Top 10 Toughest Exams in the World

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Life could be so much fun without exams! Ah I see you second my thought but wait there is more, that sort of fun comes with terms and conditions read a life infested with prolonged misery spent in either other competitions or just procrastinating. An addiction seems sweet but it’s the thing that we dislike become the reason for our eventual good.

We have hereby compiled the list of world’s toughest entrance exams in their own category. It not only incorporates the factors like pattern of the examination or the syllabus one is required to master but a plethora of them including psychological and societal factors. Some of them are tough on individualistic ground while the expectations and hype attached to others make them so difficult.

10) Mensa


Mensa is the society of highest IQ holders. How much percentile you require? Let’s just say 98 is the minimum. With its location worldwide and headquarters in Carthorse, Lincolnshire, England; Mensa has over 110,000 highly intelligent members. It is also the only test which is not age restricted. Hence, the youngest member is mere 2 years and 5 month old with an astounding IQ of 141 and the oldest member is 102 years old.

Roland Berrill who was an Australian barrister along with a British Scientist cum lawyer, Dr. Lancelot War came up with the idea of a society made up of people who ranked high on Intelligent Quotient. In 1946 they laid the groundwork for a society which would comprise of intellectuals from over 50 countries just six decades into its formation. What started from the Lincoln College in Oxford became the beacon of identifying, encouraging and stimulating human intelligence.

9)  LNAT


LNAT or the National Admission Test for Law is an aptitude test for the main law universities in United Kingdom. Currently over 9 law universities have adopted it. Established on the leading requirement of Oxford University, LNAT was aimed at a better sorting process, as it was difficult for the law universities to choose between applicants with only slightly varied A-Level scores. The exam is not restricted primarily to U.K citizens so all applicants natural or overseas have to apply for it in order to be considered for the law universities based in United Kingdom.

This rigorous 150 minutes exam tests the applicant on the basis of reading comprehensions and logical reasoning skills. There are 10 sets in the reading portion with 2 to 5 questions per set; one includes an essay that could take up around 40 grueling minutes to attempt which is basically on open ended topics regarding societal issues especially related to student strata of the society.

8) College Scholastic Ability Test


CSAT or College Scholastic Ability Test is also known as Suneung in South Korea. This is one of the most exhaustive standardized tests in existence. Held every year on the second Thursday of November the importance of the test is illustrated by the fact that on the test day all employees working with the South Korean Government are directed to arrive late at work so as not to cause traffic jams which might lead to any unfortunate delay of an applicant.

South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the OCED countries and quite a considerate percentage of most of the youth’s suicide cases are due to despair and depression which is resultant of the disappointment in CSAT. The sincerity for the exam is such that the students start preparing for it as early as from elementary school. Since the country has highest number of post-secondary degree holders the pressure of expectations is unmatchable.

7) GRE


GRE or The Graduate Record Examination is a standard test one is required to take for seeking a seat in many American Graduate Schools as well as other English Speaking Countries. So what makes it tougher is not just the level of difficulty of the examination but the stiff competition as well. Education Testing Service or ETS came up with it in 1949. It is a computer based examination and tests the candidates primarily on the basis of critical thinking, verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills. Though the importance of this examination as an admission criteria differ from institute to institute while some just consider it a mere formality others take it as an important selection basis.

The paper consists of six sections. The first is analytical writing including timed issues and argument tasks. Next five comprises of two verbal reasoning sections alone with two quantitative reasoning and one experimental or research based section. The duration for the exam is exact 225 minutes with one minutes section break and a 10 min break post third section.



LSAT or the Law School Examination test is held in United States, Canada, and Australia. This test stretches over half a day. It aims to assess the reading comprehension, logical analysis and verbal reasoning attainments of the applicant.

The representatives from Harvard and Yale Law School came together on the initiated enquiry of Frank Bowels, Admission Director of Columbia Law School to draft the pattern of LSAT exam in 1947 while the first exam was finally held in 1948. Held by the Law School Admission Council, passing this test gives the applicant an edge over his/her GPA. Although it has existed since 1948 the prevalent form however was incorporated in the year 1991. An applicant has just 3 chances in a period of 2 years to clear the exam. The test evaluates the applicant on the basis of five sections which includes multiple choice questions, aptitude test and a 30 minute writing sample.



IIT is one of premier engineering institutes in the world, the entrance for which is the IITJEE or The Indian Institutes of Technology Joint Entrance Examination (or simply JEE). It is held in two phases; JEE main and JEE advanced. It has an admission ratio of 10,000:5,00,000 thus making it one of the toughest engineering exam in the world. Each year only 1 out of every 50 that apply makes it to IIT. In fact many students who do not get through IIT either try again or seek admission in MIT, Harvard, Princeton and Caltech some even on full scholarship. The aspirants claim that there is nothing beyond IIT.

The exam is objective and divided in two questions papers of 3 hours each. Both sections measure the skills of the candidate in Physics, Chemistry and Math as well the comprehensive, reasoning and analytical abilities. The students exacted preparing from as early as 5th grade and sacrificing on extracurricular hours with an added marathon of more than 8 hours of diligent studies as the fastest step towards the institute of one’s dream.

4) CAT


Established on the initiation of planning commission of India, the IIM or Indian Institute of Management is the premier business school of India and amongst the top 10 in the world. It offers postgraduate, doctoral and executive education programs and even the diploma and fellowship from this institute are at par with MBA and PhD respectively. There are 13 institutes and they admit students for their business administration programs on the basis of CAT or Common Admission Test.

This test scores the applicant on the basis of four skills: quantitative, data interpretation, verbal ability and logical reasoning. What makes it all the tougher is the negative marking and section-wise cutoff!  Due to the number of applicants on the rise every year the test is now held in a window of approximately three weeks in the months of October and November. The test itself is computer based and exactly 150 minutes long.

3) All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam


All the entrance exams in the world test students and churn out geniuses but All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam test geniuses and bring out the cleverest people on earth. Only the top 500 oxford graduates who qualify with a first class honors and students from other universities with equivalent academic achievements are eligible to take this exam. The Examination fellowship is of even years each and two fellow examinations are elected each other. We’d like to underscore that although selecting none is quite rare but the college has awarded single fellowship on many occasions.

The exam is held on two days in late September and includes two examinations of three hours each day. The most noted was the cherry pie test or as the one last romantic, mystical trial aptly put by an applicant. It was the most grueling one word based essay test however it was axed in 2010 and the word for the year 2008 was ‘novelty’.



Many exceptionally bright children who clear CAT post IIT-JEE choose to appear for UPSC exams as well.  And many of them who term CAT and JEE as cakewalk deem UPSC as the toughest exam they have had to face.  Recruitment to IAS or Indian Administrative Service is on the basis of an exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission of India or UPSC. The exam is known as UPSC exam or simple ‘Civils’, working for the government is tantamount to any job in corporate or technological arenas.

The Exam is conducted in two phases: Preliminary – which is an objective type examination and Mains- which include a thoroughly subjective examination along with an interview. From around 3 Lakh students that apply every year only 16,000 make it to final exam and 1000 join the Indian Administrative Service. The exam is held annually, the prelim in month of March and mains in the month of December so the candidates who have cleared the objective type prelim examination have only 8 grueling months to prepare themselves for Mains and the interview.

1) National Higher Education Entrance Examination


National Higher Education Entrance Examination is better known as ‘Gaokao’ and is perhaps one of the most important landmark in a Chinese teenager’s life. It won’t be an overstatement to say the least that one’s academic future wholly depends on one’s performances in ‘Gaokao’. It is a pre-requisite for admission to all the higher education universities in China. The vehemency of this exam is such that ‘n; of documentaries have been made on this subject recording the mental stress a teenager preparing for Gaokao has to undergo. Each year more than 7 million people apply for it in 2006; however the number easily crossed a 9.5 million mark.

Being a high-school level and pre-undergraduate level exam it encompasses all subjects. But what puts it on our list is the psychological stress that comes along with it. It is not just the students that are affected but also their teachers and parents.  Cases of suicides, nervous breakdowns and clinical depression see a jaw dropping rise during this duration.  Some parents are reported to have getting their female wards prescribe to birth control pills in order to avoid undergoing menstruation.





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  • Anand Kamal

    Details of UPSC written overhere is wrong..
    FYI .. Pre exam held on month of May every year and Mains on month of October / December.
    There is 3rd phase also – Personal Interview, then only student get merit list.

    • witty

      moreover 1000 students dont make it into ias..hardly 100 ias vacancies each year..the rest 900 students end up with less sought after services like ips,irs ,iis , ics, postal etc…many of them opt for the exam next year as well.moreover clearly the author doesnt have any insight about people preaparing for jee or cat. just because so many students appear for CAT doesnt make it one of the toughest exam. the paper is really easy incase u are good at aptitude and i know people who have scored above 99% with hardly a weeks study before the exam(mostly because they had other plans and were appearing for CAT just as a backup).Also JEE isn’t about 8 hrs study.I myself cleared JEE and i know that most people who have to study 8hrs a day for JEE either don’t make it or end up jussssst making it(read low AIR).

  • sozzled

    The MCAT is far more difficult than both the GRE and LSAT combined… it is easily one of the most grueling and difficult tests that an aspiring doctor will take prior to medical school…how was that left off the list? The GRE is a simply an advance “SAT” exam with basic algebra and verbal comprehension, compare that to the MCAT, which has both general and organic chemistry ( one of the most difficult courses in undergrad), calculus, biology, anatomy, verbal reasoning/cognitive skills, reading comprehension, written essays, and physics.

  • Guest

    More the population(that leads to competition), tougher the exams. Its funny that a nation like India has some of the toughest exams in the world (for several decades) yet the quality of these successful candidates cannot compare with the best in the world. Is the system flawed? food for thought!

    • Nishant Kumar

      well buddy dats juss bcoz …. the other countries run bcoz of indians. it is well said by bill gates .. that he prefers indians over the native americans bcoz … he knows dat if he doesnt hire those indians to work for him … all those wud create another thousand microsofts. the only problem with our country india is politicians .. they are corrupt leaving the country poor to force the individuals to travel to other countries for job and thus creating a brain drain.

      • Rushil

        Pathetic Indian propaganda. Our system IS very flawed. The standardized tests we give are in no way a good test of one’s ability. Just a shite load of competition.
        PS: Bill gates never said that.
        PPS: I’m an IITian currently studying in an IIT.

    • Ajoy Kumar

      Well, most of them DO compare with the best in the world. Ask any professor( preferably in EECS, or Mech sciences etc.) in any of the top universities in the world( MIT/UCB ETC.) about their opinion on IITians who go to grad school there…

    • Aren Racyil

      Son, our Students walk out Proud ;)
      An average graduate from an IIT has an IQ way past of that of an American or any other leading Nations.
      System is flawed? I don’t think so. Most of the Graduates (and post-graduates) move abroad for better conditions of living. That’s it.
      Peace. Brain for thought.

  • Mikael Chuaungo

    Is the difficulty(or “toughness”) of an exam determined by the number of candidates appearing in it, or by the difficulty of the questions? UPSC stands at number 2 here, merely because it is a competitive exam and the success not only depend on your knowledge & skill, but on other variables too like seats available and the quality of other candidates.
    Lets say 9 lakh candidates appear, and 8,999,000 fell sick and couldnt appear the Mains,and the lucky 1000 who were plain-dumb stupid “cracked” the UPSC, can we still call UPSC exam “tough”??
    Similar are other exams listed here like Gaekoo,CAT,IIT-JEE etc. These exams are based on competition, so they should not qualify among the toughest. “In a world of blind, the half blind is the king”

    In my opinion, the toughest exams are Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert exam and CPA(Certified Public Accountant) exams. The difficulty of these 2 exams are legendary. These exams require perfection, and there can be times when NO one passes the exams, unlike competitive exams where some amount of candidates, smart or dullard, HAS to pass.

    In India the toughest exam is the PE2 stage of CEAI (Chartered Accountant) . Sometimes pass percentage is mere 2%. It ranks as the 8th toughest exam in the World (and it didnt even make it to your list, WOW). UPSC pass percentage is 0.001 or something but like i said before, the competitive nature disqualifies it from the discussion..

    In sports, the NFL Exams are toughest. You have to prepare for it from your preteen years,unlike Indian competitive exams where you suddenly have a zeal for Civil Services at the age of 18 and if you are smart and EXTREMELY lucky you crack the exam by the time you are 23.

    PS. This is just a frank opinion from an educationist point of view.. i have no complaints over this article.

    • Mikael Chuaungo

      BTW,one more thing i’d like to add… the Scholastic Aptitude Test (of USA) has a pass % of 0.00002 . It clearly beats UPSC’s 0.001 pass %, thats 5 decimal places vs 3 .
      If you are factoring “competition” without looking at the core content of the questions in the exam, then your list really needs an edit.

      • droid1234

        I really want you to solve one JEE ADVANCED test. They are available online.
        I can guarantee that your opinion about the level of indian tests will change.
        BTW if you havent appeared in any of the competetive tests in India, then you should rather not comment about its toughness whatsoever.

        • Mikael Chuaungo

          ..says the person who hasn’t appeared for SATs..speak for yourself first before putting up snide comments

        • Mikael Chuaungo

          ..says the person who hasn’t appeared for SATs..speak for yourself first before putting up snide comments

        • Guest

          And why should i appear for JEE when thats not my academic line? I have seen class 12 flunkers pass the IIT-JEE with flying colors and good students failing in the same..That was when i was in school. The science dept teachers themselves said its a gamble more than test of knowledge since many “time-pass” examiners clear if they are lucky. My senior failed in Maths and Physics during our pre board but cleared IIT JEE so his parents got angry and started blaming our school for failing his “brilliant” son, while the son himself was like “How the fak did i pass lol i was ticking the question paper randomly”

      • priya

        oh really! there are many INDIAN rankers in SAT. if u think UPSE is easy go on website and solve it . even this list of toughest exams is made by several reviews SO it is really difficult exam.

    • Devarun Bhattacharya

      I have given both IIT and Cisco’s certifications…IIT is class apart…You must factor in the amount of pressure…As a kid, if you don’t make it to IIT, world ends as you know it! You let your parents down and you know you cannot make it in this world anymore. That in my opinion what makes these exams tough. Failing NFL or in CCIE you hardly get screwed up in life (In US you have lots of other opportunities). In India/China if you don’t get into a good university, you will have a hard time making a living. There are literally a billion people fighting for limited resources.

      • Mikael Chuaungo

        In your opinion, IIT-JEE is tougher than CCIE ?..Let us assume the population and socio economic conditions of India and USA are the same, will IIT-JEE still be considered tougher than CCIE even though the syllabus remains as it was ?

        You sat for IIT-Jee, and you went through a lot of pressure from parents and society,and thus you found it very difficult. Next year you sat for the same exam again, but this year you hit a lottery jackpot and you are a billionaire,no pressure from parents and society, does the difficulty of exam remain the same FOR YOU like the previous year?

        You factor in pressure, which varies from one student to another. But i feel one should factor in constants like syllabus,content,difficulty of questions etc to determining true “toughness” of an exam.

        • Nishant Kumar

          thats the speciallity of IIT JEE buddy syllabus remains same every year but still every year it is new on its own term … dat is why it stands apart you compare sat and iit …. you’ll understand the difference .. by the way i hope you the know the way the saying goes …. dat americans are not smarter than even the 5th grades in india :P

          • Arif Kazi

            Well the last sentence doesn’t count. Sorry

        • Praveer N

          IIT-JEE is tougher than many other exams in the world in terms of the content too, you might want to look at the exam papers.

          • Mikael Chuaungo

            such bias opinions from people who apparently have appeared in all the exams listed above, and are giving their opinion based on experience. WOW, you guys are bloody geniuses go screw yourselves and GTFO!

    • droid1234

      Those preparing for iit start preparing at the age of 15 or 16.

  • americanlarrikin

    The Gaokao, Suneung, MCAT, and IIT-JEE may be tough. But objectively, none of these exams can compare to the brutality and rigour of the admissions examinations for the École Normale Supérieure d’Ulm and École Polytechnique. On the other hand, the pressure and high-stakes for the test-takers in China, South Korea, and India may make their exams seem more difficult.

    • Wai Phyo Hain

      Agreed! the brutality and rigour. LOL

  • Raj Chopra

    CAT is noway tougher than IITJEE. There’s more competition but looking at the syllabus, I can say, IITJEE is way tougher than CAT. Its easy to attempt all the questions of CAT in an extra hour but at times, there are questions in IITJEE which wouldn’t even get solved after hours or days. And I wouldn’t agree with All Souls exam too! That’s nothing compared to the standards of IITJEE or the toughness of questions!

  • Sunny

    This list is rather biased and most of the tests are from India and
    China, no surprise that the author of this article in an Indian! To be
    honest, India and China being overcrowded the number of test taker’s are
    too many, so the competition is likely to be higher but that doesn’t
    mean that the questions are tough. So CAT, GRE or GMAT are quite similar
    as far the standard and difficulty levels of the questions are
    concerned.And I can bet that IITJEE is very similar to other engineering
    entrance exams of the same level that may exist in some other
    countries. The problem with India or China is purely related with
    population – there are too many people, hence there are too many
    students, hence there are too many aspirants but there aren’t enough
    opportunities. After all, we don’t need some many engineers, doctors,
    managers or lawyers. So when there are 100000 aspirants and 1000 seats,
    you can expect that some brilliant students will not make it through and
    end up applying in schools abroad or worse, give up their aspirations
    altogether. India and China should stop making these false claims that
    they have the toughest exams in the world and concentrate more on
    population control – they are overcrowding their own countries as well
    as others.

    • droid1234

      Have you ever solved a jee advanced test. Unless you have worked hard as hell, your brains are gonna pop out.
      Also to appear in jee advanced you have to qualify jee mains.
      Therefore instead of 500000 student you have to compete with 1500000 students, out of which 150000 make it to advaced. There you have 10000 seats, but 50% are already reserved for SC/ST. So for general people the actual ration is 5000/1500000

  • Leel Abhishek

    “Due to the number of applicants on the rise every year the test is now held in a window of approximately three weeks in the months of October and November. ” – Get your facts correct Dimple Negi ma’am, number of applicants are decreasing every year for CAT. And that is because the exam is more of a luck based now. Evaluation process is a Black-Box, no one actually knows how their responses are evaluated.

  • Guest

    Actually the UPSC is far tougher than the article makes it appear. 1000 are selected for civil service, but only around 90 are selected for the IAS, which is the generalist management civil service whose members are posted in the top echelon of strategic government posts throughout India. The 1000 selected candidates rank the services according to their preference. As an overwhelming majority(~99%) rank IAS as their first preference, entry into the IAS becomes proportionally tougher ( more than 10 x)than merely getting through UPSC

  • Zzzzz Aaaaaa

    Is this a joke? It lists the GRE, SAT, and LSAT, but the MCAT isn’t listed? The MCAT is without question or argument harder than those three exams.