Obligatory LEED Exam Advice

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!

EDIT 12/01/2008 - See this page for information about upcoming changes to the accreditation process and a time line for when it will happen.

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 Basics

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.


joelmckellar said...

Great post on scoring from building green suite! Short summary - "It's complex"

Craig said...

Thanks. I actually found your blog by looking for information to help me with the process of certifying a building. Studying for the test as we speak so this was helpful as well.

Anonymous said...

The single most helpful thing for me to prepare for the exam was creating a spreadsheet that summarized ALL the information for each credit: title, intent, requirements, referenced standards, what team member might responsible for that credit, etc. Bascially copying everything in the reference guide. But I passed!(BTW, GREAT site!!!)

Unknown said...

LEED Prep, which you can buy here: http://ppi2pass.com/ppi/PPIShop_pr_LDPR does the same thing that Lore said she found helpful... summarizes all the information for each credit.

Sustainable Thoughts said...

We offer instructor led LEED Exam Prep courses for those who prefer to learn in a classroom environment. We do both open enrollment and in-house training. If a focus class interests you please visit our site at http://www.everblueenergy.com.


Unknown said...

Thanks for your post; I found it very helpful - I have just begun studying for CI.. though I'd taken multiple NC preparation classes for fun while I was in college, I was recently talked into CI so I have just entirely switched tracks (since I practice Interior Design renovation much more than anything to do with architecture).. Does anyone know when the deadline to register for the current version is, and when the deadline is to take the current version of the exam? I've been searching everywhere and haven't found out, but I know it must be coming up.. and i'd like to give myself a reasonable schedule and amount of time for studying..

joelmckellar said...


I also haven't found any news about when they will retire the LEED-CI exam, though I would expect it to be on the same timeline as the NC exam (which also hasn't been announced). If the LEED-EB exam is any indication, it will be at least a few months AFTER the new system is officially released before the exams switch. I can't say for sure about any timeline, but my estimate is that you'll have at least a few months into 2009 before the switch occurs.

Best of luck!


Anna (Green Talk) said...

Hi. I just passed the NC LEED exam and to say the least I thought I failed it. I wrote a similar post on my website as well listing what I used. I actually used green prep exams but the test I took was near impossible.

Lore, you don't need to create the summary. A wonderful person on ARE forum actually did this already and it is amazing. I listed the link on my site.

You need to study the CIRs, Registration, and certifications as well. The book is terrible about this. Check the USGBC website.

Anonymous said...

I just passed the NC as well.
There is a lot of great info here and elsewhere online. Thanks for your postings and info!

My advise... learn the credits, the process, the calculations and the approaches (from the Ref Guide) and then.... be ready to use all that knowledge after reading very wordy questions that add lots of superfluous info and decipher between answers that sound good, answers that are correct for a different credit and the correct answer. Good luck out there - keep your head down and get'er'done.

DW said...

When is the format of the LEED NC exam going to change? I just rescheduled my exam to January 8, 2009...this should not affect the format should it?? Do I have to take the test before the end of 2008?

DW said...

I just passed the LEED NC, and HIGHLY recommend purchasing ONLINE EXAMS. The one I used was found here:


I don't recommend waiting til the last minute, but I basically studied for the test in 3 days (non-stop, pulled an all-nighter before the test). I probably put in a good 30 hours studying, and I would not have passed without the online exams. The format was identical to the real exam and it really helped me to look out for tricky questions and focus on what was important.

Anonymous said...

There's another great website that offers free LEED NC and CI exams that I found very useful: www.greenstepeducation.com

Anonymous said...

FIrst, I love this site! It helped a lot as I studied. But I want to issue a WARNING to those who attempt to postpone their exam dates. After you go into the web site and change the date and pay the 30.00 fee, they send a verification email. You must READ this and be sure to CLICK the button to "register", which confirms the appointment. Otherwise you really have NOT REALLY changed the appointment and you will never know that until you show up on the wrong date, only to find out that you can't take the exam AND by the way you were a "no show" for the previous date so you have already been charged 400.00 (non refundable.) and your file is "inactive". And there will not be any human being to plead your case to. Basically you'll be screwed.
Don't let this tragedy happen to you. A crammed brain is a terrible thing to waste.

Anonymous said...

I have been checking in on this site for 2 months now just to make sure I could still register & take the NC2.2 exam, which I just passed! Yahoo! Anyway, my advice to my fellow procrastinators is read the book, read the book, read the book. That's all I did for the past couple weeks and crammed in this past weekend. This site was right, know the standards as well as they are presented in the book. Good luck to all who haven't taken it yet.

Anonymous said...

I have registered to take a V2.2 exam this spring; however, I am concerned that if I fail I will have to wait and take the new version (2 tests). Does anyone know if it is possible to register for two exams at a time?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Thanks for all the information !
I'd like to take the exam but wonder about the importance of personal background & experience in (green) building construction operation. For me this experience is a bit narrow (just a little experience in analysing green building construction projects, through general aspects). Is it enough to take the exam ?

Anonymous said...

Remember, you can register to take the exam up until 11:59pm on March 31, 2009. After that you can SCHEDULE the exam date out till June 30th, I think. For those of you who are afraid of failing and want to have the chance to take it again, I suggest your first attempt be on or before March 27th so you can re-register and take it again or even a third time before you can no longer register... $1200.... ouch!

I just took it and passed the test with a 186 less than a week ago (and never really even read the book… any version). First of all, rather than shelling out $200 for a book that is about to be outdated in less than 6 months, I’d recommend paying for some online practice tests and flash cards. I found some at greenexamprep.com for $60 and I got 370 flash cards and 4-5 practice tests that I took and re-took until I consistently got a 90% or better. I’m sure you don’t HAVE to go to that particular website and buy their stuff… most places that offer study materials are more or less comparable, but it’s worth checking out. I went through all of the flash cards multiple times and surfed the net regularly to find tables and charts of requirements, credits, standards, exemplary performance, etc.

It’s best to get as familiar with the material as humanly possible…. I had to give up skiing, watching TV and doing anything social for 3-4 weekends in a row while I spent about 10-12 hours per weekend going over this stuff again and again. Having a good background in science and/or math doesn’t necessarily help you at all… it’s pretty much all memorization (unless you have trouble with addition and subtraction and multiplying with decimals… if that’s the case, good luck.. J)

Stuff that’s worth knowing:

Requirements for each credit
Who is responsible for which credit (architect, owner, engineer, contractor, etc)
The difference between regular credits, innovation in design credits, and exemplary performance and knowing ALL of the percentages… knowing the difference between these can mean passing or failing.
ASHRAE Standards and which credits they apply to… these are simple to memorize, but totally worth spending time getting to know these well. You don’t have to necessarily read the standards, but know what credits they apply to and how they are used (thermal comfort, MERV filters, ventilation, energy, etc)
Pay special attention to MR credits (Materials and Resources) and which materials you can include/exclude for each category
I was asked a handful of questions about VOC-emitting materials… know your EQ category well.

Unknown said...

There are also online sample exams at www.ppi2pass.com/LEED

Anonymous said...

I passed yesterday with 190. ****yeah!!****
I recommend finding and using the manincellv spreadsheet. (found on the ARE forum; his post on 3/24/09) However, compare it to the Ref Guide as there are updates and typos. Add three columns: "%'s, "Primary", and "Synergies". Find as much info on the obscure adminstrative stuff as you can by mining this and other blogs. Finally take the Green Exam Prep practice exams, which will scare you, but don't worry the real test is not as hard.
I'll try to post that spreadsheet here:

Anonymous said...

Looks like the number of sites offering leed courses has gone up. I discovered a couple of new sites on these comments I hadn't heard of.

I am signed up for the practice online tests from http://www.leedexcel.com and give the exam in a couple of weeks. The advice form this blog is going to be useful.

Max Pierson said...

I'd love to see an updated version of this post to include the new accreditation process with Green Associates and whatnot. Even so, very helpful, thanks!

leededu.com said...

check out http://www.leededu.com
posted LEED AP exam and review material

Patti Mason said...

The U.S. Green Building Council Colorado Chapter is updating its study guide! The Colorado Chapter's Building Design and Construction study guide will be on sale November 6. The original guide helped thousands of people all around the world pass the exam and the updated version is even better. Call 303-454-3393 to preorder a copy today!

Todd said...

greenworkexperience.com has a few free practice tests and exam material. Check it out

Unknown said...

Hi Mike--Check out the FAQs at ppi2pass.com/LEEDfaqs. There are also LEED prep related products available on the website at ppi2pass.com/LEED.

Unknown said...

Oh, also there's a step-by-step guide to passing your LEED exam at:


Anonymous said...

Prepare for your LEED exam by playing games? Great concept!‏

I have previously recommended several LEED exam portals, such as Trial Exams, 100Questions, and others. I chanced upon this interesting exam portal which is built upon gamification - which is a new idea and concept - The simulation LEED (GA, BDC and NC) exams manifest in the form of Exam Villains which you will have to battle and win, and there are a lot of community-driven achievements, awards and etc. Do take a look and see, even if for the fun of it!

It's called Exam Fight and is at http://www.examfight.com

PS: I have no vested interests in the portal, btw!

Bush mark said...

Interesting Post! As, i am also looking for such kind of blogs and want training for LEED AP Exam Prep in order to crack all LEED exams in time.