EDIT 03/30/2010 - I've finally gotten around to providing exam advice, study guide reviews, and a set of FREE study materials for the updated LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) exam here... At this point, the info below is so dated that it doesn't really apply!
Real Life LEED is all about the practicing professional, but I can't help but notice how many of you reach the site via "LEED exam" searches and send me emails asking advice. All you future AP's listen up cause I'm only going to say this once! The rest of you die hard current AP's can stop reading and get yourself a beer...
The test is a multiple choice test graded on an incredibly vague rating scale split into four parts. It is administered now by the Green Buildings Certification Institute, and any official information about changes can be found there. There are three exam tracks available that are aligned with their respective rating systems: LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC), LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI), and LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB). Once you pass though, there is no meaningful distinction among the exam tracks. In other words, someone who passes the EB exam will still qualify to earn the bonus ID point on a LEED-NC project.
I know someone's already emailed you this, but it's funny anyway
Unless you're a facilities manager whose job is optimizing existing facilities, take the LEED-NC exam. LEED-NC is sort of like the motherland of all other systems, which are in one form or another just derivatives of the NC program. LEED-EB, LEED for Homes, and LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) are all fairly distinct from NC, but of the three there is only an exam track for LEED-EB. EB is currently nowhere near as prevalent as the other systems, so unless all you do is operate and manage facilities (renovations are still likely part of the NC program), you might as well take NC. The LEED for Commercial Interiors track is kind of a joke in my opinion. The credits are pretty much the same and even interior designers and architects are likely to be working on NC projects as much as CI projects.
Everything you need to know about how to sign-up for the exam can be found in the Candidate Handbook, so I'm not going to waste my time explaining costs and numbers to call. Just understand that you can take the test whenever you want. I normally recommend giving yourself two months to study, and to go ahead and reserve your spot at the testing center before you start studying. Knowing that you could just blow three or four hundred dollars by failing a test you've already signed up for was a pretty good motivator for me. You're going to need to dedicate at least five hours a week to studying, preferably with a good cram session the day before the test. Simply signing up for one of the workshops (see below) and expecting to pass after one day is not a good strategy.
What You Need To Know
The short answer is a whole lot. You need to know the reference guide of your exam track backwards and forwards. Really knowing and understanding the credits is by far the large majority of the test. There are four sections to the test, and a solid knowledge of the individual credits will more or less get you through three of them. The "Implement LEED Process" section is a bastard of a category that can be difficult to find answers to. I took the Essentials of LEED Professional Accreditation online course and found it did a good job of helping provide "official" responses to those types of questions. Spend some time studying when you should register the project with LEED-Online, what system applies to various project types, and all about CIR's and other such goodies.
Studying the Reference Guide
You may notice the reference guide is a few hundred pages long. Luckily there is a fair amount of fluff you can more or less skip. Don't waste time reading the "Resources" section, and I don't feel you need to go through all the "Definitions". The most import things to know are the intent, requirements, referenced standards (yes you do need to know the difference between ASHRAE 90.1 and ASRAE 55), calculations, and submittal documentation required. You only need to know as much about the referenced standards as is provided by the reference guide, so don't worry about studying the intricate details of SCAQMD Rule 1168, but do know that it applies to sealants and adhesives for EQc4.1. Don't forget to learn the exemplary performance thresholds either.
Quality FREE Resources
There are a number of free resources out there, but understand at some point you need to get a copy of the reference guide, which may be difficult to find for free unless you work in an office with copies lying around. That said, there are a number of sites I recommend visiting:
- IntheLEED.com - This was a blog by a guy named Pat who decided to just blog about his experience studying for the exam. The result is a site chock full of tips, tricks, cheat sheets, etc. that is all available free of charge. I would say this should be your first stop, and if you have any questions email him and not me...
- AREforum.org - This site is setup to be a forum for people studying for the architectural registration exam, but they have a section devoted to LEED that is well trafficked. If you're searching for a used reference guide or get stuck trying to find an answer to a practice question this is the place to go. You'll even see my humble mug answering questions when I can... I also recommend taking a look at all the "brain dumps" you'll see from people who just passed or failed the test (about a 50/50 split)...
- Building Green Suite Practice Exam - I really like BGS, as can be evidenced by this post. They have written a free practice exam (see comments on the linked page for a few bugs), which I always recommend people taking before they take the real test. The level of detail necessary to pass can be an eye opener for many.
Good luck to all of you, and when you start your first project be sure to come back here and get ready for some real learning! Disagree with my advice? Tell me where I'm wrong by leaving a comment.