The Most Difficult Academic Subject: Ranking the Toughest Challenges in Higher Education

Choose the academic subject you think is the most difficult!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Updated on Mar 2, 2024 05:36
Are you ready to dive into the great debate of the most challenging academic subject? We at StrawPoll have crafted an irresistible ranking that will not only test your opinions but also spark your curiosity! Join thousands of fellow knowledge enthusiasts as they weigh in on the subject that's been the bane of many students' existence. Cast your vote for the most difficult academic subject and see how it stacks up against the rest. Think we missed a subject? Fear not! You have the power to suggest a missing option and watch it rise (or fall) in the rankings. So, what are you waiting for? Put on your thinking caps and join us in unraveling the mystery of the toughest subject in academia!

What Is the Most Difficult Academic Subject?

  1. 1
    Mathematics is considered one of the most difficult academic subjects because it requires logical thinking, problem-solving skills, and a strong foundation in concepts. It can be challenging for students who struggle with numbers or abstract reasoning.
    Mathematics is a fundamental subject that focuses on the study of numbers, shapes, patterns, and relationships. It provides students with essential skills and knowledge in problem-solving, logical reasoning, and critical thinking. Mathematics plays a crucial role in various aspects of life, including science, technology, finance, and engineering.
    • Algebra: Mathematics involves the study of algebraic equations and manipulation of variables.
    • Geometry: It explores the properties and relationships of different geometric shapes and figures.
    • Statistics: Mathematics includes the analysis and interpretation of data using statistical measures.
    • Calculus: This branch of Mathematics deals with rates of change and mathematical modeling.
    • Probability: It involves the study of uncertainty and the likelihood of events occurring.
  2. 2
    Physics involves the study of matter, energy, and their interactions. It requires a deep understanding of mathematical concepts and problem-solving skills. Students need to have a strong grasp of calculus, trigonometry, and algebra to excel in physics.
    Physics is a branch of science that deals with the fundamental principles of the natural world, including the behavior of matter and energy. It seeks to understand and describe the physical phenomena that occur in our universe, ranging from the behavior of subatomic particles to the motion of celestial bodies. Through the use of mathematical models and experimentation, physicists aim to uncover the underlying laws governing these phenomena.
    • Branches: Classical physics, Quantum physics, Condensed matter physics, Astrophysics, Particle physics, etc.
    • Key Concepts: Force, energy, motion, gravity, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, relativity, etc.
    • Applications: Engineering, medicine, astronomy, telecommunications, materials science, computer science, etc.
    • Tools and Techniques: Mathematics, experiments, laboratory equipment, computer simulations, mathematical modeling, etc.
    • Mathematical Foundation: Calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, statistics, etc.
  3. 3
    Chemistry is a complex subject that involves the study of the properties, composition, and behavior of matter. It requires students to have a good understanding of math, physics, and biology. Students need to be able to apply concepts and solve problems to succeed in chemistry.
    Chemistry is a branch of science that deals with the properties, composition, structure, behavior, and reactions of matter. It explores the substances that make up the universe and the changes they undergo. Chemistry is also concerned with the study of elements, compounds, and the interactions between them.
    • Central Science: Chemistry is often referred to as the central science because it connects the physical sciences, such as physics and astronomy, with the life sciences, such as biology and medicine.
    • Atomic Structure: Chemistry involves the study of atoms, their structure, and how they combine to form molecules. Understanding the arrangement of electrons, protons, and neutrons in atoms is crucial to understanding chemical behavior.
    • Chemical Reactions: Chemistry focuses on understanding and characterizing chemical reactions, including the transformation of substances, the release or absorption of energy, and the formation of new compounds.
    • Periodic Table: The periodic table of elements is a fundamental tool in chemistry. It organizes all known elements based on their atomic number, electron configuration, and recurring chemical properties.
    • Bonding and Molecular Structure: Chemistry explores the different types of chemical bonds and their influences on the structure and properties of molecules. This knowledge is essential for understanding the behavior and properties of substances.
  4. 4
    Medicine is a challenging academic subject that requires a strong foundation in science, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Medical students need to be able to cope with long hours of study, memorization, and practical exams.
    Medicine is a challenging academic subject that encompasses the study of diseases, the prevention of illnesses, and the promotion of health. It involves the understanding of human anatomy, physiology, and the application of medical knowledge to diagnose and treat various medical conditions. Medicine is a vital field that requires a deep understanding of scientific principles, critical thinking skills, and continuous learning to keep up with advancements. Healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, play a crucial role in the field of medicine.
    • Duration of Study: Approximately 6-10 years (including undergraduate and medical school)
    • Specializations: Cardiology, dermatology, neurology, pediatrics, surgery, etc.
    • Clinical Rotations: Hands-on training in different medical specialties
    • Medical Ethics: Adherence to ethical principles, patient confidentiality, and informed consent
    • Evidence-Based Medicine: Applying research findings to guide medical decisions
  5. 5


    Law is a demanding academic subject that requires students to have strong analytical, research, and communication skills. Students need to be able to analyze complex legal cases and apply legal principles to real-world situations.
    Law is a complex and multifaceted academic subject that encompasses a set of rules and regulations created and enforced by society to govern behavior. It is primarily concerned with maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting individual rights and liberties.
    • Branches: Law consists of several branches including civil law, criminal law, constitutional law, administrative law, and international law.
    • Sources of Law: Law derives its authority from various sources, such as constitutions, statutes, regulations, case law, and legal precedents.
    • Legal Systems: Different countries have different legal systems, including common law, civil law, Islamic law, and socialist law.
    • Legal Concepts: Law encompasses a wide range of legal concepts, such as liability, contracts, property rights, torts, evidence, and jurisprudence.
    • Legal Processes: Law involves processes such as legislation, litigation, negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and legal research.
  6. 6
    Engineering is a challenging academic subject that involves the application of science and mathematics to design, build, and test complex systems. Students need to be able to solve problems, work collaboratively, and apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations.
    Engineering is the application of scientific, mathematical, and practical principles to design, build, and maintain structures, machines, systems, and processes. It involves the use of creativity, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking to develop innovative solutions to various challenges.
    • Broad Field: Engineering encompasses various disciplines such as civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, aerospace, and more.
    • Problem-solving: Engineers are trained to identify problems, analyze them, and develop effective solutions through a systematic and logical approach.
    • Design: Engineering involves the process of conceptualizing, designing, and developing products, structures, or systems to meet specific requirements.
    • Application of Science and Mathematics: Engineers utilize scientific principles and mathematical calculations to understand and predict the behavior of materials, forces, and systems.
    • Innovation: Engineers constantly strive to push the boundaries of technology, seeking innovative solutions to improve efficiency, functionality, and sustainability.
  7. 7
    Computer Science
    Tejaswini27 · CC BY-SA 4.0

    Computer Science

    British Computer Society (BCS)
    Computer science is a complex subject that involves the study of algorithms, programming languages, and computer systems. It requires students to have strong analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as a solid foundation in math and logic.
    Computer Science is a GCSE subject that focuses on the principles and fundamentals of computing. It includes topics such as computer programming, algorithms, data structures, and computer systems. Students also learn about problem-solving and critical thinking skills that are essential in the field of technology.
    • Programming Languages: Python, Java, Scratch
    • Algorithms: Understanding and implementing algorithms
    • Data Structures: Arrays, lists, stacks, queues, trees
    • Computer Systems: Hardware components, memory, storage
    • Networks: Understanding computer networks and protocols
    Computer Science in other rankings
  8. 8
    Philosophy is a demanding academic subject that requires students to have a deep understanding of logic, ethics, and metaphysics. It requires students to think critically, analyze complex arguments, and articulate their ideas clearly.
    Philosophy is an academic discipline that explores fundamental questions about the nature of knowledge, existence, values, ethics, and reasoning. It aims to analyze and understand concepts such as truth, morality, consciousness, and reality through critical thinking and logical reasoning.
    • Abstract Thinking: Philosophy promotes abstract thinking, which helps in analyzing complex problems and understanding different perspectives.
    • Logical Reasoning: It enhances logical reasoning skills, enabling individuals to evaluate arguments and identify fallacies.
    • Analytical Skills: Philosophy fosters analytical skills by developing the ability to break down complex ideas and concepts.
    • Problem Solving: Philosophy equips individuals with problem-solving abilities by encouraging critical assessment and forming coherent arguments.
    • Ethical Reasoning: It cultivates ethical reasoning, enabling individuals to evaluate moral dilemmas and make informed decisions.
  9. 9
    Learning a foreign language can be challenging because it requires students to master new grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation rules. It can also be difficult to learn a new script or writing system.
    Foreign Languages is an academic subject that involves the study of non-native languages. It focuses on the understanding, speaking, reading, and writing of languages that are different from a person's first language. It encompasses various aspects such as grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, cultural context, and language structure.
    • Multilingual Proficiency: Foreign Languages aim to develop a high level of proficiency in multiple languages.
    • Cultural Understanding: It promotes an understanding of different cultures and societies through their languages.
    • Communication Skills: Foreign Languages help enhance communication skills in both written and verbal forms.
    • Translation and Interpretation: It involves the ability to translate and interpret texts, speeches, and conversations between languages.
    • Language Acquisition: It involves the process of acquiring and applying knowledge of new languages.
    Foreign Languages in other rankings
  10. 10
    Music involves the study of theory, composition, and performance. It requires students to have a strong foundation in math, physics, and psychology. Students need to be able to read music notation, play an instrument, and work collaboratively with other musicians.
    Music is an art form that uses sound and silence as its medium. It is typically organized in time and has patterns and structures that can be composed and improvised upon. Music can evoke emotion, convey meaning, and communicate cultural values and traditions.
    • Genre: There are many genres of music including classical, jazz, rock, pop, country, hip hop, and electronic among others.
    • Instruments and Vocals: Music can be created using a wide variety of instruments including the guitar, drums, piano, violin, saxophone, and voice.
    • Rhythm: The rhythm of music refers to the pattern of beats and the tempo that define its structure.
    • Harmony: Harmony refers to the combination of different musical notes and chords to create a pleasing sound.
    • Melody: The melody of a piece of music is the main theme or tune that is repeated throughout the piece.

Missing your favorite academic subject?


Ranking factors for difficult academic subject

  1. Cognitive demand
    The level of mental effort required to understand and apply the concepts in a subject. Subjects that require high levels of critical thinking, problem-solving, and abstract reasoning can be considered more difficult.
  2. Skill level required
    The degree of technical or specialized knowledge needed to study a subject. For example, subjects like mathematics, physics, or chemistry demand a strong foundation in their respective disciplines.
  3. Complexity of the subject matter
    Some subjects may contain many layers of interconnected ideas and concepts, which require a deeper understanding and analysis to grasp fully.
  4. Prerequisite knowledge
    The amount of background knowledge required before a student can study a subject effectively. Subjects like advanced mathematics might require solid knowledge of foundational concepts before engaging with more complex topics.
  5. Learning curve
    The amount of time and effort it takes to progress in a subject. Some subjects, like programming or learning a new language, might have a steep learning curve and require more time and effort to master.
  6. Level of abstract thinking
    Some subjects necessitate a higher level of abstract and critical thinking, making them more challenging for students who struggle with this cognitive skill.
  7. Amount of coursework and assignments
    Subjects that involve a substantial amount of coursework, projects, lab work, or exams can be time-consuming and more difficult to manage.
  8. Inherent interest in the subject
    Personal interest in a subject can play a role in determining its difficulty. Students may find it easier to engage with subjects they are inherently interested in and more difficult to invest effort in subjects they find dull or irrelevant.
  9. Real-world application and problem-solving
    Subjects that involve applying theoretical concepts to real-world problems often require a greater depth of understanding and can be challenging for students who struggle with practical application.
  10. Teaching quality and resources
    The quality of teaching and educational resources available for a subject can also impact its perceived difficulty. Subjects may appear more difficult if the instruction or resources are insufficient or not presented effectively.

About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most difficult academic subject. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or subject is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!


  • 138 votes
  • 10 ranked items

Voting Rules

A participant may cast an up or down vote for each subject once every 24 hours. The rank of each subject is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.

More information on most difficult academic subject

Academic subjects are an essential part of our education system. They help us acquire knowledge and skills that are necessary to succeed in our professional and personal lives. However, some academic subjects are notoriously known for being difficult and challenging. The most difficult academic subject is subjective and varies from person to person, depending on their interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Factors that contribute to the difficulty level of an academic subject include the complexity of the subject matter, the amount of time required for studying, and the level of abstract thinking involved. Some common examples of challenging academic subjects include mathematics, physics, chemistry, and computer science. Despite the challenges associated with difficult academic subjects, they offer numerous benefits. They help improve critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and analytical reasoning. They also open up doors to lucrative career opportunities in fields that demand specialized knowledge and skills. Overall, it is essential to recognize that every academic subject has its own set of challenges and rewards. By embracing difficult academic subjects and putting in the effort required to master them, we can unlock our full potential and achieve academic and professional success.

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