Can You Have ADHD and Still Be a Good Student?


Editor's note: This week, we feature guest blogger Sean Potts, a student who graduated from Executive Function coaching support to full independence.

A Personal Experience with ADHD and Good Grades

“But look at your grades… There’s no way you have ADHD!”

The amount of times I’ve heard this familiar phrase said in one way or another is astounding. What makes the co-existence of ADHD and good grades or other measures academic achievement so difficult for others to fathom?

Well, first, it’s because of the misperceptions people have that every kid with ADHD always displays telltale behaviors: That student who interrupts the class every couple of minutes; that student who can’t focus on work for more than a moment without getting distracted; that individual who can’t listen to much of conversation before losing interest. Is this what you imagine? You’re certainly not alone. For many kids, this is the reality of living with an ADHD diagnosis.

But what lots of people don’t know is that this is a reality that many of us learn to combat.


The Personal Experience Of A Student Who Has ADHD

I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was twelve years old. At the time, I was precisely that stereotypical example I just described. If you need some help painting the details of that picture, let me guide your brush. My typical day in middle school consisted of being asked to leave the class frequently for being disruptive. I would try to make jokes, talk to my peers, and quite frankly drive the teacher insane. But the struggles didn’t stop when I got home – they just got worse. I was nearly incapable of doing homework. The thought of trying to sit down for more than fifteen minutes and work on something thoroughly that I didn’t really care about was uncomfortable in theory, and agonizing in my practice. Outside of academics, I was extremely high-energy across the board. I talked faster than the speed of light, yet I was virtually unable to participate in the listening side of the conversation. Overall, it’s fair to say that I was a bit of a hyperactive mess.

This all must be very hard to believe now for anyone at my college who knows me. I have been on the Dean’s list each semester thus far, I only speak during class when I am participating, and I am very attentive during conversations (if I do say so myself). This is what’s on the surface, but beneath it lies a hidden story. It took years of hard work and coaching to train my executive function skills to be, at the very least, equivalent to my peers. Countless refills of my meds. Seemingly endless nights where procrastination catches up to me, forcing me to focus on piles of work with due dates mere hours away.

Yeah, so those are the experiences and efforts that have led me to success despite ADHD. But does that mean I am completely cured from my diagnosis?


So, Can ADHD Be Cured Permanently?

Unfortunately, no. I don’t think that I will ever be “ADHD free”. That’s not really possible. It is a biological and cognitive issue that I have accepted will always be part of my genetic makeup. And if the science couldn’t prove that, the daily interferences certainly have. Whether it be studying, time management, organization, or writing papers, focus is an ongoing challenge. Even writing this piece required me to constantly refocus my attention. But does that mean I am crippled by my diagnosis? Of course not! Despite all of this, ADHD has undoubtedly taught me the value of hard work and dedication to catalyze effective change. When you are diagnosed with something that seems to reflect poorly on your intellectual capabilities, it can be easy to get discouraged, but this is only because the misinformed societal stigma about ADHD has altered your perceptions. Instead, it’s important to understand that the diagnosis does not mean that you are forever incapable of learning academic skills. I recommend understanding which aspects of ADHD you struggle with and then set incremental short-term goals that will help build those skills. This is easier said than done - but with help from a good coach, some hard work, and, most importantly, full dedication, these skills will develop over time. The difference between the individuals hindered by ADHD and the individuals succeeding despite it really comes down to the actions they take after their diagnosis.

For those who have the fortune of being free from any kind of learning disability or difference, I invite you to rethink how you perceive ADHD. Instead of doubting someone’s diagnosis on the account of current successes you may see, feel inspired. Chances are, that person has been doing a ton of hard work behind the scenes.

Can Someone with ADHD Be Smart?

Yes! People with ADHD can be very smart as there is no definitive link between ADHD and IQ. However, people with ADHD can have a hard time demonstrating their intelligence due to a lack of motivation to study subjects that don’t catch their interest, poor organization and planning skills, difficulty focusing and more symptoms caused by the condition.

There are a number of brilliant people diagnosed with ADHD who have implemented systems that help them express their ideas and complete high-quality work. It can feel discouraging to feel like you can prove how smart you are, but you too can use evidence-based tools to change that!

Can Someone with ADHD Get Good Grades?

Yes! Students who have ADHD can get good grades and achieve their goals. Even if you've been diagnosed with ADHD, you can be a great student with great grades. — I'd say I'm living proof that a learning difference is no barrier to success.

The first recommendation for students with ADHD looking to improve their academic performance are medications, but not everyone has to take this route to earn better grades. If you find yourself struggling in school or start to notice that you can't focus or have trouble with time management, consider looking into executive function coaching or ADHD coaching and review the helpful tips below that detail how to study with ADHD without medication use.

  1. Use a calendar tool like Google Calendar to manage your time and stay on track.
    • Time management is one of the biggest challenges that students with ADHD face. Using a calendar can help you time block and organize your day to accomplish more and stay productive.
  2. Break down schoolwork into smaller, more manageable goals.
    • If you feel like the assignment you're working on is a large, insurmountable project that you'll never finish, try breaking it out into smaller chunks.
    • For example, if you're writing a 1000-word essay, prioritize one main idea at a time. Try creating an outline with your main talking points and write for each main point at a time. You'll feel rewarded every time get your message across for each line item in your outline.  
  3. Practice mindfulness
    • Mindfulness can help students become more focused and can even improve executive function skills by helping them be more present in the classroom or during a specific activity/project.

Can People With ADHD Be Successful After Graduation?

Absolutely! Though ADHD can affect executive functioning skills, with practice and intentional effort anyone with ADHD has the opportunity to see success in their career. As long as you have the drive to succeed and put in the hard work to do so, ADHD won’t hold you back from achieving your goals.

The tips above don’t just apply to an academic setting, they can also be used to successfully complete tasks at work for a number of satisfying careers. Working with an ADHD coach to develop systems that boost your executive functioning skills can also help you see success in your career.


We hope that helps! If you're interested, continue reading to find a few more helpful tips to deal with executive dysfunction and overcome ADHD symptoms that you may be dealing with.


2021 Information Session Social media graphicWant to learn about the program that helped Sean better manage his ADHD? Learn all about our coaching approach & methodology in our free on-demand info session.

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About the Author

Sean Potts

Sean Potts is the Marketing Specialist at Beyond BookSmart and a recent graduate of Ithaca College’s Integrated Marketing Communications program. As a former coaching client and intern at BBS, Sean has spent the better part of the last ten years witnessing firsthand the positive impact Beyond BookSmart's mission has on transforming students’ lives.

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