Brain Battles: The Top 10 Toughest Exams Worldwide
Written by Sanjay Kumar
Examinations are a crucial part of the education system, serving as benchmarks to assess knowledge and skills. While all exams require effort and preparation, some are renowned for their difficulty and rigorous evaluation criteria.
These exams challenge candidates to push their boundaries, showcasing their expertise and determination. In this article, we will explore the top 10 toughest exams worldwide that have earned a reputation for being highly demanding and competitive.
Top 10 Toughest Exams Worldwide
01 – Gaokao
Gaokao, the Chinese college admission exam, secures its position as one of the top ten most challenging exams globally. The difficulty level of this exam is so high that some European and American institutions have started accepting Gaokao scores. Students in China begin preparing for this test years in advance, investing twelve years of their childhood to study for this extremely demanding assessment.
- Extremely competitive and high-stakes exam in China.
- Covers subjects like Chinese, mathematics, foreign languages, and sciences.
- Requires extensive preparation and memorization of vast amounts of information.
- The exam is known for its strict time constraints and intense pressure.
- Admission to top-tier universities in China heavily relies on Gaokao scores.
02 – IIT-JEE
The Indian Institutes of Technology Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE) epitomizes the word “difficult.” With over 10 lakhs (1 million) applicants in 2019 and an average acceptance rate of approximately 1%, cracking this exam is no small feat. Those who pass the IIT-JEE may become eligible for the Siemens Scholarship, which covers their bachelor’s degree in engineering. The exam is divided into two tiers: JEE Main and JEE Advanced.
- Prestigious and highly challenging engineering entrance exam in India.
- Tests candidates’ knowledge in physics, chemistry, and mathematics.
- Involves complex problem-solving and application of advanced concepts.
- Requires in-depth understanding of the subjects and strong analytical skills.
- Limited number of seats and high competition make it difficult to secure admission.
03 – UPSC
The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in India administers the Civil Services Examination (CSE), a century-old exam designed to select the best candidates for employment in civil service organizations such as the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Administrative Service (IAS), and Indian Police Service (IPS), among others. UPSC is renowned for its stringent selection process and comprehensive syllabus, making it one of the most challenging exams in India.
- Civil services examination in India to select government officials.
- Consists of three stages: Preliminary, Mains, and Interview.
- Covers a wide range of subjects, including general studies, aptitude, and optional subjects.
- Demands extensive knowledge, critical thinking, and effective communication skills.
- The exam’s comprehensive nature and low success rate make it highly challenging.
04 – Mensa
Mensa, one of the oldest high-intelligence societies in the world, conducts a tough IQ test to assess individuals’ intellectual abilities. Only those who score in the top 2% of the population, demonstrating an IQ higher than 98%, are eligible for Mensa membership. The test evaluates various cognitive skills such as reasoning, problem-solving, and logic, making it a formidable challenge for aspiring members.
- IQ-based exam administered by Mensa International.
- Measures cognitive abilities and intellectual potential.
- Includes questions that require logical reasoning, pattern recognition, and problem-solving skills.
- The test has a time limit and assesses both verbal and non-verbal abilities.
- High scores are required to qualify for Mensa membership, indicating its difficulty.
05 – GRE
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) ranks among the most difficult exams globally, primarily targeting students who wish to pursue higher education abroad. The exam is widely accepted by many international universities, especially for masters and doctoral programs in various fields. With hundreds of people preparing for and taking the GRE, the competition is fierce, adding to the difficulty of achieving a high score.
- Standardized test for admission to graduate schools in various disciplines.
- Consists of sections on verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing.
- Requires strong vocabulary, mathematical skills, and analytical thinking.
- Time constraints and the adaptive nature of the exam add to its difficulty.
- Performance on the GRE can significantly impact graduate school admissions.
06 – CFA
The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam is considered one of the most rigorous and difficult exams in the field of finance. More than 100,000 individuals from over 100 countries attempt to pass the CFA exam each year. Divided into three levels, this exam evaluates the knowledge of finance professionals regarding crucial financial tools and practices. Each level presents a challenging 6-hour exam consisting of 240 questions.
- Globally recognized certification for finance professionals.
- Comprises three levels of exams testing knowledge in finance, investment analysis, and ethics.
- The exams are rigorous and require extensive studying.
- Candidates need to demonstrate practical application of financial concepts.
- Low pass rates and the demanding curriculum make the CFA exams challenging.
07 – CCIE
The Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) exam is renowned as one of the most demanding tests in the financial industry. Similar to the CFA exam, it attracts over 100,000 applicants from more than 100 countries annually. Designed to assess finance professionals’ expertise in relevant financial tools and practices, the CCIE exam is divided into three tiers, with each level featuring a grueling 6-hour test comprising 240 questions.
- Expert-level certification for network engineers and professionals.
- Involves both written and hands-on lab exams, assessing practical skills.
- Covers complex network design, implementation, and troubleshooting.
- The exam requires in-depth knowledge of Cisco systems and technologies.
- The combination of theoretical and practical aspects makes it a difficult certification to achieve.
08 – GATE
The Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) is a national-level online exam conducted in India, as well as in countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates. It assesses knowledge in engineering, mathematics, science, and general aptitude for admission to master’s degree programs. Prestigious Indian institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) consider GATE scores for their fellowship programs.
- National-level examination in India for postgraduate engineering programs.
- Tests knowledge in various engineering disciplines, mathematics, and general aptitude.
- Requires thorough understanding of core engineering subjects.
- The exam is highly competitive, with a large number of applicants.
- Admission to top engineering institutes in India is based on GATE scores.
09 – All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam
The All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam at Oxford University holds a place of high esteem as one of the most challenging exams in the world. Out of 80 applicants, only one or two are accepted each year for a prestigious seven-year fellowship at the university. The competition is fierce, and success in this exam requires exceptional academic prowess and intellectual acumen.
- Prestigious scholarship examination at the University of Oxford.
- Tests candidates’ ability to think critically, analyze complex texts, and present arguments.
- Involves essay-based questions that require original and insightful responses.
- The exam focuses on interdisciplinary knowledge and intellectual depth.
- The selection rate is extremely low, making it one of the most challenging academic competitions.
10 – Master Sommelier Diploma Exam
The Exam for the Master Sommelier Diploma, conducted by the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS), seeks to promote expertise in beverage service, particularly in wine and food pairing. The exam plays a vital role in enhancing beverage knowledge and service across the hospitality sector, including hotels, restaurants, and other establishments. With an average passing rate of barely 10%, often after multiple attempts, this exam poses a significant challenge to aspiring sommeliers.
- Rigorous examination for wine professionals aspiring to become Master Sommeliers.
- Includes blind tastings, wine theory, and practical service skills.
- Requires extensive knowledge of wine regions, grape varieties, and wine production.
- Demands exceptional tasting ability and accurate wine assessments.
- The exam has a high failure rate due to its demanding nature and strict standards.
In conclusion, challenging exams exist across the globe, and India stands out with its plethora of tough assessments. From the Gaokao in China to the IIT-JEE in India, these exams push students and professionals to their limits. Whether it’s cracking the UPSC for a civil service position or passing the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam for a career in the hospitality industry, these exams demand dedication, perseverance, and exceptional skills.
|Examination||Country||Duration of exam||Preparation time||Pass rate % / score||No. of candidates (yearly)|
|Gaokao Exam||China||9h||12 years||does not have a single threshold for pass/fail||12 million|
|IIT JEE Exam||India||3h||continuous efforts through two long years||1%||1,026,799|
|UPSC Exam||India||2-3h||12-month advanced preparation||success rate is just around 0.1% – 0.3%||500.000|
|Mensa||England||1-2h||don’t use IQ scores||134,000 candidates|
|GRE||USA & Canada||3h 45min||4-12 weeks
1 – 5 months studying
|any score above the 50th percentile||700,000/ yearly|
|CFA||USA & Canada||4.5 hours||300 h||43%||175,000 charterholders|
|CCIE||USA||around 120 minutes||9-15 months||26%||8,000/ yearly|
|GATE exam||India||3 hrs||6 months||18%||700,000|
|UMSLE exam||USA||8-hour||6-12 months||77%||19,210|
|California Bar Exam||USA||4h||40 hours per week over 8-10 weeks||52.4%||7,164|
Which are the top 10 most difficult exams to crack globally?
The top 10 most difficult exams to crack globally are as follows: –
01 – Gaokao (Chinese National College Entrance Exam)
02 – IIT-JEE (Indian Institutes of Technology Joint Entrance Examination)
03 – UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) Exam
04 – Mensa Admission Test
05 – GRE (Graduate Record Examination)
06 – CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Exam
07 – CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) Exam
08 – GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering)
09 – All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam
10 – Master Sommelier Diploma Exam
Which is the toughest exam in the world?
The Gaokao, renowned as one of the most challenging exams worldwide, is a college admission test conducted in China. Its difficulty is such that some European and American colleges have recently begun to recognize Gaokao scores for admission purposes.
Which are the top 10 difficult exams in the US?
The difficulty level of exams can vary based on personal strengths and preferences. However, some exams known for their difficulty in the United States are:
- Bar Examination (for becoming a licensed attorney)
- Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3)
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam
- Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
- National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)
- Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification Exam
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exam
- United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- American Board of Surgery Certifying Exam
Which are the top 10 difficult exams in India?
India has several challenging exams across various fields. Here are some of the difficult exams in India:
- Indian Institutes of Technology Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE)
- Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Exam
- Common Admission Test (CAT) for admission to top business schools (IIMs)
- Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE)
- All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Entrance Exam
- National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical admissions
- Chartered Accountancy (CA) Final Exam
- National Law School Entrance Exam (NLAT/NLUD)
- Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India (ICFAI) Exam
- Staff Selection Commission Combined Graduate Level (SSC CGL) Exam
Which are the top 10 countries best for education?
The quality of education can vary based on different criteria and individual preferences. However, some countries known for providing excellent education systems include:
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
These countries are recognized for their strong educational infrastructure, innovative teaching methods, high literacy rates, and emphasis on research and development.
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