Originally published 03/13/2013, updated 8/7/2018
Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t usually procrastinate.
But when I read that being a LEED Green Associate involved “basic” green building knowledge, I figured I had things pretty well under control. I started studying six days before the test.
There’s a second thing that everyone should get straight on: the exam goes far beyond the basics. It assumes extensive knowledge of the LEED building design and construction (BD+C) rating systems, and the only way to pass the test is to read, master, and in some cases memorize key parts of the BD+C Reference Guide.
Owning the BD+C Reference Guide is not optional. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s cheaper than re-taking the test, and you’ll need it later when you start working on projects anyway. (Update: this is no longer necessary to pass the exam, according to alert readers! But I still think getting cozy with the reference guide is a good idea right off the bat.)
As a supplement, consider browsing around here on LEEDuser.com. We include a Bird’s-Eye View page on every credit: these answer FAQs and give readers the skinny on what each credit is really about. People frequently use the forums during test prep to clarify things they're not sure of. And like the Reference Guide, LEEDuser will come in handy later.
Also, consider this study guide and practice exam, presented in partnership with GreenStep Education. It is so comprehensive that GreenStep says you don't need the reference guide. Sure wish I'd had this thing when I was studying! You all are lucky....
Now for the secrets!
Here are my (once) tried and true (for me) tips for studying and passing the exam. I hope they help you too. With any luck, I’ll be back in a year or so with tips for acing the LEED AP BD+C exam as well.
(By the way, I took the exam under the v2009 rating system. I've updated this post to speak to the new v4 test—but the basic advice has not changed.)
Beyond the Reference Guide
10. Read the Candidate Handbook very carefully, especially the part where they tell you which material you need to know. Master all of it. They aren’t kidding about this—not even a little bit.
9. Explore LEED Online. Get to know all the rules about registration—including which rating systems different project types are eligible for—as well as certification and appeals, including details about:
- Credit interpretation requests (CIRs)
- Design-phase and construction-phase credit reviews
- Timing of different sorts of communications with reviewers
8. Memorize the MPRs. You should be able to recite them like a child reciting Bible verses to the Sunday School teacher. What? You don’t know what the MPRs are? I hate to yell, but GO FIND OUT RIGHT NOW!
Inside the Reference Guide
7. Fully understand energy optimization, onsite renewables, and green power. These are the most important credits in LEED, and nothing will wreck your day like forgetting the rules for RECs. Except possibly not knowing which things count as onsite renewables (combined heat and power from methane, yes; from trash incineration, no).
And how do you sleep at night without remembering which building systems use process energy? or without knowing how to calculate your percentage energy savings above baseline according to the requirements of ASHRAE 90.1-2010 (with errata but without addenda), Appendix G?
6. Know your prerequisites. Be able to list all the prerequisites of LEED for New Construction by heart, and understand the intent of each one.
5. Know your refrigerants. Pay close attention to the difference between the prerequisite and the credit regarding refrigerants (hints: global warming and fire suppression systems). Know when CFCs in the HVAC system disqualify a project from LEED certification (hint: learn the single tiny exception).
Finally, commit to memory the table in the Reference Guide that shows a variety of CFCs, HCFCs, HFCs, and natural refrigerants. Seriously: see if you can replicate the entire thing on a blank page without peeking. They might ask you absolutely anything from that table. Oh, and don’t forget the supplemental materials on refrigerants referenced in the Candidate Handbook either!
4. Know your standards and calculations. You should acquire a reasonable understanding of all the standards and calculations you see in the Reference Guide tome—but there are an awful lot of them.
Based on my real test and the Everblue practice tests I took, these are some of the key standards, codes, regulations, and definitions you might want to get to know. No need to purchase or read the original standards, but make sure you understand exactly why and how each one is used in LEED:
- ASHRAE 52.2
- ASHRAE 55
- ASHRAE 62.1
- ASHRAE 90.1, including its relevance to light pollution
- ASTM E 1980, including the difference between SRI, reflectance, and emissivity
- CDPH Standard Method v1.1
- EPAct 1992 as it relates to water conservation (this one’s important! memorize the tables in the Reference Guide!)
- EPA definition of a brownfield
- SCAQMD 1168 and SCAQMD 1113
LEED Green Associate Test prep and test-taking tips
3. Take as many practice tests as you can get your hands on. Since I didn’t start when I should have, I attribute a good deal of my ultimate success to the practice questions and tests I took on everbluetraining.com. I scoffed at the questions while I was reading them, but they turned out be really valuable for three reasons.
The test questions not only sent me back to the BD+C Reference Guide over and over but also gave me a genuine sense of the actual test content. They also taught me to slow down and read much more carefully so I wouldn’t do something stupid like get density and community connectivity mixed up (just to name a totally random example that I’m sure would never happen to me or anyone else!).
Although every test is randomly generated from a large bank of questions, I’m sure companies like Everblue pay employees to take lots of tests so they can write more accurate practice questions. I didn’t try out any other company’s practice questions to compare, but the Everblue ones ultimately turned out to be quite representative.
2. Read, re-read, and re-re-read. And then check your answers twice. They give you two full hours to answer 100 questions. I got through them in about 30 minutes, using the “mark” button to flag a few that I didn’t feel sure about.
Then I took another 30 minutes to go through the marked ones, reading even more carefully. I caught a couple mistakes that way, although two questions remained baffling (I used the “comment” feature to point out the ambiguities, but that only helps the next test-taker; as the Candidate Handbook explains, your score at the end of the two hours is final).
Finally, I used the whole remaining hour to double- and triple-check every single answer. Because really, who wants to pay $150 and drive two hours to take an exam and then do something daft like get geothermal and ground-source energy mixed up? Not me.
Most important of all
1. Start early. Give yourself at least one full, all-day stretch to study—read, take notes, digest, and test yourself on—each of the major credit categories. Give yourself similarly long stretches to study each of the following:
Finally, take a good twelve hours for reviewing it all, including any final practice tests you choose to take.
OK, fine. I didn’t try that last one, but I sure wish I had. (No doubt my preternaturally supportive husband wishes I had as well. Thanks, David!)
How about you?
I hope others will add their own tips and tricks for passing the LEED Green Associate exam in the comments. And hey, I wouldn’t mind some advice on the LEED AP specialties while you’re at it!
As for those who haven’t taken the test yet—it can’t hurt to take Tristan Roberts’ advice for me the morning of : Listen to “Eye of the Tiger” on your way to the exam. Also, study hard, sleep well, and good luck!