As schools pass out more standardized tests and push pupils to do well on them, kids and parents can wind up with a case of exam-day jitters.

But parents can do a lot to ease test anxiety, both in their children and themselves. Start by focusing on the learning and not the scoring.

"The bottom line is not testing, but measuring competence and understanding," says Ruth Peters, Ph.D., a psychologist who contributes to the Today show. "Some kids truly don't know the material, and in the lower grades, it can be a real gift to hold them back a year and let them mature. Others get decent grades but can't perform under the pressure of a test. It's a very anxiety-producing situation."

To ease tension, experts say you can:

  • Make sure your child knows the material and has adequately prepared for the test.

  • Teach your child deep-breathing techniques.

  • Make sure he or she gets enough sleep and eats a good breakfast.

  • Keep your own emotions in check.

"When a child demonstrates knowledge on a daily basis in the classroom month after month, yet fails on a standardized test, that shows you something is wrong," Dr. Peters says. The child could be distracted or confused by the directions.

If problems persist, parents can ask the school for extra time, a quieter room or other steps that may help.

Some problems have a physical root. The list includes language defects and learning disorders, which may affect 15 to 30 percent of pupils.

Pediatrician Melvin Levine, M.D., author of A Mind at a Time, says some students who write creative stories do poorly in history because their minds can't retain facts. Others who do well in art may fail at math because of poor sequential processing skills.

"Because most schools still cling to a one-size-fits-all education philosophy, many children struggle when their learning patterns don't fit the instruction they receive," Dr. Levine says.

All kids have stronger and weaker areas, and it's great when schools can encourage their strengths, but if they can't meet a minimum standard in all areas, they may need to consult a learning specialist or speak to the school administration.

Medical Reviewer: [Akin, Louise RN, BSN, Gaskin, Kelley RN, MSN, CPNP, Pierce-Smith, Daphne RN, MSN, CCRC, FNP, Zuckerman, Marcia MD] Last Annual Review Date: 2011-05-13T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications

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Anxiety costs the United States more than $42 billion every year-that's almost a third of the country's total mental health bill.