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Top 10 Toughest Exams in the World for 2024

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Yocket Editorial Team
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Exams are an unending nightmare of being a student, right? Nonetheless, they are necessary to evaluate a candidate's comprehension of a certain grade level curriculum, demonstrate skills unique to certain areas, such as business or medicine, or find employment worldwide.

Have you ever wondered which tests are the toughest in the world and why they are so difficult to crack? We have compiled a list of the top 10 toughest exams in the world, listing all the essential information and a guide on how to crack them. Did you know that 3 of these 10 toughest exams globally are administered and graded in India? Start reading if you're curious to find out which ones they are.

Scoring well on examinations such as the GRE or GMAT is not the trickiest. But, being up-to-date with the application deadlines for these examinations and varied abroad universities is. Yocket Premium. We have served 10,000+ students in the past 9 years and we can help you too! With AI-based tools and personalized counseling services, get assistance with university shortlisting to applications, acing the standardized exams, getting scholarships, and more! Become A Premium Yocketer Today!

Table of Contents

Top 10 Toughest Exams in the World

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

  • Gaokao Exam in China
  • IIT JEE Advanced
  • Civil Services Exam (CSE)/UPSC
  • GATE
  • GRE
  • Master Sommelier Diploma Exam
  • ICAI CA/ ICMAI Exams
  • CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)
  • Mensa International
  • CFA

Let us know about the toughest exams in the world (rank-wise) in detail, below: 

1. Gaokao Exam in China

Administered by the People's Republic of China, the Nationwide Unified Examination for Admissions to General Universities and Colleges, also known as the Gaokao Exam (高考; "Higher Exam"), is the national entrance exam for higher education.

  • Eligibility: To get admission to higher education institutes (HEIs) in mainland China, final-year high school students must pass this exam.
  • Test Duration: This test lasts approximately 9 hours and for 2 days. Depending on the province, the number of days varies. In 2024, the exam is scheduled for June 7 and June 8.
  • Subjects: This most difficult test in the world includes Chinese, mathematics, and a foreign language (typically English). Students can select from several major subjects, including mathematics, science, history, and literature.
  • Success Rate: The Gaokao has a very low passing score. Fewer than 0.25% of applicants are accepted into China's most prestigious universities. For this reason, it is among the toughest yet popular tests to take in China.
  • Passing Score: Depending on the province and year, different scores are required to pass the Gaokao exam. Each province may have its own grading and scoring system.

Despite being the toughest exam in the world, the Gaokao is the most widely taken exam in the history of China, with 12.91 million candidates in 2023. 

Check out the table for more details:

Country of exam

China

Purpose

College Entrance exam for high school students

Duration of exam

9 hours

Number of candidates

12 million/year

Pass percentage

Not available

2. IIT JEE Advanced

India's national entrance exam for engineering colleges is called the Joint Entrance Exam, or JEE. The JEE Main and JEE Advance are its two components.  The JEE Advanced is open to students who passed the JEE Main. The Indian Institute of Technology, or IIT, is one of the esteemed technological institutes in India, funded by the national government.

A good score on the JEE serves as a doorway to the 23 IITs in India, alongside several other universities, including the National Institute of Technology (NIT), the Centrally Funded Technical Institute (CFTI), and the Government-funded Technical Institutes (GFTI). Seven IITs usually conduct JEE Advanced on a rotational basis. 

  • IIT Kharagpur
  • IIT Bombay
  • IIT Roorkee
  • IIT Madras
  • IIT Kanpur
  • IIT Delhi
  • IIT Guwahati

Read the important information on JEE Main:

Country

India

Purpose

UG admission to Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs)

Duration of exam

3 hours

Number of candidates

1,55,538 (2022)

Pass percentage

26.17 per cent in 2022

3. Civil Services Exam (CSE/UPSC)

The Union Public Service Commission, or UPSC, administers the Civil Service Examination, or CSE. To be considered for an administrative post in India, such as IAS, IPS, or IFS, you need to pass this national exam. Three phases comprise the exam: preliminary, mains, and interview.

General Studies I and General Studies II are the two papers for CSE Preliminary (CSAT). Those who pass the qualifying exam can take the Civil Service Main Exam. The exam lasts for five to seven days and consists of nine papers. Candidates must attend the interview phase once shortlisted, which has a maximum score of 275. The interview is conducted three to four months following the Civil Service Mains examination. 

The Union Public Service Commission, or UPSC, administers the Civil Service Examination, or CSE. To be considered for an administrative post in India, such as IAS, IPS, or IFS, one must pass the national exam. Three phases comprise the exam: preliminary, mains, and interview.

Country

India

Purpose

Recruitment to administrative posts such as IAS, IPS and IFS

Duration of exam

2-3 hours

Number of candidates

10,93,948 applied for UPSC in 2021

Selected for service

685 candidates were selected in 2021

Pass percentage

0.2%

4. GATE

GATE is one of the toughest exams worldwide, the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) is mostly administered for postgraduate admittance to the engineering and science domains. It is also used for screening into entry-level engineering jobs. The test is offered once a year, usually occurring in February. 

On behalf of the National Coordination Board - GATE, Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Education (MoE), Government of India, GATE is jointly run by the Indian Institute of Science and seven Indian Institutes of Technologies (IIT). The seven IITs are:

  • Roorkee
  • Delhi
  • Guwahati
  • Kanpur
  • Kharagpur
  • Chennai (Madras)
  • Mumbai (Bombay)

Country

India

Purpose

Admission to Post Graduate studies recruitment

Duration of exam

3 hours

Number of candidates registered

8,45,432 registered for the GATE 2022

Selected

1,12,678

5. GRE

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized exam for graduate admission, administered by the Educational Testing Service. According to the Economic Times, India had the largest number of students who took the GRE in the 2022-23 testing year (113,304). It is a prerequisite for university admission in the United States, Canada, and Singapore. You can attempt the GRE General Test once every 21 days, up to 5 times within 12 months.

The GRE assesses verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills. The score supplements your undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, and other application documents. Although the GRE is predominantly accepted for business-related programs like MBA and MIM, some other fields that expect a GRE score include:

  • Engineering
  • Education
  • Natural Sciences

Get ready for success with Yocket’s expert GRE preparation courses! With 4 mock tests, 50+ topic-based tests, 1500+ practice questions, and personalized study strategies for optimal results, you will be closer to realizing your educational goals. Take a 30-minute diagnostic test to see where you stand in your GRE prep today!

Below are the details of the GRE General Test:

Country

Accepted worldwide

Purpose

Admission to MBA MS courses

Duration of exam

3 hours 45 minutes

GRE Exam Fee

INR 22,550

Suggested: Top 25 Universities In The World

6. Master Sommelier Diploma Exam

The Master Sommelier Diploma Examination consists of three parts: a theory examination (an oral examination and not written), a deductive tasting of six wines, and a practical wine service examination. The minimum passing score for each of the three sections is 75%. Candidates are required to exhibit a high standard of both technical and social skills throughout the examination and demonstrate the courtesy and charm of a Master Sommelier. It is also essential that the candidate demonstrate excellent salesmanship. Students who pass the Advanced Sommelier Examination (on average about 25%-30%) are eligible to apply to take the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination itself. The pass rate for the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination-THEORY is approximately 10%.

Country

USA

Purpose

To become a certified Sommelier

Duration of exam

  • Part 1 – 50 mins
  • Part 2 - n/a
  • Part 3 – 25 mins

Pass percentage

10% (theory)

7. ICAI CA/ ICMAI Exams

Conducted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), the ICAI exam or CA exam and the Cost and Management Accountant (CMA) exam conducted by The Institute of Cost Accountants of India (ICMAI) are two of the toughest exams in India that cater to a similar audience base. Commerce graduates looking to pursue a career in accounting, auditing, cost management, finance or taxation are required to appear for either of these professional courses. Not only do both exams follow an identical course structure but they also register low pass percentages every year. Both exams are conducted at three different levels as per the CA/CMA courses. To be certified as a CA/ CMA, candidates have to clear all the course levels. The three-course levels are

  • CA/ CMA Foundation course
  • CA/ CMA Intermediate examination 
  • CA/ CMA Final examination 
Parameters  Chartered Accountant (CA) Exam Cost and Management Accountant (CMA) Exam
Country India
Conducting Body Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) The Institute of Cost Accountants of India (ICMAI)
Purpose Accounting, Auditing, Cost Management, Finance, Taxation
Duration of Exam

2 to 3 hours duration for each paper

Foundation: 120 mins

Intermediate 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)

Cisco Systems offers a certification program called Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, or CCIE. IT workers possessing the CCIE certification are considered highly qualified. Leading suppliers of CCIE technology are Juniper, HP, Dell, and Cisco.

Six tracks, or areas of expertise, comprise the certification program: Routing and Switching, Service Provider, Security, Collaboration, Data Center, and Wireless. You can select the test based on your field of expertise. The CCIE is divided into two sessions: a qualifying exam and a hands-on lab exam. Your testing fee for the lab test can vary depending on whether you opt for a Cisco kit option or a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) option.

Country

USA

Purpose

Technical certifications for senior networking professionals

Duration of exam

2hrs

Number of candidates

8,000/year

Pass percentage

26%

9. Mensa International

Rather than an exam, Mensa International is a worldwide organization for outstanding test scorers. Mensa is the world's oldest high-IQ group, with 150,000+ members from over 90 nations. There are about 3,881 Mensa members in India! The organization is a non-political forum for intellectual, cultural, and social exchange. Only those with a standardized IQ test result of 98 percentile or higher are eligible to join the organization. The Mensa accepts the top 2% of the test scores, which is challenging for everyone. And this makes it come under the toughest exam in the world. So, the minimum score can vary depending on the test you attempt. 

The most popular IQ tests and their Mensa score cutoffs are given below:

Stanford-Binet

132 and above

Cattell

148 and above

10. CFA

In Finance, Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is universally accepted. Usually students in finance, accounting, economics, or business take the CFA. The exam is the toughest in the world since it contains three levels, each with varying difficulty levels. Check out the test details below:

  • Level I consists of two sessions of 2 hours and 15 minutes each. 
  • Level II consists of two sessions with 2 hours and 12 minutes each. 
  • Level III consists of two sessions with 2 hours and 12 minutes each. 

Qualifying in this exam can boost your career prospects. You will be qualified for work profiles in asset management, risk management, and investment management, including senior and executive roles.

From the article, we can conclude that the Gaokao Exam in China, IIT JEE Advanced, Civil Services Exam (CSE)/UPSC, Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) are the top 5 toughest exams in the world. Other most difficult exams in the world include the All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam, the Califonia Bar Exam in the USA, Indian Engineering Services (IES) and the Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT) among many others. When we talk about the country with the hardest exam. Well, China is the country with the hardest exam as it is home to the Gaokao Exam.

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Conclusion

Exams can be a challenging aspect of being a student or working, but getting good marks can help you gain admission to reputable universities and jobs across the globe. If you are a study-abroad aspirant, you must take several exams along the way. For admission to varied programs, the majority of institutions in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, and elsewhere need language proficiency test results (like the IELTS, TOEFL, PTE, or Duolingo), entrance exams (like the GRE, GMAT, USMLE, or LSAT), and other qualifying exams.

If you are overwhelmed with this list of examinations and have just started on your academic journey, get start-to-finish assistance from our Yocket Study Abroad Experts. Get all the information on the necessary examinations required to secure admissions to the top universities abroad, and get personalised counselling for the courses and universities you can target. Get the ultimate assistance to simplify the university shortlisting process, get tricks on acing standardized tests, get help with finding and applying for loans and scholarships, and more.

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