals who earn this designation are recognized for their expertise and commitment to ethical practices in finance.

5. JEE Advanced (India)

  • Details: Entrance exam for Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
  • Conducting Authority: Joint Admission Board (JAB).
  • How to Apply: Candidates must qualify JEE Main and then register for JEE Advanced online.
  • Eligibility: Top candidates from JEE Main; additional criteria apply.

The Joint Entrance Examination – Advanced (JEE Advanced) is an Indian entrance examination used for admission to various engineering colleges, including the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). It is considered one of the most challenging undergraduate admission tests globally. The exam tests students in Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics, and is known for its highly conceptual and application-based questions.

JEE Advanced is the second phase of the Joint Entrance Examination and is open only to the top candidates from the JEE Main, the first phase of the exam. The competition is intense, with over a million students competing for a limited number of seats. Cracking JEE Advanced is a dream for many aspiring engineers, and success in this exam is often viewed as an indicator of exceptional analytical and problem-solving abilities.


  • Details: A three-step exam for medical licensure in the U.S.
  • Conducting Authority: Federation of State Medical Boards and the National Board of Medical Examiners.
  • How to Apply: Apply through the USMLE website.
  • Eligibility: Medical students and graduates, both U.S. and international.

The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is a three-step examination for medical licensure in the United States. The USMLE assesses a physician’s ability to apply knowledge, concepts, and principles crucial for effective health care. It is divided into three steps: Step 1 tests the examinee’s understanding and ability to apply important concepts of the sciences basic to the practice of medicine. Step 2 assesses clinical knowledge and skills, while Step 3 evaluates the ability to practice medicine independently.

The exam is known for its rigor and depth, covering a wide range of medical knowledge. It requires extensive preparation and is considered one of the most challenging exams in the medical field. Passing the USMLE is a crucial step for any medical practitioner seeking to practice in the United States, ensuring a high standard of medical care.

7. All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam (UK)

  • Details: An exam for fellowship at Oxford’s All Souls College.
  • Conducting Authority: All Souls College, Oxford.
  • How to Apply: Application details are available on the college’s website.
  • Eligibility: Recent Oxford graduates.

The All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam, conducted by the All Souls College at Oxford University, is a unique and highly competitive postgraduate fellowship examination. It is known for its unconventional and intellectually challenging nature, including the famous one-word essay and a range of specialized subject papers. The fellowship offers an opportunity for independent and interdisciplinary research at one of the world’s leading universities.

The exam is open to recent Oxford graduates and attracts some of the brightest minds. The selection process is rigorous, with only a handful of candidates being awarded the fellowship each year. The All Souls Prize Fellowship is not just an exam but a gateway to an esteemed academic community and a platform for profound scholarly exploration.

8. California Bar Exam (USA)

  • Details: A bar exam for legal licensure in California.
  • Conducting Authority: State Bar of California.
  • How to Apply: Register on the State Bar of California’s website.
  • Eligibility: Graduates of law schools, accredited either by the ABA or California.

The California Bar Exam is renowned for being one of the most challenging law exams in the United States. Administered by the State Bar of California, it is a key step for law graduates seeking to practice as attorneys in the state. The exam covers a wide range of legal topics and is known for its comprehensive and demanding nature, requiring a deep understanding of various areas of law.

The California Bar Exam is a two-day test, consisting of multiple-choice questions, essays, and performance tests. The exam requires months of intensive study and preparation. The pass rate is relatively low compared to other states, reflecting the exam’s difficulty and the high standards expected of practicing lawyers in California.

9. GATE (India)

  • Details: An exam for postgraduate engineering admissions and public sector jobs.
  • Conducting Authority: Indian Institute of Science and Indian Institutes of Technology.
  • How to Apply: Apply online through the GATE Online Application Processing System (GOAPS).
  • Eligibility: Bachelor’s degree in engineering/technology or Master’s degree in relevant science subjects.

The Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) is an all-India examination that primarily tests the comprehensive understanding of various undergraduate subjects in engineering and science. Conducted jointly by the Indian Institute of Science and seven Indian Institutes of Technology, GATE is a gateway for admission to postgraduate programs and is also used for recruitment in several public sector companies.

GATE is known for its challenging questions that test conceptual understanding and application skills. The exam covers numerous disciplines, with candidates opting for a paper based on their field of study. The preparation for GATE requires a deep understanding of technical concepts and practical application, making it a highly competitive and respected exam in the field of engineering and technology.

10. CCIE Certification Exam (Global)

  • Details: Advanced certification for networking professionals.
  • Conducting Authority: Cisco Systems.
  • How to Apply: Register for exams through Cisco’s website.
  • Eligibility: No formal prerequisites, but in-depth knowledge of networking is essential.

The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Certification Exam is one of the most prestigious and technically challenging certifications in the IT industry. Offered by Cisco Systems, the certification is designed for senior networking professionals and focuses on expert-level skills in network engineering, including designing, building, implementing, maintaining, and troubleshooting complex enterprise networking infrastructures.

The CCIE certification process includes a written exam and a rigorous practical lab test, which is known for its intensity and depth. The lab exam, in particular, is an eight-hour, hands-on test, requiring a deep understanding of Cisco equipment and network solutions. Achieving a CCIE certification signifies a high level of expertise in networking and is highly valued in the IT industry.

How to prepare for these examination?

Preparing for any of these challenging exams requires a combination of strategic planning, dedicated study, and mental resilience. Here are general strategies for each exam, tailored to their specific demands:

1. Gaokao (Toughest Exam in China)

  • Understand the Format and Syllabus: Familiarize yourself with the exam structure, types of questions, and subjects.
  • Intensive Study: Begin preparation early, focusing on key subjects like Mathematics, Chinese, and a foreign language.
  • Practice Past Papers: Regularly practice with previous Gaokao papers to understand the question patterns and time management.
  • Seek Guidance: Consider enrolling in a coaching center or seeking help from teachers for areas of difficulty.

2. UPSC Civil Services Exam (Toughest Exam in India)

  • Comprehensive Understanding of Syllabus: Start by thoroughly understanding the vast syllabus.
  • Regular Newspaper Reading: Stay updated with current affairs by reading newspapers and relevant magazines.
  • NCERT Books: Start with NCERT books for a clear understanding of basic concepts.
  • Mock Tests and Previous Year Papers: Regular practice with these will improve speed and accuracy.

3. Mensa IQ Test (Global)

  • Practice IQ Questions: Regularly solve puzzles, logical reasoning, and problem-solving questions.
  • Brain-Training Games: Engage in activities that challenge your brain, such as chess, Sudoku, or strategic games.
  • Stay Mentally Active: Keep your mind active with regular reading, learning new skills, and engaging in intellectual discussions.

4. CFA Exam (Global)

  • Understand the Curriculum: Familiarize yourself with the CFA Program curriculum, which is vast and detailed.
  • Plan Your Study: Make a study plan that covers all the topics with sufficient time for review.
  • Practice Mock Exams: Regularly take mock exams to get a feel for the exam’s difficulty and to practice time management.
  • Join Study Groups: Sharing knowledge and doubts with peers can provide new insights and motivation.

5. JEE Advanced (India)

  • Strong Foundation in PCM: Focus on building a strong foundation in Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics.
  • Regular Practice: Solve previous years’ JEE Advanced papers and mock tests.
  • Coaching Classes: Joining a reputable coaching institute can provide structured guidance and study materials.
  • Time Management: Learn to solve problems quickly and accurately, as time management is crucial.

6. USMLE (Toughest Exam in USA)

  • Understand the Format: Be thoroughly familiar with the format of each step of the USMLE.
  • Comprehensive Study Material: Use recommended textbooks and study materials.
  • Practice Questions: Regularly practice with question banks to familiarize yourself with the exam style.
  • Take Breaks: Ensure to take regular breaks to avoid burnout.

7. All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam (Toughest Exam in UK)

  • Extensive Reading: Engage in a broad range of reading across different disciplines.
  • Practice Writing Essays: Work on writing essays on a variety of topics, focusing on clarity, argumentation, and originality.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up-to-date with current affairs and new research in your field of interest.
  • Peer Review: Get feedback on your essays and work from peers or mentors.

8. California Bar Exam (USA)

  • Comprehensive Study Plan: Cover all subjects tested on the exam, using bar review courses if necessary.
  • Practice Essays and MPTs: Regularly write practice essays and performance tests.
  • Memorize Key Legal Principles: Focus on memorizing the key principles and laws for each subject.
  • Mock Exams: Take full-length practice exams under timed conditions.

9. GATE (India)

  • Understand the Syllabus: Be clear about the syllabus and exam pattern.
  • Standard Textbooks: Refer to standard textbooks for in-depth understanding.
  • Solve Previous Years’ Papers: This helps in understanding the exam pattern and identifying important topics.
  • Join Test Series: Regularly participating in test series can help in assessing your preparation level.

10. CCIE Certification Exam (Global)

  • Deep Understanding of Networking Concepts: Have a thorough understanding of all networking concepts and Cisco technologies.
  • Hands-On Practice: Spend a significant amount of time on hands-on practice in a lab environment.
  • Study Groups and Forums: Participate in study groups and online forums to exchange knowledge.
  • Mock Lab Exams: Regularly take mock lab exams to simulate the actual test environment.

For each of these exams, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise, is also crucial. Mental health is as important as intellectual preparation, so ensure to take care of your overall well-being during the preparation journey.

Best Books for Preparation

Exam Recommended Books
Gaokao (China)
  1. Official textbooks for Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and English approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education
  2. “Gaokao Science Comprehensive Practice” by Various Authors
  3. “Gaokao Success Strategy” by Various Authors
  4. “New Concept English” by L.G. Alexander
  5. “High School Mathematics” by Various Authors
UPSC Civil Services Exam (India)
  1. “Indian Polity” by M. Laxmikanth
  2. “A Brief History of Modern India” by Rajiv Ahir (Spectrum)
  3. “Indian Economy” by Ramesh Singh
  4. “NCERT Textbooks” (6th to 12th grade)
  5. “Geography of India” by Majid Husain
Mensa IQ Test (Global)
  1. “The Mensa Genius Quiz Book” by Abbie F. Salny
  2. “The Ultimate IQ Test Book” by Philip Carter and Ken Russell
  3. “Challenge Your Brain Math & Logic Puzzles” by Dave Tuller
  4. “The Complete Book of Intelligence Tests” by Philip Carter
  5. “Test Your IQ” by Alfred W. Munzert
CFA Exam (Global)
  1. “CFA Program Curriculum” by CFA Institute
  2. “CFA Level I: Question Bank” by Havels Learning System
  3. “Schweser Notes for the CFA Exam” by Kaplan Schweser
  4. “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham
  5. “Ethics in Investment Management” by CFA Institute
JEE Advanced (India)
  1. “Concepts of Physics” by H.C. Verma
  2. “Organic Chemistry” by Morrison and Boyd
  3. “IIT Mathematics” by M.L. Khanna
  4. “Physical Chemistry” by P. Bahadur
  5. “Problems in General Physics” by I.E. Irodov
  1. “First Aid for the USMLE Step 1”
  2. “UWorld Step 1 Qbank”
  3. “Pathoma” by Dr. Husain A. Sattar
  4. “Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes”
  5. “Rapid Review Pathology” by Edward F. Goljan
All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam (UK)
  1. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
  2. “The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction” by Frank Kermode
  3. “The Great War and Modern Memory” by Paul Fussell
  4. “The Guns of August” by Barbara W. Tuchman
  5. “Oxford History of Western Philosophy” edited by Anthony Kenny
California Bar Exam (USA)
  1. “BarBri Bar Review”
  2. “Critical Pass MBE Flashcards”
  3. “The Conviser Mini Review”
  4. “California Performance Test Workbook” by Mary Basick
  5. “Strategies & Tactics for the MBE” by Steven L. Emanuel
GATE (India)
  1. “GATE Mechanical Engineering” by R.K. Jain
  2. “GATE Electrical Engineering” by R.K. Kanodia
  3. “A Handbook on Civil Engineering” by Made Easy Publications
  4. “GATE Computer Science and Information Technology” by Trishna Knowledge Systems
  5. “GATE General Aptitude & Engineering Mathematics” by GKP
CCIE Certification Exam (Global)
  1. “CCIE: Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert Study Guide” by Robert Padjen
  2. “Routing TCP/IP, Volume I and II” by Jeff Doyle
  3. “CCIE Routing and Switching v5.1 Foundations” by Narbik Kocharians
  4. “Troubleshooting IP Routing Protocols” by Zaheer Aziz
  5. “CCIE Professional Development Series” by Various Authors

These selections include both specific study materials and more general texts that provide foundational knowledge and skills relevant to each exam. As always, it’s important to combine these resources with practice exams, up-to-date study guides, and other preparatory materials to ensure comprehensive preparation.


In conclusion, the exams discussed in this article represent some of the most toughest exam in the world. They are not just tests of knowledge or skill, but crucibles that shape character, determination, and intellectual resilience. Each of these exams, with its unique set of demands and rewards, stands as a testament to human potential and the relentless pursuit of excellence.

For those aspiring to take on these challenges, the journey is rigorous and demanding, yet equally rewarding. It is a path that calls for unwavering dedication, in-depth preparation, and a robust mindset. Success in these examinations can open doors to prestigious educational institutions, elite professional roles, and unparalleled opportunities for personal and career growth.

Moreover, the preparation for these exams often imparts invaluable life skills, such as problem-solving, time management, and critical thinking, that transcend the boundaries of the tests themselves. Whether one emerges victorious or gains insightful lessons from the attempt, the experience of tackling these formidable exams is a transformative one.

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