Top 10 Hardest Exams in the World 2024: What You Need to Know

This article explores the world’s toughest exams, including the Gaokao Exam in China and the California Bar Exam in the United States, which test intellect, dedication, and perseverance. It considers factors like syllabus complexity, pass rates, and competition level, emphasizing the importance of these exams as gateways to academic and professional success.

Examination Country Duration of the Exam Preparation Time Pass Rate (%) or Score No. of Candidates (Yearly)
Gaokao Exam China 9 hours 12 years Not Applicable (no threshold) 12 million
IIT JEE Exam India 3 hours Continuous efforts through two years 1% 1,026,799
UPSC Exam India 2-3 hours 12-month advanced preparation 0.1%–0.3% 500,000
Mensa England 1-2 hours Does not use IQ scores. Not Applicable 134,000
GRE USA & Canada 3 hours, 45 minutes 4–12 weeks (1–5 months studying) Above the 50th percentile 700,000 (yearly)
CFA USA & Canada 4.5 hours 300 hours 43% 175,000 charterholders
CCIE USA 120 minutes 9-15 months 26% 8,000 (yearly)
GATE exam India 3 hours 6 months 18% 700,000
USMLE exam USA 8 hours 6-12 months 77% 19,210
California Bar Exam USA 4 hours 40 hours per week over 8–10 weeks 52.4% 7,164

This table presents a clear overview of the key details for each exam, making it easier to compare the duration, preparation time, pass rates, and the number of candidates.

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The Gaokao Exam in China

The Gaokao Exam in China is the ultimate academic test, a yearly tradition that millions of high school students must go through. Spanning nine hours over two to three days, this college entrance examination determines a student’s future academic trajectory. With less than 0.25% of students securing admission to elite colleges, the Gaokao is not just a test; it’s a promise of a brighter future for those from low-income backgrounds.

IIT JEE Exam, India

In India, the Joint Entrance Exam (IIT JEE) Advanced is a crucible for aspiring engineers seeking coveted spots in the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Rigorous mathematical and problem-solving abilities are tested over a continuous two-year preparation period. With a pass rate of a mere 1%, the competition is fierce among the 1,026,799 yearly candidates.

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UPSC Exam: India

The Civil Services Exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in India is a monumental challenge for those aspiring to serve in administrative roles. With a success rate ranging from 0.1% to 0.3%, this exam demands a meticulous 12-month advanced preparation period, evaluating candidates on a myriad of subjects.

Mensa, England

While not a traditional exam, Mensa International recognizes exceptional intellect through high IQ scores. With a membership acceptance rate based on the upper 2% of IQ scores, Mensa acknowledges the intellectual prowess of the 134,000 candidates attempting the test.

GRE: USA and Canada

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test that serves as a gateway to graduate programs globally. Assessing verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills over 3 hours and 45 minutes, achieving a score above the 50th percentile becomes a challenging benchmark for the 700,000 yearly test-takers.

CFA, USA, and Canada

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams are a rigorous series for finance professionals, demanding a profound understanding of ethics, economics, and portfolio management. With a pass rate of 43%, the 4.5-hour examination is a hallmark of excellence in the finance and investment industry.


For IT professionals seeking the zenith of networking expertise, the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) exam is a challenging two-hour test. Covering a broad range of topics, candidates invest 9–15 months in preparation for a 26% pass rate, certifying them as experts in the field.

GATE Exam: India

The Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) in India is a crucible for engineering postgraduate studies. With a 3-hour duration and a 6-month preparation period, the competition is fierce, resulting in an 18% pass rate among the 700,000 yearly test-takers.


The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is an 8-hour challenge for medical professionals seeking licensure in the U.S. Requiring 6–12 months of preparation, the exam’s 77% pass rate reflects the comprehensive assessment of medical knowledge and clinical skills.

California Bar Exam, USA

For aspiring lawyers in the United States, the California Bar Exam is a formidable challenge. With a 4-hour duration and 40 hours per week of preparation over 8–10 weeks, the exam has a 52.4% pass rate among the 7,164 yearly candidates, marking a crucial step toward practicing law in California.

hardest exams in the U.S.

  1. Bar Exam (state-specific):
    • Duration: Generally a 2-day examination.
    • Preparation Time: Intensive preparation during law school and additional months of dedicated study.
    • Pass Rate: Varies by state, but generally ranges from 40 to 70%.
    • Overview: The bar exam is a comprehensive test for aspiring lawyers. It assesses knowledge of state-specific and general legal principles.
  2. United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE):
    • Duration: Multiple steps, with Step 1 and Step 2 CK each lasting 8 hours and Step 3 lasting 2 days.
    • Preparation Time: Months of preparation, including medical school coursework.
    • Pass Rate: Varies by step, but the Step 1 pass rate is around 94%.
    • Overview: The USMLE is crucial for medical professionals seeking licensure in the U.S. It assesses the ability to apply medical knowledge and understanding to patient care.
  3. Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam:
    • Duration: Four separate sections, each lasting 4 hours.
    • Preparation Time: Extensive preparation, often with dedicated study courses.
    • Pass Rate: Varies by section, but typically ranges from 40–60%.
    • Overview: The CPA Exam is a rigorous test for individuals pursuing a career in accounting and finance. It covers auditing, the business environment, financial accounting, and regulation.
  4. National Board Dental Examination (NBDE):
    • Duration: Two parts, with Part I lasting 7 hours and Part II lasting 12 hours.
    • Preparation Time: Comprehensive study during dental school.
    • Pass Rate: Varies by part, with a Part I pass rate around 90%.
    • Overview: The NBDE assesses the competence of dental students in various aspects of dentistry, including biomedical and dental sciences.
  5. Graduate Record Examination (GRE):
    • Duration: Around 3 hours, 45 minutes.
    • Preparation Time: varied, but often several months of focused study.
    • Pass Rate: Scored on a percentile basis; no specific pass or fail.
    • Overview: The GRE is a standardized test for graduate school admissions, assessing verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills.
  6. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exam:
    • Duration: Three levels, each lasting around 4.5 hours.
    • Preparation Time: Extensive, with candidates recommended to spend at least 300 hours per level.
    • Pass Rate: Varies by level, but typically ranges from 40 to 60%.
    • Overview: The CFA Exam is for finance professionals seeking the prestigious CFA designation. It covers ethics, investment tools, and portfolio management.
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what is the hardest AP exam?

The difficulty perception of an Advanced Placement (AP) exam can vary based on individual strengths, interests, and preparation. However, some exams are considered challenging due to their content complexity and required skills. These exams can be influenced by individual preferences and academic strengths.

  1. AP Calculus BC:
    • Description: Covers both Calculus AB and BC topics, including limits, derivatives, integrals, and series.
    • Why it’s considered challenging: It requires a strong foundation in calculus, and the BC version includes additional topics like polar, parametric, and vector functions.
  2. AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism:
    • Description: Focuses on advanced topics in physics, including electric fields, magnetic fields, circuits, and electromagnetism.
    • Why it’s considered challenging: It requires a deep understanding of calculus-based physics concepts and mathematical applications.
  3. AP Chemistry:
    • Description: Covers a broad range of chemistry topics, including chemical reactions, thermodynamics, and atomic structure.
    • Why it’s considered challenging: It involves complex chemical concepts, mathematical problem-solving, and practical laboratory skills.
  4. AP Biology:
    • Description: Examines topics such as cellular biology, genetics, evolution, and ecology.
    • Why it’s considered challenging: It covers a vast amount of biological content, requiring both factual knowledge and the ability to apply concepts.
  5. AP World History: Modern:
    • Description: It focuses on world history from the year 1200 CE to the present.
    • Why it’s considered challenging: Encompasses a large chronological and geographical scope, requiring students to analyze historical trends and make connections.
  6. AP English Literature and Composition:
    • Description: Analyzes literature through the interpretation of literary works and the development of critical writing skills.
    • Why it’s considered challenging: It requires a strong command of literary analysis, interpretation, and effective writing.
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what state has the hardest bar exam?

California is known for its challenging bar exams, including the California Bar Exam, which is known for its comprehensive legal principles testing and low pass rates. The exam consists of both the Multistate Bar Examination and California-specific exams, including essays and performance tests.

which state has the hardest real estate exam?

The US has unique real estate licensing requirements and exams, with content, format, and passing scores varying across states. Some states have complex laws or require a deeper understanding of regulations, making exams more challenging. Colorado and Texas are the toughest contenders, demanding rigorous training and examination processes. Aspiring agents should carefully consider their state choice to significantly impact their journey.


Mastering academic and professional success often involves navigating the world’s toughest exams, each with its own unique challenges. These assessments shape individuals into experts in their chosen fields, resulting in a profound sense of accomplishment, resilience, and readiness to face complexities. Conquering these exams is not just about passing them; it’s a testament to the pursuit of excellence and unwavering commitment required to reach the pinnacle of success.

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