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This article covers everything you need to know to pass your LEED® Green Associate exam, which is the first part of becoming a LEED Accredited Professional. We’ll show you what you need to study, starting with the bare minimum and then including a few extra resources. But first, we should give you an overview of LEED. If you are already familiar with LEED, skip down to the preparation sections.

What is LEED?

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a program for certifying sustainable buildings that was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC.) Certification demonstrates that the building meets minimum green design standards. Exceeding the minimum standards will offer a project Silver, Gold, or Platinum certification depending on how far the building goes beyond the baseline requirements.

While there are other programs for certifying sustainable buildings, LEED is the most widely used program in the United States and many other countries around the world. Many architecture firms are strongly recommending or requiring LEED accreditation for their staff. In our mind, it is a required credential for all building design professionals (architects, interior designers, designers, engineers, and construction managers.)

LEED Certification vs LEED Accreditation

People often misuse the term LEED Certified. Keep in mind that only buildings can be LEED Certified. People get LEED Accreditation.

When studying for the exam, be sure you understand the difference and that you learn the acceptable terminology usage. (Hint: LEED GA is wrong. You should use LEED Green Associate.)

LEED Green Associate Accreditation

The LEED Green Associate accreditation is the first part of becoming a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP.) This accreditation demonstrates that a person understands the basic concepts of green building and can apply those concepts to their work in the design and construction fields.

We believe this is the baseline credential that all professionals should have. Many firms agree and will require employees to be a LEED Green Associate at a minimum.

After achieving LEED Green Associate Accreditation, a person can then choose a specialty and take an additional exam to receive the LEED Accredited Professional designation. LEED AP is beyond the scope of this article, but credentials can be obtained in building design and construction, interior design, residential design, neighborhood design, and building operations and maintenance.

Must Study Items - Mostly Free!

OK, so you've decided to take the LEED Green Associate Exam. Great, let’s start with the absolute minimum that you need to understand in order to pass the exam. Most of these are free study guides.

First, a word of caution: this really is the minimum you can get by with. If you are going to take this route, you must be a great test taker and you have to absorb the material very well. If you are unfamiliar with LEED and have never been through the process of certifying a building, you should plan on also using a couple of practice tests to confirm your knowledge before you take the actual test. You may benefit from further study materials if those practice tests don't go well.

On to the nine critical references you need to fully understand in order to pass the exam. Yes, you need to spend time reading and understanding all nine resources - there really is no way around it.

LEED Green Associate Candidate Handbook

LEED Green Associate Candidate Handbook

U.S. Green Building Council
Free Download

The Candidate Handbook tells you everything you need to know about registering for and taking the exam. In addition, this publication lists the seven references below that are the primary sources for exam questions. While you probably won’t be tested on the information in this PDF, you should still read through it so you know what to expect.

LEED Core Concepts Guide

LEED Core Concepts Guide

U.S. Green Building Council
Paid Download

The LEED Core Concepts Guide provides the full background on green building – the whys and hows that you need to understand. Unfortunately, it costs money, but you do need to thoroughly understand the content in this guide in order to pass the LEED Green Associate exam.

Make sure you understand the various terms in the guide so you are fluent in the sustainable language. Also, closely read the seven organizational categories included. There is also a section about the USGBC and LEED, which is important to digest.

As of April 2015, the third edition is current and costs $90 for non-members of the USGBC. Before purchasing the PDF, check to see if your office owns a copy that you can borrow. In addition, if your firm is a member of the USGBC you may qualify for the discounted price of $75.

LEED v4 BD+C Reference Guide Introduction and Excerpts

LEED v4 BD+C Reference Guide Introduction and Excerpts

U.S. Green Building Council
Free Download

You do not need to purchase or study the entire Reference Guide. However the Introduction and excerpts are important to study.

This guide leads you through the minimum program requirements to qualify for LEED certification, which are tested. In addition, the guide takes you through the categories and the basic requirements of each. You won’t be tested on specific prerequisites or points, but there will be questions that ask about the concepts and definitions that apply to various prerequisites and points.

LEED v4 Impact Category and Point Allocation Process Overview

LEED v4 Impact Category and Point Allocation Process Overview

U.S. Green Building Council
Free Download

While complete word-for-word memorization is unnecessary, it is important to understand the Impact Categories and the methods used for point allocation. There will be test questions about the seven Impact Categories.

LEED v4 User Guide

LEED v4 User Guide

U.S. Green Building Council
Free Download

This guide will revisit some of the concepts you learned about in the references above including: Impact Categories, the certification process, and selection of a rating system.

It is worth skimming through the table of changes between LEED 2009 and LEED v4 to pick up on important concepts, but there is no compelling need to memorize them.

Guide to LEED Certification: Commercial

Guide to LEED Certification: Commercial

U.S. Green Building Council
Free Download

It is important to understand the certification process from registering, applying, reviewing, to certification. Understand the process for individual projects and campus projects.

LEED Certification Fees

LEED Certification Fees

U.S. Green Building Council
Free Download

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but you should understand the fees associated with LEED certification – when they are due and how they are calculated.

LEED v4 Rating System Selection Guidance

LEED v4 Rating System Selection Guidance

U.S. Green Building Council
Website

At this point, you should already understand how to select a LEED rating system. However, it is a good idea to review the process so you fully understand the 40/60 rule and the various ways that the different rating systems break down.

LEED v4 Glossary

LEED v4 Glossary

U.S. Green Building Council
Website

This is a great resource for learning all the vocabulary and refreshing you on things you miss when you read through the various references. (Hint: Make sure you know the various water types.)

The Best LEED v4 Green Associate Practice Tests

According to the USGBC, the documents above are all that you need to study to be ready for the exam. While we agree, we also think that taking practice exams will help you identify areas where you are weak and will also give you a good idea of what the questions on the exam are like. While the practice tests cost money, the peace of mind and confidence you get from them are well worth the cost. Not to mention, they will save you wasted time and money on re-taking the exam if you aren't fully prepared.

When we took the exam, we downloaded all kinds of practice tests – some were free and some cost money. After passing the exam, it was clear that the practice tests that came closest to the real test were from Green Building Education Services (GBES). Their tests ask the same types of questions with the same challenge level.

Other practice exams were too hard. Some of the other exams had questions that tried to trick you. Some other practice tests were simply too easy. Fortunately, when we studied we put a huge emphasis on the practice exams from GBES and thankfully they were exactly like the actual LEED v4 Green Associate exam.

Our suggested practice test strategy is to take one practice exam (100 questions) after studying all nine of the references listed above. After taking the exam, review the answers to all of the questions, even the ones you got correct, to make sure you really understand the material. Go back to the study materials to brush up on areas that you are still weak on (even if you got the question correct.) Then, take another practice exam, review all the questions, etc.

By the time you finish two or three practice tests, you will be able to simply skim over the questions you got correct and you should start to notice that you understand more about all of the various sections of the exam.

GBES LEED v4 Green Associate Practice Tests

GBES logo We highly suggest using the LEED v4 Green Associate Practice Test from GBES, which includes 600 questions and simulates the exam very well.

What you get:

  • 600 questions - 6 different complete tests or test based on a specific topic
  • Online Exam Simulator - so you can really practice
  • Mobile friendly - practice on your desktop or phone
  • See answers as you go or at the end of the test
  • Questions are just like the actual exam - not too hard, not too easy

Example question from GBES Practice Test
Example question from GBES Practice Test

Buy Practice Tests from GBES

LEED Green Associate V4 Exam Practice Tests & Summary Sheets

LEED Green Associate V4 Exam Practice Tests & Summary Sheets

If you want to save some money and don't need that many questions, you might want to consider LEED Green Associate V4 Exam Practice Tests & Summary Sheets by Togay Koralturk.

This paperback book provides 200 questions plus answers and explanations. In addition, the book includes summary sheets for each LEED category.

Buy on Amazon

LEED Green Associate Flashcards

Flashcards are a popular way to study for exams. You can show yourself terms or questions, then recite the definition or answer. Another way is to study Jeopardy-style where you show the answers and guess the question or topic. We recommend using both methods.

Keep in mind that, for some people, making your own flashcards is more effective than studying something you downloaded. The act of writing the info engages your brain in learning much more than just flipping through the cards.

Before buying flashcards, make sure they offer the technology you want. Some people want to review the cards on their phones, while others prefer to print them.

GBES LEED Green Associate Flashcards

The GBES flashcards include 400 questions that are available as a PDF download to be printed or as an online application. Both offer the same questions, but the printed version allows you to also study Jeopardy-style. The online version only allows you to show the question and then reveal the answer.

Here is an example of the interface. Please note that we have blurred the question to protect GBES’s product, but the text is clearly readable, albeit a bit small on a phone screen.

GBES Online Flashcards: question at right, answer at left
GBES Online Flashcards: question at left, answer at right

Buy Flashcards from GBES

LEED Green Associate Study Guides

All of the information you need to pass the LEED Green Associate Exam is included in the nine important resources listed at the top of this article. However, if you find out you need more help after taking a couple of practice tests then we recommend one of these two study guides.

GBES LEED Green Associate Study Guide

“GBES

This study guide is a PDF file with 287 pages of text, tables, lists, diagrams, and links to more information.

You also get access to download MP3 audio files of the study guide. Fair warning, the MP3 are digitally “read” by a computerized voice. The flow is reasonable, but if you are distracted by that kind of thing then the MP3s may not be for you.

Buy from GBES

Wiley Guide to the LEED Green Associate V4 Exam

“Wiley

Wiley is known for their educational and architectural books so you can be confident that this study guide is well done. Written by Michelle Cottrell, the paperback book includes 256 pages of material with inline tips, suggestions for flashcards to make, and quizzes at the end of each section.

A companion website includes more information and example questions and flashcards.

Buy at Amazon

LEED Green Associate Exam Prep Packages

These packages might make sense if you want to go all-in and save a few dollars by buying a bundle.

GBES LEED Green Associate Silver Pack

The silver pack include the LEED Green Associate practice exams and flashcards.

GBES LEED Green Associate Silver Pack
GBES LEED Green Associate Silver Pack

Find out more about the LEED Green Associate Silver Pack.

GBES LEED Green Associate Platinum Pack

The Platinum Pack includes the LEED Green Associate practice tests, flashcards, an online webinar, the study guide, and study sheets of key terms.

GBES LEED Green Associate Platinum Pack
GBES LEED Green Associate Platinum Pack

Find out more about the LEED Green Associate Platinum Pack.

Keep in mind that the Unlimited Membership below is more economical if you plan to take a LEED AP exam or a WELL exam within the same year.

GBES Unlimited Membership

The ultimate LEED study guide package from GBES is their Unlimited Annual Membership. You get access to all of their study materials for an entire year. This is perfect if you plan to get your LEED Green Associate Accreditation, then want to get one (or more) LEED AP credentials, or if you want to get your WELL accreditation. Check out the Unlimited Membership at GBES.

Good Luck and Next Steps

Once you've become an expert at all of the references above and you have mastered all of the GBES practice tests, you don’t need luck because you will be fully prepared. However, we will wish you luck anyway: Good luck!

Once you've completed the LEED Green Associate exam, you may want to become a full LEED Accredited Professional by taking one of the LEED AP exams.

When you pass the exam, if you think of something important that was missing from this exam prep guide please let us know so we can help the next person to come here. We want to help as many people as possible because we believe sustainability is critically important to successful architecture and architectural careers.

LEED is a registered trademark owned by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Article Updated: 2019-05-19
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