This article is dedicated to those of you who are just starting out with LEED. If you are already a LEED AP from a previous exam, or have happened to taken the LEED exam already and failed – please click here.
First of all, I’d like to congratulate you on making a choice to pursue a LEED professional credential. You may not know it, but LEED is quickly becoming an industry norm, and no matter what experience you have in the architecture and construction industry (and even if you have no experience whatsoever), I believe you’re making a wise decision for your career.
Before we begin, I’d just like to introduce myself. My name is Pat, and I passed the LEED AP exam back in March of 2008. Passing the LEED exam was one of the hardest career related tasks I ever had to do. Some people say the LEED exam was harder than the ARE (Architectural Registration Exam), which is a process I plan to begin very soon. Anyways, I started this website as an easy-to-use (and free) resource to make the exam process less of a headache for you and to hopefully be there to answer any questions you may during your journey. Since I started this website in 2008, it has earned over 500,000 visitors and over 3,000,000 page views! I’d like to thank you for adding to those numbers.
Since losing my job at an architectural firm late last year, helping people pass the LEED exam has become my full-time job and passion.
Becoming a LEED Professional in LEED v3
If you have questions about what LEED is all about and how becoming a LEED professional can benefit you, click here.
The LEED credentialing process is a 3-tiered system:
- Tier 1: LEED Green Associate
- Tier 2: LEED AP Specialization
- Tier 3: LEED AP Fellow
The LEED AP Fellow is reserved for elite participants in the LEED community, so we’ll just be talking about the first two tiers: the LEED Green Associate and the LEED AP Specialization paths.
Because you’re new, you can either take a LEED AP Specialization test to become a LEED AP+, or the LEED Green Associate exam to become a LEED GA. Which test you should take depends on your experience and your career paths. Let’s keep on reading to find out more about each exam.
LEED AP Specialization Exams
We’ll talk first about the LEED AP Specialization exams because there is a major eligibility requirement that many people will be unable to meet.
A LEED AP Specialization exam is a two-part exam. Part 1 is actually the LEED Green Associate exam, and part 2 is related to the specialization that you choose.
The specialization part tests you on your green building knowledge within a specific LEED rating system. It’s mainly for the people who will be working on LEED projects in the field, such as architects, engineers, contractors, etc.
After you pass, you will then be able to work on certifying LEED projects in your specialization as the LEED Accredited Professional. Here is a list of the various specialization exams:
- LEED for Building Design & Construction (BD+C)
- LEED for Interior Design & Construction (ID+C)
- LEED for Building Operations & Maintenance (O&M)
- LEED for Homes
- LEED for Neighborhood Development (ND)
However, like I said, there is an eligibility requirement to take one of these exams:
You MUST have previous experience with a LEED registered project within three years of your application submittal date. This must be documented in the form of a letter from a supervisor, client, or project manager, etc. and must describe your involvement on the LEED project. This information is uploaded during your application process for the exam.
If you don’t have this experience, then you’ll have to enter LEED v3 by taking the tier 1, LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) exam. You can take the specialty exam later once you become eligible. Click here to go to the LEED Green Associate exam section below.
If You Are Eligible for a LEED AP+ Exam
If you happen to be eligible, you may be wondering which specialty exam you should take. This decision is up to you, and should be based on your career path and the career goals you have. That being said, here is a short description of each specialization exam for your information:
- Building Design & Construction (BD&C): This exam actually covers three different rating systems: New Construction (which includes major renovation), Schools, and Core & Shell.
- Interior Design & Construction (ID&C): This rating system is mainly for tenant spaces that don’t occupy an entire building, i.e. tenant improvement projects.
- Existing Building: Operations & Maintenance (O&M): This rating system is applicable for buildings with commercial occupancies that involve building operations, process & system upgrades, minor space-use changes, facility alterations and additions.
- Homes: This track covers single-family, low-rise multi family (under 4 stories), affordable housing, production, manufactured & modular homes.
- Neighborhood Development (ND): Mainly developmental projects, such as neighborhoods, infill projects and larger mixed use developments.
What to Study and How to Study for a LEED Specialty Exam
The LEED AP Specialty exams are all based off of the Reference Guide of the particular rating system you choose. The Reference Guide is the manual that is used when certifying a LEED project, so you’re going to want to pick one up, even if you plan to use a study guide to help you study. It does help to use the Reference Guide along with a study guide at the same time. Reference Guides can be purchased from the USGBC on the publication list via their website.
In addition to what’s located in the Reference Guide, information from the USGBC website and the GBCI website are all fair game for the exam as well. This includes information about the LEED Application Process, Minimum Project Requirements (MPRs), Credit Interpretation Requests (CIRs), etc.
As you can probably tell, there is a lot to learn, which is why I recommend using a study guide to supplement your studying. You can check out the study guides for your exam of choice in the left hand side of this website, or by clicking here.
Probably the best way to practice for the exam after you believe you’ve learned what you need to know is by taking practice tests. Again, you can view the best practice exams for each test in the left hand side of this website, or by clicking here.
Lastly, you are free to use any of the free resources found on the homepage of greenexamacademy.com under the category for the specific exam you plan to take. There are helpful tips and charts that are free, which should help you memorize and understand the information even further.
Here is some more info about the exam:
- 2 part exam, 2 hours each (4 hours total)
- The 1st part is actually the Green Associate Exam (see below)
- 100 multiple-choice questions for each part (200 total)
- Computer-based test
- For two-part exam: USGBC national members: $300, All others: $400
- For specialty exam only: $150/$250
For more information, please check out the handbooks which can be found on the GBCI website.
The LEED Green Associate Exam
The LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) exam is the 1st tier in the LEED credentialing process, and is the stepping stone to earning your LEED AP with specialty.
The GA exam is less detailed than the specialty exams, but can cover general green building concepts that span across all LEED rating systems.
The GBCI website states that the Green Associate exam is “for professionals who want to demonstrate green building expertise in non-technical fields of practice…[it] denotes basic knowledge of green design, construction and operations.”
This exam is geared toward the product manufacturers, the marketers, the finance people, students, people in customer service for a large construction firm, etc. It’s also for people who are not yet eligible to take a LEED AP specialty exam.
In order to take the LEED Green Associate exam, you must meet one of the following eligibility requirements:
- You must have previous experience supporting a LEED-registered project, or
- You must have experience working in a sustainable field of work, or
- You must have attended an education program that addresses green building principles.
Your experience must be documented in the form of a letter from a supervisor, client, project manager, or teacher, and describe your involvement. A completion certification from an educational program, or an official transcript will suffice. This information is uploaded during your application process for the exam.
Let’s go through each of these eligibility requirements one-by-one:
You must have previous experience supporting a LEED-registered project
This is self-explanatory. If you’ve worked on a LEED registered project in any way, shape or form – then you qualify for the LEED Green Associate exam. Again, you’ll need documentation (as described above) to prove this.
You must have experience working in a sustainable field of work
I believe all they are looking for is for you to explain how you and your company or profession has anything to do with sustainability, environmentalism, or the green building industry. Of course, if you’re an architect or engineer, then you should be able to meet this requirement very easily. If you work for a product manufacturer (i.e. a carpet manufacturer), then you’ll have a little bit of explaining to do as to how you and your company relate to the green building industry.
You must have attended an education program that addresses green building principles
The GBCI has yet to be absolutely clear about what exactly qualifies as an acceptable education program for the LEED Green Associate exam. I will be asking for clarification from the GBCI very soon, and I’ll update you as soon as I find out.
This is what I’ll be asking:
- Is there a list of acceptable education programs to choose from?
- Can certain college courses count?
- Can these programs be taken online, or only live?
- What about continued education programs at work?
- If you have more questions, please comment below and I’ll ask!
If You Are Eligible for the LEED Green Associate Exam
If you are eligible for the LEED GA exam, you may be wondering exactly the exam is about. Here’s a quick breakdown:
The Green Associate exam will test your knowledge of:
- The LEED Application Process
- Project Site Factors
- Water Management
- Project Systems and Energy Impacts
- Acquisition, Installation and Management of Project Materials
- Stakeholder Involvement in Innovation
- Project Surroundings and Public Outreach
- Synergistic Opportunities between various LEED strategies
Here is some more quick info about the exam:
- 2 hour exam
- 100 multiple-choice questions
- computer-based test
- USGBC national members/full-time students: $150, All others: $200.
For more information, please take a look at the Green Associate exam candidate handbook, which can be found on the GBCI website.
What to Study and How to Study for the LEED Green Associate Exam
You should definitely take a look at the Green Associate handbook found on the GBCI website. The handbook will tell you important information about what is covered on the exam and where you can find that information.
In addition, you are always free to use the information on greenexamacademy.com to help you along the way. On the homepage you’ll find information about you’re the exam, including summaries, tips and charts to help you organize all of the information for you.
I also have published helpful study guide called The Green Associate Exam Walkthrough, which you may find very useful.
Last Note from Pat
I hope this article has at least pointed you in the right direction and you now have an idea of how you want to participate in LEED version 3, either as a LEED Green Associate or a LEED AP with specialty.
If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them below in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to find you the correct answer as soon as I can. Since this is an open forum format website, people in the future with the same question may benefit from you asking yours now – so please don’t hesitate to do so.
Lastly, thank you so much for your support. I wish you the best of luck on your journey!