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UK exams that are among the hardest in the world

UK exams that are among the hardest in the world

It's unavoidable: each one of us faces one or another kind of test or examination at certain points of our lives, be it school exams, university admissions tests, or aptitude tests as part of the recruitment. Some professions like law, medicine, and air traffic control require students and candidates to go through an especially rigorous examination process to test their knowledge, competence and suitability for these kinds of roles.

There are also a number of notoriously tough exams and tests like the Gaokao Exam, the national undergraduate admission exam in China (less than 0.25% of students get the qualifying score for admission to some of China’s most elite colleges) and California Bar Exam (candidates need to study for about 400 to 600 hours to pass and become lawyers in this U.S. state) that truly stand out for being the most challenging on the planet.

Some of these exams which are among the hardest in the world can also be found in the UK. Here they are:

Mensa intelligence test

Mensa is an international organization with members in more than 100 countries that is considered the largest and oldest high-IQ society in the world. It has around 18,000 members in the UK and Ireland. It was founded in England in 1946 by Roland Berrill, a barrister, and Dr Lance Ware, a scientist and lawyer. The name “Mensa” means “table” in Latin and embodies the idea of all people sitting as equals around a table, regardless of their racial, religious, political and socioeconomic backgrounds.

In order to become a member, you need to score within the top 2% of the general population in a challenging intelligence test. This supervised IQ Test takes about two and a quarter hours and evaluates one's reasoning, problem-solving, and logical thinking skills.

All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam

All Souls College at Oxford University is known for its notoriously difficult entrance exam for postgraduate students, the All Souls Prize fellowship exam. Two Prize Fellows who ace this exam can study at the university for free for seven years.

Among those who both passed and failed this exam are some of the most brilliant people and academics, including Russian-British philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin (won) and Scottish novelist, historian, and politician John Buchan (failed).

In the past, the exam had a reputation for being the hardest in the world and for almost a century required Oxford graduates to write a coherent essay about a single word (!) for a duration of three hours. It didn’t become much easier, however, even after dropping an infamous one-word essay question. The exam now includes four papers of three hours each: two general ones, and two papers from a specific discipline (for example, philosophy, English, history). During this exam, candidates ponder over fascinating questions such as "Is the brain a computer?" and "Why are some jokes funnier than others?".

The United Kingdom’s Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT)

It's not easy to become a lawyer - The UK’s Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT) is another proof of that. Created in 2004, this test is used by various universities (including Cambridge) to assess applicants’ aptitude for the skills required to study law. You need to be able to comprehend, analyse and deduce information from arguments quickly and construct a persuasive and well-reasoned argument. The test lasts almost 2.5 hours and consists of 42 multiple-choice questions and an essay.

NATS assessments

Air traffic control is an incredibly challenging and high-stakes job. Air traffic controllers are responsible for the health and safety of millions of passengers all over the world. It's no wonder that NATS, the UK's leading provider of air traffic control services requires applicants to pass not one but nine online tests that evaluate cognitive and decision-making skills. And this is only the first stage before further tests, an interview and a group exercise!

Want to learn about what it's like to study in the UK and how to get into the best universities in the country? LEO International Online School offers a diverse and intensive two–year A-Level programme designed to prepare students for university entry in the United Kingdom. Learn more about this programme and our other courses here, and don't hesitate to contact us at

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