Work hard!!! Every teacher asks every student almost every day. No teacher bothers to convey how much work is hard work. If a student persists in his/her work even when it is hard, can it be called hard work?

Most of my students find it hard to work beyond 2-3 hours a day. When I advise them to toil at least five hours a day they goggle at me in disbelief. Is this possible?

Experts say it is not “how much” you study but “how” you study which matters. “How” is more important. When one does not know “how to study effectively”, any number of hours of toiling will not produce the intended outcome. Does that mean the best learning strategies help to reduce the time spent in front of your study table? Nay. The fact is, if your learning methods or strategies are error-free, it will facilitate channelizing your hours of toil (hard work) into success.

It is true that hard work does not always ensure success. It is smart work which helps. But smart work is not a means to lighten the burden of work. In hard work, you carry home 100 kg, say, on your shoulder. But in smart work, you may cut 100kg into two or three equal pieces so that you can carry it in both hands. This does not result in the reduction of weight but the strategy you applied has been smart. That’s all. In the end, you must prove that you can carry 100kg on your shoulders if you want to be recognized or rewarded.


How many hours a student must spend in front of the study table, for sure, with a focused mind? Does it matter?  To be frank, it depends on three factors.

  • The depth and span of the subject/ material to be mastered (The time spent by the postgraduate medical student and the postgraduate art student for the study will be different)
  • Innate cognitive potential/pre-disposition of the learner. (The student who has the ‘gene’ or natural inclination for maths or music need not spend much time for mastering the skill compared to those who haven’t any previous exposure to the same)
  • Nature of the intended outcome of learning. (A student aiming for A plus or 100% score will have to spend a greater amount of time than the student who aims only for average performance).


It is not easy to define what ideal learning is. So far no-body could prove what the ideal learning style is. Learning style is a highly individualistic phenomenon. But it is easier to distinguish the ideal learners by looking into their performance. An ideal learner is not always the one with high intellectual capacity. An ideal learner is the one who has succeeded in managing his/her capacity to learn for achieving an intended outcome. In other words, an ideal learner is the one who has “learned how to learn”.

Given this definition, in order to probe into our concern—how much work is hard work—I googled for interviews with the JEE (JOINT ENTRANCE EXAM) toppers in India. I considered JEE toppers as a sample of ideal learners as they have accomplished what they wanted through their learning habits and styles. I perused the interviews published on the internet mainly to distil the pattern of study they followed to reach the peak of their performance.

All India Rank (AIR) of JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) Toppers

Name Year Rank Hours of study Social Media habits Hobbies Work ethics
Manan Agarwal 2019 AIR-14 12 hours Stayed away from social media (joined Facebook only after examination) Music and watching movies Try to enjoy the subjects that you study, as much as possible
Archit Bubna 2019 AIR 3 4 hours Regularity is the most important
GillellaAkash Reddy 2019 AIR-4 12-13 hours Play tennis, badminton Be honest in your journey, never deviate from studies
Kaustubh Dighe 2019 AIR 7 4 hours class and 4 hours of self-study Going for long walks Stay focused on this target without getting deviated by trivial issues
Pranav Goyal 2018 AIR-1  9 hours a day. Play cricket with batch mates as well as table tennis If you focus well, your study hours will not matter. The quality of study matter more than quantity
Sahil Jain 2018 AIR-2 6-7 hours  on weekdays

8-10 hours on holidays.

Keeping away from social media and smartphone helped me to focus on my goal Reading books and listening to music Study and work hard. Do not get demotivated by failure; instead, make your failure your strength.
Pawan Goyal 2018 AIR-4 6 hours in coaching and 5 hours at home Go for a walk and watch television The combination of interest and consistent study will help you achieve success everywhere.
Abhinav Kumar 2018 AIR 12 At least 6 hours a day after coaching Reading novels and motivational stories There is no alternative to hard work
Suraj Yadav 2017 AIR-5 11-12 hours a day It is the concentration with which you study that matters
Kalpit Veerval 2017 AIR-1 17 hours Never remained on social media Music, cricket With enough effort and dedication, anyone can do anything
Gaurav Didwania 2016 AIR-9 5-6 hours Cricket, Watching movies Channelize his strengths and weaknesses smartly
Aman Bansal 2016 AIR-1 7-8 hours Was active on social media for study purposes but never spent time chatting or other non-constructive activities. Sports and played badminton regularly Regular studies are important.
Jagran Josh 2014 AIR-1 Studied in slots of 3 hours Tried to keep a distance from different social media as they are a hindrance in preparation Outdoor activities, reading novels Learn from the mistake. One should never ignore his/her mistake as even silly mistakes can destroy your dreams.
Satvat Jagwani 2015 AIR-1 Didn’t follow strict study routine Haven’t had much time for recreation, Enjoy solving Sudoku Keep practicing and keep revising. To achieve anything you need to work hard.
Mukesh Pareek 2015 AIR-3 10 hours a day I have an account on Facebook, but I was not that active on it during the preparation time I love reading books. Hollywood and Bollywood movies. Consistent hard work is the key factor behind my success. studied a lot and put all my energy into it
Kamana Nagendra Reddy 2015 AIR-4 14 hours a day. Hard work is the key
Bharat Khandelwal 2015 AIR-5 Up to 8 hours Aim at giving your best shot
Janak Agarwal 2015 AIR-2 8 hours daily apart from attending coaching classes I am active on Facebook Table Tennis and swimming Put all your hard work while studying and give your 100%.
Bhavesh Dingara 2016 AIR-2 6-8 hours I was less active on Facebook. I used to interact with my classmates in WhatsApp groups on JEE preparation. Listened to music. enjoy watching movies Take interest in study and enjoy learning without taking any load. give your 100%
Sarvesh Mehtani 2017 AIR-1 5 to 6 hours daily. On holidays almost 8 hours. Watch cartoons, listen to music and play badminton. Stay calm, organized and work hard.
Saurav Yadav 2017 AIR-6 5 hours on weekdays listen to music, movie once or twice in a month Use your time effectively and prioritize your things based on what is most important
Devansh Garg 2017 AIR 19 8-9 hours a day Cricket, watching TV, playing computer games, movies have no time to pursue them in the last 2 years. Confidence, hard work and not taking pressure are some key elements for me. believe in yourself that you can do it
Debaditya Pramanik 2017 AIR 38 3and half hours

On holidays from 9 in the morning till noon.

I made it a point to understand the concepts of every topic and practiced lots of problems. I backed it up by regular revision.


Revelations made by toppers reveal common threads running through their learning habits and routines. There is a great deal of uniformity in, number of hours they toil, their guiding principle, their approach towards social media, their hobbies, work ethics, etc.

On average they spend 9.08 hours per day on learning; especially on holidays. Seven of them explicitly said that they stayed away from social media and fifteen didn’t even mention anything about social media, maybe they would not have even thought of it as a necessity. Only one told me that he was active on Facebook. Each had their hobbies to unwind. Seven preferred indoor hobbies like music reading, watching movies while six liked outdoor hobbies cricket, badminton, swimming. Three spent time in both indoor and outdoor activities. Also, it must be noticed that students who said watching movie as their hobbies added that they could do it “once or twice in a month” (see Saurav Yadav) “…but no time to pursue movies in the last two years” (Devnash Garg) (Refer table)


What do these things reveal about the rank holders? Peak performance happens at a cost. If you want to excel in any field you must train yourself to bridle your temptations, to dodge the requirements of hard work. Not all students have that intellectual/ physical/emotional stamina and the intent to spend 9 or more hours in front of their study table. It is an ability acquired only by those who have the fire in them for hitting the target. To the student, whose attention span is just 15 or 20 minutes, the road to excellence will remain a distant dream.

In the science of Yoga, the ability to sit for a long time with a focused mind is termed as “asana siddhi”. One must think of how these toppers got this “sidhi” or ability. We, teachers and trainers, are eager to teach learning techniques. But we must know that however smart these techniques are if the student does not prepare his body, mind, and emotions to spend enough time with the material to be learned, he is likely to flop.

The so-called scientifically proven learning techniques or mnemonic techniques do not reduce the burden of the work to be done. It makes the work/learning more enjoyable so that spending hours in front of the study table does not become a monotonous bitter experience.

There are certain motivational and bio-psycho-social conditions that prepare a student aspiring for a particular goal. In order to take the responsibility of learning into his own hands wholeheartedly and embrace the habit of hard work, the student must meet these conditions. Not all teachers and parents are aware of this.


The modern era of technology-oriented lifestyles has a toxic side-effect and of all, students are the most vulnerable group. There is a ‘learning culture’ in which technology clandestinely, yet relentlessly, proliferates among growing generations. It is the culture of quick fixes, the culture of short cuts, the culture of getting things done with the least expenditure of energy and effort. The result is the student world is getting estranged from the habit of sitting patiently and indulging in a process called “learning” which is, rather, a ‘slow’ process. Effective learning is a slow process in the sense that the brain must be allowed to undergo many time-consuming activities like repetition, rehearsal, elaboration, cognition, critical thinking, metacognition, etc. before it can integrate the new information into its long-term memory successfully.

To be frank, not many students of the modern era “believe” in the culture of hard work and regular disciplined learning which are the two things all these 23 toppers mentioned as their work ethics. A survey among the students in your locality to estimate the number of students who believe in or practice ‘regular-disciplined-learning’ will reveal this fact. “Crash courses to crack the exam” is the watchword of a whole lot of students who have not tasted the sweet outcomes of “hard work”. It seems technology and its social media boom, and pandemonium of video games is churning out a mass of students with undiagnosed but serious attention deficit disorder each academic year. How can we ask them to work, let not work hard?


Never ask a student to work hard before ensuring that his mind and body are ready for it. Create opportunities that will prepare them for spending time with a focused mind. Regular activities that will help improve students’ focus and attention (meditation, the practice of music, reducing online time, etc.) must incorporate in the school learning. It will create an affinity or at least create a comfort level and willingness in the minds of students to spend time with books.

Let him have clarity regarding the amount and the kind of work he has to do every day —how many hours, best strategies of learning, and necessity of regular practice, etc. Above all, instill inspiration to learn. Without inspiration, learning is a mindless exercise which students loathe most. Inspiration and the habit of consistent regular learning can be generated easily once a student falls in love with the subject to be learned. So, before initiating him for hard work let him fall in love with learning. In gist, prepare his mind and body in advance. Only after that, asks his intellect to aspire for high/peak performance and crack JEE, IAS, or NEET…whatever it may be.

Brief About the Author

Dr. Jeny Rapheal

Dr. Jeny Rapheal is a higher secondary school teacher with a Ph.D. in psychology from Bharathiar University Coimbatore. Dr. Jeny has 20 years of experience in teaching mathematics. So far Dr. Jeny has published 52 articles in various magazines circulating all over India and there are 25 research papers to her credit.