Nearly half a million citizens converged upon 71 cities in India Sunday to try their hand at what's described by coaching expert PS Ravindran as "the mother of all written exams," the Global Post reports. It's the nation's civil services test, and it's not for the indolent: It features incredibly difficult and obscure questions—"In which decade was the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) founded?"—and a prescribed study regimen that takes a year and half. Yet applicants vie in droves for a chance to ace it and nab one of the elite civil services gigs up for grabs. Of those 500,000 or so test-takers, 16,000 are culled for 27 more hours of graduate-level testing on a variety of topics (science, economics, history, you name it); from there, the top 2,000 get to go through an "exhaustive" interview, with around 1,100 of those candidates pulled into government services.
Ravindran, who runs an institute that helps candidates prep, recommends hitting the books 12 hours a day for 18 months beforehand. The Global Post reports contenders can take the test up to six times, which would equal about a decade of preparation. And most of the time, it's not even the job role itself that candidates are interested in. "More than 90% of the aspirants know nothing about the services," says a student who just took the test a fourth time. "This is a prestigious exam, once you make it through everyone would start respecting you." Ravindran agrees: "[Candidates] know it comes with a lot of power, authority, and position. Most of them don't know the nature of the job they have to perform." (See if you're smarter than a Hong Kong 6-year-old.)