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Top 10 Toughest Exams in the World

8 min read
Blog Summary In the evolving world, education's value grows apparent. Discover how various global education systems tackle the toughest exams. Evaluating success goes beyond university rankings, encompassing student opportunities and real-world readiness. Dive into the challenging LNAT exam for law programs in the UK, the elusive Master Sommelier Diploma, Mensa's IQ test, the demanding CCIE certification, GATE in India, GRE, MCAT, USMLE in the US, Korea's CSAT, and China's Gaokao. These exams test diverse skills, spanning verbal reasoning, IT expertise, critical analysis, medical knowledge, and more, highlighting education's multifaceted nature across the globe.


As the world progresses, the importance of a good education becomes more evident. With that in mind, it is interesting to see how different educational systems conduct the toughest exams in the world. There are many ways to measure the success of an educational system. One way is to look at how top ranked universities from each country conduct different exams. However, this only gives us a limited perspective. There are other major factors to consider when gauging the effectiveness of an educational system. 

It is essential to consider how well universities in a country are doing and what kind of opportunities exist for students further down the educational ladder. In addition, we must ask ourselves how well students are prepared for life after they leave school or college. 

Are they able to get good jobs? Do they have the skills they need to be successful in their chosen field? There is no easy answer when it comes to judging the success of an educational system. To give you an overview of some of the toughest exams in the world, here we have provided you with a list.

1. LNAT - Law Admission Test 

The LNAT is an exam that some UK universities use to evaluate applicants for law programs. This complex test does not directly measure educational achievement but focuses on the examinees' aptitude, especially crucial verbal reasoning skills. 

These diverse aptitude measurements make the annual exam extremely difficult to pass. The LNAT is divided into two sections and lasts for nearly three hours. Section A consists of 42 objective questions to be tackled in 95 minutes. Section B has three essay questions from which the candidate is expected to select and answer one within 40 minutes.

Read more: Engineering Courses to study in UK 

2. Master Sommelier Diploma Exam

The Master of Sommelier Diploma Exam is a challenging exam that seeks to improve standards in beverage knowledge and the service provided in hotels and restaurants across the globe. It is one of the toughest exams in the world, with a 10% average success rate after multiple attempts. The Court of Master Sommeliers administers this exam, which has been held annually in the UK since 1969. To date, only 269 men and women worldwide have completed it.

To pass each section of the exam, candidates must first pass the theory part. After three consecutive years have passed, they can then attempt the practical restaurant wine service and salesmanship sections. Finally, if all three elements are not achieved within this timeframe, candidates are required to retake the failed part(s). This demonstrates how seriously the Court takes its certification program and sets high standards for candidates who wish to become master sommeliers.

Read more: Diploma Courses in UK

3. Mensa IQ Test

Mensa is a society made up of intelligent people who enjoy trying to outsmart one another. To join, you must first take a very difficult IQ test that measures your problem solving skills. Anyone who scores well within the upper 2% of the population is accepted into Mensa. Age is no barrier since Mensa's membership ranges from toddlers to centenarians. Currently, Mensa boasts a membership of over 145,000 people in over 100 countries.

4. Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE)

The CCIE certification is CISCO's most prestigious certification for network engineers. It has been recognized as one of the toughest exams in the world for information technology industry and is recommended for those with at least 7-10 years of experience in the networking field. A very small number of candidates actually achieve this career-enhancing certification, which is testament to its difficulty.

The six-part exam comprises two phases – a written exam and an eight-hour practical lab test. The written exam is composed of 120 questions, which can be written on the internet. The practical lab test is composed of 8 scenarios that require you to administer and troubleshoot load balancers, firewalls, switches, routers, and other Cisco networking devices.

5. Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE)

GATE stands for the General Aptitude Test in Engineering. It is a computer-based examination that is taken annually by engineering graduates who want to pursue postgraduate degrees or work. Apart from India, GATE is recognised in many other countries, such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Germany and Nepal. The IISc conducts GATE on behalf of the Indian government.

The 3-hour exam has 65 questions that cover general aptitude (verbal and numerical ability) as well as questions based on the paper chosen by the candidate. On average, over 700,000 candidates take the GATE exam every February. Although it may not be one of the most difficult examinations in the world, what makes it challenging is the vast syllabus that students have to contend with.

6. GRE Exam

Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized examination that is administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS).

GRE is used for admission to master's and doctoral degree programs in various universities. It has been found to be a reliable measure of academic achievement and can be used for up to 5 years after the exam has been taken.

There are three main sections on the GRE General Test: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. The computer-based exam cannot be taken more than 5 times in a year and the paper-based exam can be taken as often as it is offered. There are also GRE subject tests in Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology.

Read More: Agriculture courses to Study Abroad

7. MCAT Exam

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a computer-based test administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges. It is used by medical schools in the United States, Australia, Canada, Caribbean Islands, and a few other countries. The MCAT consists of 4 sections: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior.

8. USMLE Exam 

The United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLE) is a three-step exam that covers all of the required knowledge for licensure in the United States. It is a one-day exam that is divided into seven 60-minute blocks and administered in one 8-hour testing session. The number of questions per block on a given examination form may vary but will not exceed 40 (the total number of items in the overall exam form will not exceed 280).

9. California Bar Examination (CBE)

The California Bar Exam is divided into two parts: the General Bar Examination and the Attorney's Exam. The General Bar Examination consists of three parts: five essay questions, the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), and one Performance Test (PT). The Attorney's Exam consists of two essay questions and a performance test.

College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) is a standardized test administered by the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE). The CSAT measures a candidate's ability to succeed in college, with questions based on Korea's high school curriculum. It is used for admission purposes by Korean universities. 

List of main sections of the CSAT:

  • National Language (Korean)
  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Foreign Language
  • Sciences/Vocational education

10. Gaokao

Gaokao, or the National College Entrance Examination, is a standardized college entrance exam in China. It usually takes place during the final year of high school and is used to judge a student's eligibility for undergraduate admission into many of the country's higher education institutions. The exam is based on Chinese Language and Literature, mathematics, a foreign language, and one or more subjects depending on the student's desired major in College. For example: Economics, History, Sociology, Physics, or Chemistry.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the toughest exams in the world?
The toughest exams include the UPSC Civil Services, Gaokao, IIT-JEE, California Bar Exam, and Mensa IQ test.