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.

Basic Preparation: Must Study Items

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.

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 be able 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 the minimum-plus section to test your knowledge before you take the actual test. You may benefit from further study materials.

On to the eight critical references you need to fully understand in order to pass the exam. Yes, you need to spend time reading and understanding these eight 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.

Next-Level Preparation – Other Sources

There are a few sources of information that we think are critical to passing the LEED Green Associate Exam. These are not included in the USGBC suggested resources, but there are enough questions about these topics on the exam to warrant extra study.

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 Practice Exams

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 that you are weak in and will also give you a good idea of what the questions on the exam are like.

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.

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.

Our suggested practice test strategy is to take one practice exam (100 questions) after studying all eight 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.

Good Luck!

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!

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.

A Final Note: Affiliate Disclosure

We believe in full transparency so we want to let you know that archtoolbox.com has partnered with GBES to offer their test prep materials here. When you purchase any of the GBES products using the links above, we will make a small commission at no additional cost to you.

We used the GBES products to study and pass the LEED exams and we think their materials are the best out there. In fact, we tell our colleagues and friends to use the GBES practice tests whenever we hear about someone studying for the exams because they are that good. Our policy at archtoolbox.com is to only suggest products that we have purchased and found incredibly useful in our own work. They were one of the first test prep websites and they are still one of the best!

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

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