ADHD Anecdote–AP History

American flag on the United States

My AP United States History class my junior year was kind of a horrifically funny experience for me.

I had just moved that year to Oregon from Utah. And one of my discoveries was that Oregon schools, at least for me, were more difficult than my Utah education had seemed. I was, at this time, already suffering from huge social melt-down. (Moving mid-high-school blows in case anyone was wondering.) I felt very inferior in a lot of ways, and for the first time that included academics.
The kids in my AP history class were geniuses! We would sit in class, and our teacher, a really cool guy who I’m pretty sure decades before had been a hippie, would ask questions. And those Oregonian kids, man, they knew their stuff. They were raising their hands, shouting out answers, getting high fives from the teacher, and I… well, I just sat there, bemused. I could not figure out how they knew so freaking much. I was pretty sure thy had had a really good US history teacher in junior high or something.
The year progressed in a similar fashion. We’d take tests. I would get between a C and an F on them, and those geniuses–somehow they were pulling out A’s and B’s. Mostly A’s from what I saw. It was so impressive to me–it seemed like magic.
As the year was drawing to a close, the AP exam was coming up. Now, at this time I was pretty sure I hated history and never, ever wanted to have to take it again (I regret that drastically misguided assumption now, but I sure thought it was true at the time), so I wanted to pass the test direly so I wouldn’t have to take history in college. I had gotten C’s all year long in the class–definitely my worst grades of the year. But, nevertheless, I really, really wanted to pass the test.
About three weeks before the AP exam, we had a group study session at Cool Teacher’s house. I went. We studied. We ate food. I socialized with my fellow nerdy comrades. All was well. And somehow during the course of that study session, I had a major revelation. Someone unwittingly gave away the big secret–the thing that these guys had been doing all year that made them seem all brilliant and crap. The illusion was shattered: these kids were not geniuses. They had simply been doing something all year that I had not been doing. Something that it had never occurred to me to do. Something that was unheard of to me–that I had never had to do before, and that I had never been taught to do, or paid enough attention in class to know I should do. They had been (are you ready for this?) reading the text book.

This revelation shook me to the core. I am not joking.
That was it. I finally realized that all that time, had I but read what they had read, I too could have been getting A’s on tests and high fives from the teacher. AMAZING. The implications of this discovery on my academic future were staggering. (Though getting myself to pay attention enough to actually read a text-book, I later discovered, was also a challenge.)
Anyway, at the end of that study session, I went up to Cool Teacher and said “Hey, uh, I know I’ve been a horrible student all year, but what do you think the chances are of me passing this thing?” And he said, “Low. But you could do it. I’ve seen some pretty amazing things in my day. To do it, you’d have to study this.” Then he handed me a mini-miracle: two photocopied sheets with text so small I could barely read it containing all the major events of US history. That’s right. That’s what I said. Two pieces of paper. All of US history. (We’re a young nation still, all right?)
But by golly, it worked! I read those two pages several whole times over the course of the next three weeks and took the test. I then regurgitated and passed, and never had to take history again. Which makes me sad. Because now I kind of love it passionately. But that’s another post for another day.
Point is, this ADHD-inattentive kid didn’t realize what a text book was for. And he was 16.
All right, I’m wicked tired, and I have a job interview tomorrow for a real, true counseling job.
Wish me luck.


  1. I had an almost identical revelation, but right about the second semester of college. I'm ADD to the core and I don't recall ever even bringing a text book HOME until college, let alone READING it! Years later it's baffling to me that I could have been so dense that it didn't even occur to me! I had such anxiety over my academic failures though school, even fearing that I would end up homeless or something since I just couldn't hack it! It seemed like I was truly powerless to do anything about it at the time. It seems laughable to me now. It's not that my mind is any less ADD, but that there seems to have been other areas of my mind that have matured in ways that help me compensate for it. I love your writings about ADD and completely identify with them!

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