If acquiring tastes could be considered a hobby in and of itself, you could call me an hobbyist. Here are a few hard-to-swallow bits and bobs I’ve learned to love in my life:
- Black coffee
- Black metal
- Gertrude Stein
- Very dark chocolate
- Distance running
- Free jazz
- Math problems
Alright, so that’s a pretty weird list. Some of them are common acquired tastes (almost nobody likes coffee the first time they drink it, yet it’s one of the most traded commodities in the world). Meanwhile, some are a bit more idiosyncratic, and two of those, you probably noticed, are actually things that are on the GMAT (if only more of them were…).
But they’re put into one list for a reason: there was a time in my life, for each of them, that I actively disliked them.
So let’s take a step back and think about that process in general. Why is it, and how is it, that something we dislike can become more palatable? What changes, and what drives that change? The easiest answer is exposure—no acquired taste can be learned until you’ve spent enough time with it. But there’s more to it than that. If I forced you to listen to Ornette Coleman every day for a month, you might still think it sounds like a somebody put Miles Davis’s music into a food processor.
The second part of the recipe is just as important. You have to want to like it. Not just that, but you need to want to be the type of person who likes it. If you start identifying as that type of person, start acting that way, then you’re primed to approach whatever bitter thing you’re learning to like with a bit more positivity. On the other hand, if you tell yourself (and other people) that you’re just “not a math person,” or anything like that, then you’re doing yourself a huge disservice, because that cuts of the opportunity to act as if you do like it and start forming positive associations.
Alright, so let’s bring this back to the realm of GMAT prep. Maybe you think grammar is kind of dull or math is frustrating. If any part of the test is a chore to study, then you’re setting yourself up to learn less—and therefore improve less—than you could with a different attitude. You learn the most when you’re seriously engaged with the material. And that’s all about mentality. Every practice question is a puzzle, and you’re a puzzle enthusiast. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t before; you are now.
When you talk about your prep, talk about parts you like. When you hit a particularly challenging question, share it with a friend in the same way you might share a puzzle or riddle. Do your prep in a comfortable place, at your own speed, and enjoy yourself. At the very least, act like you enjoy it. In time, that act becomes reality.