© Cambridge University Press 2015.Background Schizophrenia is associated with lower intelligence and poor educational performance relative to the general population. This is, to a lesser degree, also found in first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients. It is unclear whether bipolar disorder I (BD-I) patients and their relatives have similar lower intellectual and educational performance as that observed in schizophrenia. Method This cross-sectional study investigated intelligence and educational performance in two outpatient samples [494 BD-I patients, 952 schizophrenia spectrum (SCZ) patients], 2231 relatives of BD-I and SCZ patients, 1104 healthy controls and 100 control siblings. Mixed-effects and regression models were used to compare groups on intelligence and educational performance. Results BD-I patients were more likely to have completed the highest level of education (odds ratio 1.88, 95% confidence interval 1.66-2.70) despite having a lower IQ compared to controls (β = -9.09, s.e. = 1.27, p < 0.001). In contrast, SCZ patients showed both a lower IQ (β = -15.31, s.e. = 0.86, p < 0.001) and lower educational levels compared to controls. Siblings of both patient groups had significantly lower IQ than control siblings, but did not differ on educational performance. IQ scores did not differ between BD-I parents and SCZ parents, but BD-I parents had completed higher educational levels. Conclusions Although BD-I patients had a lower IQ than controls, they were more likely to have completed the highest level of education. This contrasts with SCZ patients, who showed both intellectual and educational deficits compared to healthy controls. Since relatives of BD-I patients did not demonstrate superior educational performance, our data suggest that high educational performance may be a distinctive feature of bipolar disorder patients.