Toughest Exams in The World 2023 [The Ultimate Challenge]

Toughest Exams in the World 2023

Exams are an inevitable part of academic life and professional growth. Be it the pursuit of high school education, graduation, post-graduation or job opportunities in government and private sectors, exams are a fundamental aspect of the process. These exams test a candidate’s knowledge, analytical skills, and mental agility to handle complex problems. Even with a diverse range of exams, some of them are more challenging and competitive than others. Therefore, this article aims to discuss the toughest exams globally. While all exams come with a certain degree of difficulty, we will concentrate only on the exams that are regarded as the most challenging worldwide. This list includes exams from different fields such as medicine, law, finance, and engineering. For example, the Indian Civil Services Exam, California Bar Exam, Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exam, United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) are some of the exams known for their difficulty and competitiveness.

The difficulty of these exams stems from their extensive and challenging syllabus, a high level of competition, and the rigorous selection process involved. The aspirants need to invest significant time, effort, and resources in preparing for these exams. These exams require not only knowledge but also advanced analytical and problem-solving skills, making them daunting for even the brightest of students. However, successfully cracking these exams can lead to a prosperous and rewarding career, which is why aspirants willingly embrace the challenge. In conclusion, while exams are a vital part of an individual’s academic and professional journey, the toughest exams globally test not only a candidate’s knowledge but also their ability to think critically and handle complex problems. These exams require extensive preparation, hard work, and determination to crack, but the benefits that come with success make it all worthwhile.

Most Hardest Exams in the World

Comparing the difficulty level of all exams is not possible as they serve different purposes and require different skills. However, this article will take a closer look at some of the toughest exams in the world, which students are required to take at different stages of their lives. The difficulty level of these exams varies depending on factors such as the breadth and depth of the syllabus, the level of competition, and the selection process involved. For instance, the Indian Civil Services Exam, which is conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in India, is regarded as one of the toughest exams globally due to its extensive syllabus, high level of competition, and rigorous selection process. Similarly, the California Bar Exam, which is a prerequisite for practicing law in California, is known for its high failure rate and challenging questions.

Apart from these exams, other tests such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exam, the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), and the National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) also feature on the list of the toughest exams globally. Each of these exams requires specific knowledge and skills, and therefore, they pose a unique challenge to the candidates. While cracking these exams is a daunting task, success can lead to a prosperous and fulfilling career. For instance, clearing the CFA Exam can lead to a career as a financial analyst or investment manager, whereas clearing the USMLE is a mandatory requirement for practicing medicine in the United States. In conclusion, these exams are regarded as the toughest globally as they require extensive preparation, hard work, and dedication to crack. However, they also provide a pathway to a successful career, and therefore, students are willing to take on the challenge.


Top 10 Toughest Exams in World 2023

Here is the list of the top 10 toughest exams in the world: 


Toughest Exam



Gaokao Exam in China



IIT JEE Advanced



Civil Services Exam (CSE)







Accepted worldwide


Master Sommelier Diploma Exam






CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)



Mensa International




Accepted worldwide

1. Gaokao Exam in China

The National College Entrance Exam (NCEE) or Gaokao is an annual college entrance exam held in China for students who are in their final year of high school. Regarded as one of the toughest exams globally, the Gaokao Exam is conducted over a two-day period in early June, during which the entire country comes to a standstill. The exam is a crucial stepping stone for students who wish to pursue undergraduate studies in China. With over 12 million students taking the exam annually, the Gaokao Exam is a highly competitive and challenging test that requires months of intense preparation. The exam covers a broad range of subjects such as Chinese, mathematics, foreign languages, and science, and has a total duration of 9 hours spread over two days. Students who score well in the Gaokao Exam have a higher chance of securing a spot in top-ranked universities in China and can look forward to promising career prospects.

The importance of the Gaokao Exam goes beyond just securing a spot in a good university. In China, students who score high on the exam are regarded as intelligent and hardworking, which can significantly impact their social status and even influence their marriage prospects. As a result, the Gaokao Exam is not only a test of academic knowledge but also a test of character and personality. In conclusion, the Gaokao Exam is an incredibly challenging and competitive college entrance exam held annually in China. With millions of students taking the exam each year, it requires intense preparation and dedication to secure a good score. Success in the Gaokao Exam can open doors to top-ranked universities and promising career opportunities, making it a crucial milestone for students in China.

2. IIT JEE Advanced (Joint Entrance Examination)

The Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) is the entrance exam for engineering programs at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and is widely regarded as one of the toughest exams in India. In 2019, approximately 10 lakh candidates appeared for the exam, and the acceptance rate is typically around 1%. The JEE is divided into two tiers, similar to the UPSC exam. The JEE Main exam lasts for three hours and thirty minutes and is available in three separate papers that enable admission to bachelor’s degree programs in engineering, technology, architecture, and planning. This exam evaluates candidates’ knowledge of physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Candidates who qualify for the JEE Main exam are eligible to take the JEE Advanced exam, which is a three-hour-long exam designed for students seeking admission to India’s twelve IITs. The JEE Advanced exam is known for its high difficulty level and tests candidates’ aptitude in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Only the top-ranked candidates are selected for admission to the IITs. Candidates who pass the JEE Advanced exam may be eligible for the Siemens Scholarship, which supports their bachelor’s degree in engineering.

3. UPSC (Union Public Service Commission)

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is a government organization in India responsible for conducting the Civil Services Examination (CSE), which is considered one of the toughest exams in the world. The main objective of this exam, which has been in existence for over a century, is to select the best candidates for various civil service positions such as the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS), and others. Out of approximately 500,000 applicants who take the exam each year, only about 1,000 are selected. Candidates must be at least 21 years old before they are eligible to take this difficult exam. The exam consists of two stages: the preliminary stage and the main stage. The preliminary stage includes two general studies papers with objective questions and is held every year in March. The main stage consists of seven subjective-question papers, followed by a personal interview. The main exam is conducted in December each year.

The personal interview is only for those candidates who have cleared the objective and subjective tests. The interview panel assesses each candidate’s suitability based on their intellect, personality, and logical thinking abilities. The interview is a critical aspect of the selection process, as it enables the panel to evaluate the candidate’s overall performance and suitability for the civil service positions.

4. Mensa

Mensa is an international organization known for its exclusive membership criteria. It is a society of individuals with exceptional IQ levels that put them in the top 2% of the world. Members of Mensa are considered to have high intellect and are known for their exceptional problem-solving and logical thinking skills. The Mensa IQ test is a challenging exam that measures one’s cognitive abilities and is known to be one of the most difficult IQ tests in the world. Membership to Mensa is open to people of all ages, with members ranging from as young as two years old to those over 100 years old. Currently, Mensa has over 145,000 members across approximately 100 countries worldwide. Being a part of Mensa provides individuals with opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals and participate in various events and activities aimed at stimulating the intellect. Mensa’s high-intelligence membership criteria and challenging IQ test have made it one of the most respected organizations in the world of intellectualism. Being a member of Mensa is considered a prestigious achievement, and it provides individuals with a sense of pride and accomplishment in their intellectual abilities.

5. GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is a widely accepted standardized test for students seeking to pursue graduate and doctoral studies abroad, particularly in the United States. The exam is considered challenging due to its high-level assessment of an individual’s analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning skills. Given its wide recognition among US colleges and universities, the GRE attracts hundreds of thousands of students each year, all vying for a spot in their dream graduate program. The test is designed to gauge a student’s readiness for graduate-level coursework, and a high GRE score is often a key factor in admissions decisions. For students seeking to study abroad, the GRE can be a critical step towards achieving their academic goals. The test is available in both computer-based and paper-based formats, and it is administered year-round at test centers around the world. With extensive preparation and practice, students can improve their chances of performing well on the GRE and gaining admission to their desired graduate program.

6. CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst)

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam is known to be one of the most demanding and rigorous exams in the finance field. The exam is taken by more than 100,000 applicants each year from around 100 countries worldwide. The CFA exam consists of three levels, and its purpose is to test the knowledge and expertise of finance professionals in the relevant financial tools and practices. Each level of the CFA exam requires candidates to undertake a challenging six-hour test comprising 240 questions. To become a CFA Charterholder, a candidate must successfully pass all three levels of the exam, and also obtain 48 months of professional experience after passing the CFA Levels. It is widely considered as one of the most difficult financial tests in the world. The first two levels of the CFA exam comprise objective questions, while the third level consists of subjective questions. The average candidate takes four attempts to successfully pass all three levels of the CFA exam. Upon completion of the exam and obtaining the required work experience, a candidate will be awarded the CFA Charter, which is recognized and respected worldwide as a symbol of excellence and professionalism in the finance industry.

7. CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)

The Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) test is considered to be one of the toughest exams globally, designed for networking professionals who want to enhance their skills and knowledge. The exam is split into two phases, with six sections in total, and applicants who clear the first phase are qualified to take the second. The second stage test is eight hours long and has a pass rate of only around 1%. Due to the exam’s complexity, candidates are advised to have 7 to 10 years of industry experience and a deep understanding of networking technologies. The CCIE certification is a prestigious award in the networking industry, and passing this test is not easy. The certification signifies that the holder has achieved a high level of knowledge and skill in designing, building, and maintaining complex networking infrastructures.

In 2020, Cisco made specific changes to the exam, including using the CCIE written test, which can be taken online, as the written exam for another Cisco certification, the CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional). This change offers candidates an additional certification opportunity and demonstrates the value of the CCIE certification.

8. GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering)

The Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) is a highly competitive online exam held annually in several countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates. Its primary purpose is to assess candidates’ engineering concepts, mathematics, science, and general aptitude skills for admission to master’s degree programs in top Indian institutes such as IITs, IISC, and IIMs (for fellowship programs). Additionally, some universities in Singapore and Germany consider GATE scores when awarding scholarships. The exam consists of both multiple-choice and numerical questions, covering a broad range of technical topics. GATE is a popular choice for engineering graduates pursuing postgraduate degrees or working in public sector organizations. During the 3-hour exam, candidates must answer a total of 65 questions, including 10 general aptitude questions and 55 technical questions related to their chosen field.

Although the individual GATE test questions may not be the most challenging in the world, the vast syllabus that students must master to prepare for the exam makes it a daunting task. Each year, nearly 700,000 applicants compete to achieve a high score on the exam, reflecting the high level of competition for admission to top-tier institutions.

9. All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam

The All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam is an extremely challenging test that takes place annually at Oxford University. This exam is considered one of the most difficult in the world, with only one or two candidates being selected out of a pool of eighty for a seven-year fellowship at the university. To apply for this exam, candidates are required to submit four essays, two of which are broad issues, while the other two are on specific topics. Each essay must be completed within a maximum of three hours, and the questions are derived from various areas of Humanities. What makes this exam so difficult is the abstract nature of the questions. Since there are no right or wrong answers to the questions, it is challenging to prepare for them. The purpose of this exam is to identify students with exceptional debating and analytical abilities, as well as an understanding of unresolved issues, and the capability to make independent judgments. The successful applicants should also possess a wide range of knowledge, clarity and carefulness of explanation.

Every year, between 80 and 100 applicants take the test, and only a few are chosen to move on to the next stage. The exam consists of four subjects, and candidates must select two of them. The available subjects include Economics, Classical Studies, English Literature, Law, Politics, History, and Philosophy. Those who pass the exam are invited to attend a viva, which is an oral explanation of their written answers. Overall, the All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam is a challenging test that assesses the candidates’ reasoning, analytical, and debating skills in various Humanities fields. Only a handful of successful candidates will obtain a fellowship at Oxford University, which makes this exam highly competitive and prestigious.

10. Exam for the Master Sommelier Diploma

The Master Sommelier Diploma Exam is a rigorous test that is administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) to evaluate the knowledge and skills of sommeliers, especially in the areas of wine and food pairing. The exam is designed to promote higher standards of beverage knowledge and service in the hospitality industry. However, it is considered one of the most challenging exams in the world, with an average success rate of only 10% and multiple attempts often required to pass. The exam is divided into three sections: theory, service, and blind tasting. The theory section assesses the candidate’s knowledge of wine regions, grape varieties, wine-making techniques, and other related topics. The service section tests the candidate’s ability to properly serve wine and communicate effectively with customers. The blind tasting section is widely considered the most difficult part of the exam. The candidates are given a selection of wines to taste and are required to identify the wine’s varietal, origin, and vintage.

In order to pass the exam, candidates must display an expert level of knowledge and skill in all three sections. This level of proficiency is not easy to achieve, and many candidates must attempt the exam multiple times before achieving success. In fact, it is common for even experienced sommeliers to require at least three attempts to pass the exam. The Master Sommelier Diploma Exam is widely regarded as the most difficult wine test in the world. This is due to the extremely high level of knowledge and skill required to pass the exam. Only 269 individuals have achieved success in the exam since it was first held in the United Kingdom in 1969, making it a highly prestigious achievement in the wine industry.

Most Toughest Exam in World

The phrase “Most Toughest Exam in World” generally refers to exams or tests that are notoriously difficult and demanding, requiring a significant amount of preparation, knowledge, and expertise to pass. These exams are typically used to certify individuals in various fields or to gain admission to prestigious universities or programs, and they often have low pass rates and a high degree of competition among test-takers. Examples of such exams include the All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam at Oxford University, the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam, the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert) certification, and the GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering) in India. These exams typically require years of experience and extensive study in order to pass, and passing them is considered a significant achievement in their respective fields.

Which is the Toughest Exam in the World?

Gaokao is a highly competitive college entrance examination held annually in China. It is widely regarded as one of the toughest exams in the world, with a success rate of only about 1% for some of the top universities. The Gaokao exam, also known as the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, is the largest and most competitive standardized exam in China. It is a comprehensive exam covering a broad range of subjects, including Chinese, Mathematics, English, and either Natural Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, and Biology) or Social Sciences (Politics, History, and Geography). The exam is administered once a year in June and is taken by millions of high school students across China. The Gaokao exam is considered to be one of the most important tests in China since it determines which students will be admitted to the country’s top universities. The competition is fierce, with millions of students vying for a limited number of spots in China’s top universities. Success in the Gaokao exam is often seen as the key to upward social mobility, and many families invest heavily in their children’s education to prepare them for the exam.

The exam is known for its rigor and difficulty, with some students studying for up to 16 hours a day in the months leading up to the exam. The test is typically nine hours long, and each subject is tested in a separate session. The exam includes both multiple-choice and essay questions and is designed to test students’ understanding of the subject matter, as well as their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Despite the high stakes and intense competition, cheating on the Gaokao exam is strictly prohibited and can lead to severe consequences. The Chinese government has taken steps in recent years to crack down on cheating, including using facial recognition technology and monitoring students’ social media activity during the exam period. Overall, the Gaokao exam is a symbol of China’s emphasis on education and its commitment to providing opportunities for upward social mobility through hard work and academic achievement.

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