Top 10 Toughest Exams in the World: The Gaokao Exam in China, IIT JEE Advanced, Civil Services Exam (CSE)/UPSC, USMLE, All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam, Master Sommelier Diploma Exam, ICAI CA Exams, CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert), Mensa International, and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) considered among the top 10 hardest tests in the world for 2024.

Did you realize that among the most challenging tests globally, two from India stand out: the UPSC Civil Services Exam (CSE) and JEE Advanced? The pass rate for these exams is so low, less than 1%, that only a handful of students succeed in overcoming their difficulty.

The toughest test globally is the Gaokao Exam in China. This yearly, standardized test is a requirement for entry into all higher education institutions in China. This article will be a valuable resource for you if you’re looking to learn about the most challenging tests in the world. Here, we’ll cover the most difficult tests, including their level of difficulty, pass rates, and additional details.

List of Top 10 Toughest Exams in the World – Overview

Global Most Challenging Tests: Since there isn’t a universal standard to gauge the level of difficulty across all tests, as each one has its own specific objectives. Nonetheless, this piece will examine each test on its own to provide insights into the most difficult tests worldwide that students face at different points in their academic journey.

Top 10 Toughest Exams in the World

Here’s a list of 10 toughest exams in world which are the hardest to crack: 

  1. Gaokao Exam in China
  2. IIT JEE Advanced
  3. Civil Services Exam (CSE)/UPSC
  4. All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam
  5. USMLE
  6. Master Sommelier Diploma Exam
  7. ICAI CA/ ICMAI Exams
  8. CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)
  9. Mensa International
  10. CFA

Let us explore these toughest exams in the world(rank-wise) in detail: 

1. Gaokao Exam in China

Known as one of the most challenging tests globally, the National College Entrance Exam (NCEE) or Gaokao serves as the college entrance exam for students approaching their last year of secondary education. This pivotal test administered yearly, causing the nation to halt for two days as aspiring students compete for university admissions through the Gaokao Exam. Scheduled in the beginning of June, a high score on the Gaokao Exam opens doors to a sparkling career and promising marriage opportunities.

Country of examChina
PurposeCollege Entrance exam for high school students
Duration of exam9 hours
Number of candidates (2024)13,420,000
Pass percentage (2023)84.97%

Gaokao Exam in China – Success Rate Summary

YearNumber of examineesAccepted studentsSuccess Rate

2. IIT JEE Advanced

The IIT JEE Advanced considered one of the most challenging exams in India. Applicants aiming for a spot at the former Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) must take the IIT-JEE Advanced test. This exam conducted at the national level and serves as the sole entrance requirement for undergraduate studies at these universities, which offer programs leading to a Bachelor’s Degree, an Integrated Master’s degree, or a Bachelor-Master Dual Degree in Engineering, Science, or Architecture.

It’s important for candidates to understand that getting into IITs involves a complex selection process that includes passing the JEE Mains exam, followed by the JEE Advanced exam. Individuals preparing for this exam must stay updated with the latest information regarding the JEE Advanced exam.

PurposeUG admission to Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs)
Duration of exam3 hours
Number of candidates1,80,372 (2023)
Pass percentage (2024)26.77%

Why is IIT JEE Exam considered as one of the World’s Toughest Exam?

Volume of Candidates: Thousands of students participate in the JEE Mains, the initial examination round. However, only a small percentage deemed eligible for the JEE Advanced, which determines admission to the esteemed Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). The fierce competition means a minor mistake can have serious consequences.

Content Complexity and Rigor: The JIT-JEE examines more advanced topics beyond fundamental principles in Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics. To excel, solving these issues demands a deep understanding of the subject matter and the capacity to innovate in applying concepts.

Academic Resilience and Stress Tolerance: The examination structured to evaluate a student’s composure under stress. Given a strict time limit and a high volume of questions, applicants must excel in managing their time effectively and sustaining concentration while addressing intricate challenges.
These aspects amalgamate to render the JIT-JEE an extremely challenging exam, necessitating commitment, comprehensive knowledge, and the capability to perform under stressful conditions. Securing a place in an IIT represents a significant challenge for aspiring students.

Here the success rate summary of the JEE Advanced Exam


3. Civil Services Exam (CSE)

The most challenging test in India – the Civil Services Exam or IAS exam, is a sought-after pathway for Indian individuals aiming to serve their nation in various administrative roles. Organized by UPSC (Union Public Service Commission), this nationwide exam consists of three phases – Prelims, Mains, and an interview stage, designed to select candidates for the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Indian Police Services (IPS), and other Central Civil Services. To illustrate the significance of the test – all the ministries and departments at the federal and state level are led by IAS officers, rendering this examination the most distinguished and arduous in the country.

PurposeRecruitment to administrative posts such as IAS, IPS and IFS
Duration of exam2-3 hours
Number of candidates10,93,948 applied for UPSC in 2021
Selected for service685 candidates were selected in 2021
Pass percentage0.2%

Why UPSC CSE Exam is considered as World’s Toughest Exam?

Mountainous Syllabus: The UPSC syllabus is indeed daunting, covering an extensive sea of information. It includes subjects like Indian history and government, along with science, contemporary events, and even a hint of moral principles. It requires a comprehensive and thorough grasp of topics that not many tests can rival.

Multi-Stage Marathon: The selection procedure, which includes three stages – Prelims, Mains, and Interview – serves as a demanding endurance test. Every phase offers a different array of difficulties, systematically eliminating participants until only the most versatile and tough candidates left.

Cutthroat Competition: The precise count of applicants changes, but tens of thousands of candidates compete for a restricted amount of in-demand roles. This intense rivalry requires careful planning, constant commitment, and the skill to excel under high stress.

Mastering the UPSC CSE is a significant achievement. It demands a blend of smartness, relentless perseverance, and a sincere wish to help India progress. Successful candidates not only gain great respect but also start rewarding careers, molding the future of India’s civil service.

4. All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam 

The All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam stands out as a challenging mix of intense competition, the need for expertise in both narrow and wide areas of study, an emphasis on uniqueness and analytical thought, unusual inquiries, and a severe requirement for outstanding performance. This blend creates a genuinely difficult assessment of mental acuity for students hoping to become scholars.

What makes the All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam widely recognized as one of the most challenging tests globally?

Picture this scenario: You a sharp-witted historian, yet unexpectedly, you faced with a deep philosophical question concerning the essence of consciousness, or a task that demands linking ideas from various fields through literature. This represents the kind of adaptability and mental flexibility required for the All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam. Here are the major elements contributing to the All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam’s reputation as one of the most challenging in existence:

Exclusivity and Competition: Just a few candidates make it through each year, making the race tough. It draws in gifted individuals from various fields in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Dual Focus: The exam format requires excellence in two areas:

Specialist Papers: These detailed assessments evaluate how well you understand the subject matter in your selected area (examples: Classics, Law, History).

General Papers: These extensive writings encourage you to engage in deep and imaginative thought beyond your particular field of knowledge.

Originality and Depth: It’s not simply about memorizing information. You must showcase the skill of thinking deeply, understanding in-depth, and creatively interacting with intricate concepts in a novel and innovative manner.

Unconventional Questions: The era of simply memorizing facts and providing cookie-cutter responses is over. Nowadays, tests present one-of-a-kind and challenging queries, pushing you to respond quickly and demonstrate your mental nimbleness.

Pressure for Excellence:Considering the fellowship’s significant status, there’s a great deal of expectation to excel beyond average standards. This can be especially challenging for early-career scholars.


The Medical Licensing Examination for Physicians (USMLE) is a demanding set of tests that doctors need to successfully complete in order to work as medical professionals in the United States. USMLE recognized for its strict requirements and broad subject matter, with a pass rate consistently ranging from 94% to 97%, indicating its high level of difficulty. Prospective candidates often spend several months to more than a year preparing for the exams, highlighting their challenging nature.

The competitive aspect of the USMLE highlighted by its essential role in gaining admission to residency programs and advancing in one’s medical career. The examination tests a wide range of medical knowledge and practical skills in various medical fields, reinforcing its status as one of the most difficult medical licensing exams internationally.

What makes the USMLE regarded as among the World’s Top 10 Toughest Exams?

Pass Rates: Throughout its three phases, the USMLE features different success percentages that indicate its level of difficulty. For example, Step 1 has typically recorded pass rates ranging from 94% to 96% for first-time students from both the US and Canada, showing a substantial obstacle, despite these candidates being well-prepared. Step 2 CK (Clinical Knowledge) usually has success rates between 94% and 97%, whereas Step 3 has pass rates for first-time candidates falling within the range of 96% to 97%.

Preparation Time: Applicants usually invest a lot of time getting ready for every phase of the USMLE. On the whole, students pursuing medical degrees put in many months, sometimes even over a year, of rigorous learning and training to be fully prepared for the tests.

Competitiveness: The first part of the USMLE is especially competitive, with performance on the exam significantly impacting the choice of residency programs. Many medical students feel compelled to score well because of the intense competition for spots in different medical fields.

Content Depth: The scope and depth of understanding needed for the USMLE considerable. The test encompasses basic sciences, clinical diagnostics, procedures for managing treatments, moral issues, and care of patients in a variety of medical fields.

Career Impact: Obtaining a passing score on the USMLE is an essential achievement for healthcare workers aiming for a license in the US. Achieving high scores on these tests not only unlocks pathways to residency programs but also influences prospective job prospects and options for focusing on a specific area of medicine.

6. Master Sommelier Diploma Exam

The Master Sommelier Diploma Test made up of three components: a theory test (which includes an oral exam rather than a written one), a series of deductive tasting of six wines, and a hands-on wine service test. Achieving a score of at least 75% in each of these areas required to pass.

Applicants must show both advanced technical skills and social abilities, in addition to displaying the elegance and professionalism expected of a Master Sommelier, along with strong sales skills. Typically, those who succeed in the Advanced Sommelier Test (with a pass rate of around 25% to 30%) qualify to take the Master Sommelier Diploma Test. The pass rate for the Master Sommelier Diploma Test (Theory) hovers around 10%.

PurposeTo become a certified Sommelier
Duration of examPart 1 – 50 minsPart 2 – n/aPart 3 – 25 mins
Pass percentage10% (theory)
Official website


The ICAI exam, also known as the Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) exam or the CA exam, and the Cost and Management Accountant (CMA) exam offered by the Institute of Cost Accountants of India (ICMAI), recognized as among the most challenging exams in the country, attracting a similarly skilled group of candidates. Individuals with degrees in commerce are often drawn towards these exams if they aspire to work in the fields of accounting, auditing, cost management, finance, or taxation.

These exams are not only similar in structure but also have consistently reported low pass rates each year. They dministered at three distinct stages corresponding to the levels of the CA/CMA programs. To achieve CA/CMA certification, candidates must successfully complete all three levels of the coursework.

  • CA/ CMA Foundation course
  • CA/ CMA Intermediate examination 
  • CA/ CMA Final examination 
Parameters Chartered Accountant (CA) ExamCost and Management Accountant (CMA) Exam
Conducting BodyInstitute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI)The Institute of Cost Accountants of India (ICMAI)
PurposeAccounting, Auditing, Cost Management, Finance, Taxation
Duration of Exam2 to 3 hours duration for each paperFoundation: 120 minsIntermediate and Final exam: 180 mins
Pass percentage (Both Groups)CA Final (Nov 2023): 9.42%(2016 Syllabus) CMA Final {Dec 2023}: 10.53%(2022 Syllabus) CMA Final {Dec 2023}: 25.76%

8. CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)

The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) credential is a collection of specialized technical qualifications for experienced networking experts involved in the creation, assembly, deployment, upkeep, and resolution of intricate networks within large organizations. The CCIE credential program structured into six distinct paths, or tracks, featuring collaboration, data center, routing and switching, security, service provider, and wireless expertise.

PurposeTechnical certifications for senior networking professionals
Duration of exam2hrs
Number of candidates8,000/year
Pass percentage26%
Official website 

9. Mensa International

Established in 1946, Mensa is not a test; it’s a membership club for those who have achieved scores in the top 2% of the overall population on a recognized intelligence test. This club is non-partisan and does not discriminate based on race or religion. Currently, the club boasts a membership of over 145,000 individuals across roughly 90 countries globally. The primary aim of Mensa is to recognize and nurture human intelligence for the greater good; to promote studies on intelligence, its traits, and applications; and to offer an intellectually engaging and social setting for its members.

10. CFA

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) is among the highest desired certifications for professionals in the investment sector worldwide. It is considered the leading and most esteemed certification in the fields of finance and investment management. Individuals who enroll in the CFA program are equipped with knowledge about the finance and investment sector, enhancing their expertise. Participants must successfully complete three distinct course levels (CFA Level 1, CFA Level 2, CFA Level 3) to granted the title of Chartered Financial Analyst by the CFA Institute.

PurposeAssess investment analysis and portfolio management skills
Duration of exam3 x 4-hour sessions (one for each level)
Number of candidates (February, 2024)16,932
Pass percentage44%

Top 5 World’s Toughest Exams: Based on the information provided, it’s clear that the following exams considered the five most challenging globally: the Gaokao in China, IIT JEE Advanced, Civil Services Exam (CSE)/UPSC, Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE), and Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Additionally, the following exams are widely recognized as being among the most difficult: the All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam, the California Bar Exam in the United States, Indian Engineering Services (IES), Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT), among others. When discussing the nation with the most rigorous examination, China stands out as being the country known for the toughest exam, the Gaokao.

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