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The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® green building program is the most well known sustainability program for building design, maintenance, and operations in North America. The program also spans the globe with certifications in many countries. LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

LEED® Green AssociateTM and LEED AP® are popular sustainability credentials for architects, interior designers, and other professionals in the construction industry. LEED accreditation demonstrates an understanding of sustainable design and construction practices related to responsible energy use and environmental consciousness.

Most firms encourage their staff to become LEED accredited and some require accreditation. This article takes you through the steps required to get your LEED AP credential.

Overview of LEED Accreditation

First let's cover one small detail that people often get. People cannot be LEED Certified. Buildings can be LEED Certified, but people can become LEED accredited professionals.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's walk through the path to becoming a LEED AP. First, you'll prepare for the exam, then you take the test, and after your pass you have to maintain your credentials through a continuing education program. The bulk of this article covers preparation for the exam, but we'll also review credential maintenance.

The exam process includes two exams that can be taken together or separately.

Step 1: LEED Green Associate

The first step to becoming a LEED AP is to pass the LEED Green Associate exam. This exam contains 100 multiple choice questions and should be completed in 2 hours. As of April 2020, the exam costs $250 if taken alone, but you can check the price at the USGBC website.

Passing the exam demonstrates your general knowledge about green building practices and how sustainable projects are developed. There are no pre-requisites for taking this exam.

We have another article with in-depth information on passing the LEED Green Associate Exam.

Step 2: LEED Accredited Professional with Specialty

Once you pass the LEED Green Associate Exam, you are then eligible to take the LEED AP Exam with a specialty of your choice. The exam tests your knowledge about sustainable buildings and is specific to one of the following specialties:

USGBC LEED AP BD+C Logo

Building Design + Construction (BD+C) is the most common specialty that covers construction of most building types, including commercial, multi-family residential, hospitals, industrial, and institutional projects. We recommend the BD+C specialty for most people.


USGBC LEED AP ID+C Logo

Interior Design + Construction (ID+C) is the specialty sometimes selected by Interior Designers. It covers sustainable projects for commercial interiors, retail, and hospitality fit-outs.


USGBC LEED AP Homes Logo

Homes is a specialty that focuses on the design and construction of sustainable homes. The Homes Rating System is intended for single family and multifamily housing that are between 1-8 stories tall.


USGBC LEED AP O+M Logo

Operations + Maintenance (O+M) is a great specialty for building operations staff who want to demonstrate an understanding in running efficient and sustainable buildings after design and construction are complete.


USGBC LEED AP ND Logo

Neighborhood Development (ND) focuses on planning and development of sustainable communities. It is a good selection for urban planners and other community planning professionals.

Each specialty exam contains 100 multiple-choice questions and lasts for 2 hours. The cost for the exam is $350 as of April 2020 (check current price). You must pass the LEED Green Associate Exam prior to sitting for a LEED AP Exam.

Combined LEED Exam

While many people take the LEED Green Associate Exam first and then take an AP with Specialty Exam at a later date, you also have the opportunity to take both exams in one sitting. If you choose this option, you will spend four hours on 200 questions broken into two sections. The cost for the combined exam is $550 (check current price).

About the Cost

The exams and study materials are quite expensive — you could easily spend $800 to $1000. However, the cost should not stop you from attaining the credentials.

First, be sure to check with your firm to see if they cover the cost of the exams, especially if your employment is contingent on having the credential. If they do not, find out if the firm is a member of USGBC — membership may provide their employees with reduced-cost testing fees.

Finally, ask if the firm has study materials since they may have a firm license for the programs we discuss below. If that doesn’t work, ask your colleagues if they have any of the printed materials that you can borrow.

When all of that fails, you may reach out to your local AIA chapter or USGBC chapter to see if they have any scholarships available.

USGBC and GBCI

U.S. Green Building Council®, commonly referred to as USGBC, is the organization that developed and continues to maintain the LEED Rating System for buildings. In addition, USGBC hosts the annual Greenbuild Conference, one of the most popular conferences about sustainability for the built environment. USGBC is a membership-based organization made up of design firms, large corporations, educational institutions, and individuals who are interested in a healthier and more sustainable built environment. The non-profit organization was founded in 1993.

Green Business Certification Inc.TM, or GBCI, administers the accreditation process for LEED professionals as well as the LEED Certification process for buildings. Their staff and consultants are a third-party that verifies new building projects achieve LEED certification according to the requirements laid out by the USBGBC. In addition, GBCI is responsible for testing professionals through the LEED Green Associate and LEED AP accreditation process. GBCI also provides certification and credentialing for other green programs including EDGE, GRESB, PEER, WELL, SITES, and others.

USGBC Resources (Must Study)

USGBC provides a series of resources that you need to fully grasp in order to pass the LEED AP exams. These are absolutely critical and many people make the mistake of glossing over them. Be sure you understand all of these USGBC publications in great detail. You can pass the exam without any other study guides, although most people want to test their knowledge with practice exams or flashcards.

Many of them are free, but most firms already own the paid guides so check at work before you buy. Also, check the USGBC links below to make sure you have the latest version since the exams are updated at the end of June each year.

LEED Green Associates Exam Must Study Items

We list out all the USGBC LEED Green Associate must study items because they are also helpful for the specialty exams. However, we recommend checking out our full article on passing the LEED Green Associate exam.

Green Building and LEED Core Concepts Guide (Paid Download)

LEED Building Design + Construction Reference Guide (Paid Download)

LEED v4 Impact Category and Point Allocation Process Overview (Free Download)

LEED v4 User Guide (Free Download)

Guide to LEED Certification: Commercial (Free Website)

LEED Certification Fees (Free Website)

Rating System Selection Guidance (Free Download)

LEED AP with Specialty Exam Must Study Items

Reference Guide for your Specialty Rating System (Paid Download) — You only need the guide for your specialty: BD+C; ID+C; Homes; ND; O+M

Green Building Incentive Strategies (Free Article)

Guide to LEED Certification: Commercial (Free Website)

Foundations of LEED (Free Download)

LEED v4 Checklist for your Specialty Rating System (Free Download) — You only need the guide for your specialty: BD+C; ID+C; Homes; ND; O+M

LEED Addenda: Corrections + Interpretations (Free Website)

LEED Online: Register a Project (Free USGBC Account required)

LEED Certification Fees (Free Website)

Rating System Selection Guidance (Free Download)

Addenda Database (Free Website) - You don’t have to study all 600+ entries

LEED Green Associate Exam Study Guides

Our LEED Green Associate Exam Study Guides goes into more depth regarding testing strategies and recommended study guides.

LEED AP Study Guides

Some of the links below are affiliate links and we earn from qualifying purchases. The providers listed here have been gracious enough to let us review their materials at no charge so that we can evaluate their offerings.

We cannot tell you what study materials are the best because each person learns differently. We don’t label any of these as “The Best.” Rather, we provide an overview of the products, which allows you to compare the options and choose the best program for you.

While you can theoretically pass the exam using only the USGBC resources above, most people want to test their knowledge with practice exams or flashcards. In addition, a study guide will also help you brush up on areas where you are weak or where USGBC doesn’t offer much detail.

Finally, as we mentioned earlier, check with your firm before making any purchases since they may have materials available for free or they already have a firm subscription to these providers.

GBES Unlimited for All Credentials

GBES Unlimited for All Credentials

GBES Unlimited

GBES Unlimited includes everything you need to pass both the LEED Green Associate Exam as well as any (and all) of the LEED AP with Specialty exams. You can also choose to study for the SITES AP and WELL AP Exams with this package. Finally, you’ll have access to their continuing education library for the duration of your 12 month subscription.

We recommend this package if you are going to take any of the LEED AP with Specialty exams since it includes both LEED Green Associate materials and LEED AP materials as well as continuing education.

Credentials Covered: LEED AP BD+C, LEED AP ID+C, LEED AP Homes, LEED AP ND, LEED AP O+M, WELL AP, SITES AP

Includes: Exam Simulator with hundreds of questions, PDF Study Guides, PDF Study Sheets, hundreds of flashcards, Webinars, Study Calls, and more.

Access Duration: 12 months

Price: $247

Purchase at GBES

LEED AP BD+C Study Guides

GBES LEED AP BD+C Platinum Pack

GBES LEED AP BD+C Platinum Pack

The GBES Platinum Pack is great if you’ve already passed the LEED Green Associate Exam and want a full package with every sort of study tool. Sadly, the LEED Green Associate study guide is not included in this package.

Includes: Exam Simulator with 500 questions, PDF Study Guide, PDF Study Sheets, 200 flashcards, Webinar

Access Duration: 120 days

Price: $229

Purchase at GBES

Other BD+C Options from GBES:


Projectific LEED v4 Combined Complete Exam Prep

Projectific LEED v4 Combined Complete Exam Prep

Projectific, formerly Leeducate, has a Combined Complete Exam Prep package that covers both the LEED Green Associate and LEED AP BD+C exams. They include an 18-hour online lecture course in webinar slideshow format and the well known printed study guide by Togay Koralturk.

Includes: 18-hour online video course, paperback study guide, 400 question LEED Green Associate online practice test, 300 question LEED AP BD+C online practice test, Study Sheets (condensed study guide) for both exams.

You can also select just the >LEED AP BD+C v4 Complete Package or the LEED Green Associate v4 Complete Package if you aren’t planning to take both exams and want to save some money.

Access Duration: 365 days

Price: $325

Purchase at Projectific

Other BD+C Options from Projectific:

LEED AP ID+C Study Guides

There aren’t as many ID+C exam prep materials on the market since many people take the BD+C exam even if they are interior designers. Here are some options to consider.

GBES LEED AP ID+C Platinum Pack

GBES LEED AP ID+C Platinum Pack

The GBES Platinum Pack includes the materials you need to pass the ID+C exam. Unfortunately, you’ll also have to purchase a separate LEED Green Associate study guide since it is not included in this package. If you need to take both exams then you may want to consider the GBES Unlimited package above.

Includes: Exam Simulator with 400 questions, PDF Study Sheets, 200 flashcards, Webinar

Access Duration: 120 days

Price: $229

Purchase at GBES

Other ID+C Options from GBES:


Gang Chen’s LEED v4 AP ID+C Mock Exam

Gang Chen’s LEED v4 AP ID+C Mock Exam

If you are desperate for an additional set of practice questions, you might want to check out this printed book, which is available on Amazon.

Includes: 200 questions in a printed format

Check Price on Amazon

LEED AP Homes Study Guides

Most people who design and build homes elect to get their LEED AP BD+C credential since that covers all building types. That means there aren’t as many study guides on the market that cover the LEED AP Homes exams. Thankfully, GBES has some options if you want to get your Homes specialty.

GBES LEED AP Homes Silver Pack

GBES LEED AP Homes Silver Pack

The Silver Pack includes flashcards and practice exams so it is really only helpful if you already have other study guides for the exam and the LEED Green Associate exam. If you need a complete study package then please consider the GBES Unlimited package above.

Includes: Exam Simulator with 400 questions, 200 flashcards

Access Duration: 120 days

Price: $100

Purchase at GBES

Other Homes Options from GBES:

LEED AP ND Study Guides

Urban designers and community planners may want to obtain their LEED AP ND credential since it promotes sustainability and health at the community level while the other credentials focus on sustainability at the building level. However, study resources are scarce since the ND accreditation is not as popular as the others.

GBES LEED AP ND Silver Pack

GBES LEED AP ND Silver Pack

The Silver Pack only includes practice exams and flashcards so you probably need other study guides for the exam plus you may also need the LEED Green Associate exam if you haven’t already passed that. We recommend the GBES Unlimited package above if you need a complete guide for both the LEED Green Associate Exam and the ND Exam.

Includes: Exam Simulator with 400 questions, 200 flashcards

Access Duration: 120 days

Price: $100

Purchase at GBES

Other ND Options from GBES:

LEED AP O+M Study Guides

The LEED AP O+M credential is popular among building managers and engineers responsible for the performance and upkeep of existing building systems.

GBES LEED AP O+M Platinum Pack

GBES LEED AP O+M Platinum Pack

The Platinum Pack for O+M has all the materials you need to pass the exam. Unfortunately, the LEED Green Associate study guide is not included in this package. If you need to take both exams then you may want to consider the GBES Unlimited package above.

Includes: Exam Simulator with 400 questions, PDF Study Sheets, 170 flashcards, On-Demand Webinar

Access Duration: 120 days

Price: $229

Purchase at GBES

Other O+M Options from GBES:


Gang Chen’s LEED v4 AP O+M Mock Exam

Gang Chen’s LEED v4 AP O+M Mock Exam

If you are desperate for an additional set of practice questions, you might want to check out this printed book, which is available on Amazon.

Includes: 200 questions in a printed format

Check Price on Amazon

Identifying Your LEED Credential

Congratulations on passing your exam! You can now add some initials after your name and include your LEED credential on your resume.

However, before you do that it is important to understand the correct terminology that you may use. USGBC is very strict about format. Be sure to check the Trademark Policy and Branding Guidelines for proper usage.

LEED Credential Maintenance Program

All LEED credentials must be maintained through a continuing education program called the Credential Maintenance Program or CMP. We recommend you review USGBC’s CMP PDF document, but we will cover a few basics.

Credential renewal occurs on a 2-year cycle and is managed by GBCI. The fee to renew (as of this writing) is $85 every two years.

Documentation of your continuing education hours is managed through your online USGBC Account under LEED Credentials. You may elect to receive email reminders as you progress through the 2-year period.

LEED Green Associates must complete 12 General CE Hours, which cover basic sustainability, health, and resiliency topics. In addition, they must complete 3 LEED-specific hours, which cover sustainable topics, but also include information directly related to LEED Rating System categories. This is a total of 15 CE hours in a 2-year period.

If you hold the LEED AP credential, you must complete 24 General CE Hours in addition to 6 Rating System-specific hours for a total of 30 hours in a 2-year period. The Rating System Specific hours must be for your credential. For instance, if you hold the LEED AP O+M, you need 6 hours of O+M continuing education every two years.

Keep in mind that you need to achieve 6 hours for EACH specialty you hold. For instance, if you have the BD+C and O+M credentials, you’ll need 6 hours of BD+C specific CEs and 6 hours of O+M CEs. Then you have to add the 24 General CE hours for a grand total of 36 hours every two years.

LEED Continuing Education Credits

There are a number of options for obtaining your CE hours. You’ll undoubtedly get some hours by attending standard lunch and learns in the office. Conferences, especially Green Build, provide hours for attending certain break-out sessions. However, there are also online resources where you can achieve continuing education credits, some are paid and some are free.

Hanley Wood University (Free)

BNP Media (Free)

GreenCE (Free and Paid) - Green CE by Ron Blank & Associates is an official USGBC Education Partner. They offer individual courses as well as bundles.

GBES Continuing Education (Paid) - GBES is an official USGBC Education Partner. They offer unlimited CE annual subscriptions as well as bundled packages from 3-hours up to 60-hours.

GBRI Continuing Education (Paid) - GBRI is an official USGBC Education Partner. They offer an unlimited annual subscription and packages between 6-hours and 30-hours.

USGBC Education Subscription (Paid) — Check whether your firm has a USGBC membership since it may provide you with CE hours or a reduced cost.

LEED® Green AssociateTM, the LEED Green Associate logos, LEED AP®, and the LEED AP logos are trademarks owned by the U.S. Green Building Council® and are used with permission. Archtoolbox is not affiliated with the U.S. Green Building Council® or Green Business Certification Inc.TM and does not administer the LEED AP®/LEED® Green AssociateTM program. USGBC and GBCI do not endorse or recommend the products or services offered/recommended by Archtoolbox.

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