Passing the LEED exam AND Surviving

Tribecca Green in Battery Park City in NYC

Tribecca Green in Battery Park City in NYC

Update:  12/9/2011:   LEED changed in 2009 after I took the exam.  I updated my resources for you.  

That “week after” title seems a little mysterious for those of you who don’t know what the LEED AP exam is. I can assure you that it was not a hot, passionate experience that left me with warm memories. Just the opposite in fact. I was left with a headache that has lasted two days, brain fog (which might be due to hormones), and a sense of what am I going to do now when I don’t have to spend oodles of hours studying?

Are you wondering what the heck I got myself into, which could cause this much discomfort? I just passed a grueling exam testing me on the procedures of certification of a new commercial building to obtain LEED green building certification. Sexy. No. Interesting? Not to the public in general. Just to those of us who think subfloors, low flow toilets, and low voc adhesives are really cool. Some would even say discussing the U factor of windows and orientation of a building is right up there with talking about Paris Hilton. Well, a few people.

So what is all this LEED stuff and no, it is not synonymous with a place in England. Here is a condensed history of this certification. The United States Green Building Council was formed in 1993 to transform the building industry into one that creates high performance, energy efficient, sustainable building.

According to the USGBC’s website, over 3 billion square feet of buildings are in compliance with the USGBC’s LEED standards. What is “LEED” (Leadership in Energy and Environment) about?

“LEED is a voluntary, consensus-based national certification system for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings….”

“Based on well-founded scientific standards, LEED emphasizes state-of-the-art strategies for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality and design innovation. LEED promotes expertise in green building through a comprehensive system offering project certification, professional accreditation, training and practical resources.”

So, in a nut shell, in order to obtain LEED certification, the construction of a new or renovation of  building  has to follow a bunch of standards.

Back to the test. I wish I could tell you that I was just over exaggerating, but unfortunately I am not. I thought studying for this test would not be that hard for me. I already understood most of the principles of green building, having done it myself with my own home. I opted to earn certification for new commercial buildings since I find building commercial buildings fascinating. Commercial building incorporates some amazing technologies and ideas that homes do not. (I know. Whatever turns you on.)

Even during the class I took, nothing was that hard for me to understand. I rather enjoyed listening to a veteran architect and engineer provide insight into the certification of a building.

So, when people asked at the end of the class, what you need to know for the exam, one of the instructor held up a thick book of over 400 pages and said “know what is in this book.”  What did I get myself into?

I hadn’t studied for anything in about 20 years. The last exam I took was the bar exam, but at least I had three years of law school, an intensive preparatory class spanning several weeks, and practice exams. With this certification, all I had was a 400 plus page book with a lot of facts, calculations, and technical information.

So, I dug in and started reading, taking notes, and kept thinking how was I ever going to memorize all of these formulas, facts, and situations and apply them to the real world. Again, I question myself, what did I get myself into?

I knew the only way I was going to pass this exam was to take practice exams. This is how I passed the bars in three states.  Here are the sources I used to study for the test:

Green Exam Academy:   When I prepared for the exam, the website, In the Leeds, was invaluable.  It was created by an architect, Pat Connors, who took the test. He had links on his sites for forums, condensed charts, helpful hints, and other information.

Since then Pat has created Green Exam Academy and created several study guides for both the LEED exam and the green associates exam.  He now charges for the guides and provides sample.  If the guides are anything like I used, they are well worth the money.  If you use his guides, please let me know in the comments below your thoughts.

Green Exam Prep:  They offer 400 test questions (The company offered 320 questions when I took the exam.) which I took almost 4 times. I liked the exams because they explained their answers or referred you to a specific section of the book.

In addition, they offer 700 test questions for the Green Associate.

When I took the real exam, I was prepared for how the questions would look and even some of the questions were similar but not many. The idea of taking these exams was to force me to learn the concepts, which I did.

In addition, the Green Exam Prep tests taught me to read the questions carefully since they were always trying to trick you in some way to get the wrong answer.

University of Florida LEED resources: I downloaded their free 47 page condensed version of the book and read this over and over again. In addition, the site has free flash cards and quizzes. I took all the quizzes.  However, UF has not updated their materials.

Colorado Study Guide: A lot of people use this guide and it has an 80 question test associated with it. If you used this guide, let me know your thoughts. Apparently, it does a much better job in explaining the registration procedures and CIRs (Credit Interpretation Requests) than the actual book handed to me in class.  This organization did update their study guide to for LEED v3.

Also see USGBC’s registration, certification, and CIR information.

ARE Forum: This is a great forum for LEED questions. Go to enter forum, and accept the terms and conditions. Then, go to the section entitled, “ENTER LEED Topics.” I downloaded an 11 page condensed sheet of all the credits by LEED AP user, manincellv. However, it is based upon the old LEED code.  There is still good questions on the site to clarify issues you may have with the LEED credits.

Green Step Education:  They have a free 35 question sample exam for Green Associate certification.  (Note, when I took the exam there wasn’t a “green associates” certification.)

I studied off and on for two months, and then spent a month intensively studying. I did not have a study group which is recommended. I burned some very late nights.

The day before the test, I scored 90% and above on the practice exams, I knew my credits backwards and forwards, learned them all in order and by name since I was told, they don’t tell you the name of the credit. (Incidentally, there are 69 credits)

The test was online and was given in a room with cubicles with other people taking a multitude of different certifications. I was so nervous when I took the test. I did not want to fail because I studied so hard AND it would cost another $400 to take the test again.

The first question threw me and I knew I was in trouble. The test was harder than I could have ever imagined. I thought I would have to just apply what I know. Wrong. Not only did they want me to apply what I know but they asked questions of the most minute details or small nuisances.

Am I glad I took the Green Prep exams?  Yes. I learned a lot from those tests. However, neither the Florida exam nor Green Prep exams asked the level of detail that the LEED exam did.

I had 20 out of 80 questions that I was not sure about the answers. It took me almost 1 hour and 40 minutes to take the test. Normally, I would fly through the Green Prep tests in an hour. The last 20 minutes I tried to go back and review the questions, but I ran out of time.

At the end of the exam, I just sat there holding back the tears because I was sure I failed. I did not study enough of the technical implementation (ie baselines submittals) and concentrated on the intent of the points and how you submit for certification of the points. None of my condensed sheets went into that detail. I could swear that they must have asked a dozen question just on the administrative end of submitting and registering for certification, which the USBGC book did a poor job of explaining.

They asked for my comments before I knew my results. I responded by saying that I thought the questions were nit picky and did not test my ability to integrate the points together to earn certification. I was angry because I studied so hard and felt like a bunch of people wrote these exams so people would fail.

Then I pressed the button and the screen went blank as if it was tabulating. It was the longest 30 seconds of my life. Up on the screen popped my score of 182 out of 200. You need 170 to pass. I was shocked. It is a scaled score so I have no idea how I got that score. My lowest percentage was in technical ability (64%). The other 3 parts ranged into the 80% and high 70’s %.

Unfortunately, you don’t get to see the mistakes you made, so you can learn by them. I did remember many questions, and went back to the book to see my mistakes. Most of what I found, I had missed.

A couple days after the test,  I was unable to focus and get anything done. I was really burnt out.

What is next for me? I would love to work on a team to learn since I don’t care what you do in life; experience is your best teacher. Believe me what they teach you in law school is only a small part of what it is like to practice. Since I am not with an architect or engineering firm this might be challenging.

I met a delightful architect who was taking the exam at the same time as me. When I told him I was a lawyer, he exclaimed, that this test must have been hard for me. As an architect, he is exposed to more of this information then I am. I can’t imagine someone who is not in the building business taking this exam. Thank goodness for my home experience.

Before you decide to bookmark this article, and come back to it later when you have time to study, the LEED standards are changing in 2009. See the article by Tristan Korthal Altes, Managing Editor of BuildingGreen, regarding the changes expected for previously and future designated LEED APs.

Other materials that you might want to use:

  • Other test materials on Innovations, Green Building Solutions with Simplicity: Caveat some of the test are dated 2005 and the new construction manual has been updated since then.
  • When I took the test, I took the practice test by Tristan Korthals Altes, Managing Editor of BuildingGreen.  Since the test was based upon the old system, the link is no longer working.  However, Building Green started a site called LEEDuser which is great for questions about LEED credits.  It is a great community site for help with navigating through LEED projects.

Good Luck! Let me know what sources you found helpful. Was I the only one who thought the questions were really picky?

Join the Conversation:

  • Which free study guides did you find helpful?
  • What paid study guides did you find helpful?
  • Any classes you liked better than others?
  • Did you find the test picky like me?

Photo of Tribecca Green in Battery Park City in NYC by Phillip Ritz

Similar Posts:


  1. 1

    Johnpal says

    Congratulations! It’s a great achievement. I’ve been thinking about taking the exam myself, but now I think I’m going to have to make sure I have more time to prepare for it. Thanks for all the good tips!

  2. 2

    Green Talk says

    John, in 2009, LEED will have a certification for homes if you are interested. My take from reading LEED-H, is much easier than commerical and your own experiences will help you. I did the new commerical certification because I love commerical buildings. I would also like to be certified in LEED neighborhood since this would be right up my alley with my zoning work. It is not available yet.

    How is your remodel coming? Would you guest post here about some of the great products you found? Ones which were dissappointing? Love to have you! Anna

  3. 5


    This whole industry being developed around green standards is a bit over the top. I mean what is green about a 30 story building? Especially one made from concrete, steel, and other conventional building materials.

    • 6

      Green Talk says

      Jesse, I think LEED is only a framework. Without this system, buildings would continue to be built in conventional ways with any thought of energy efficiency, sustainable materials or indoor air quality. My belief is those buildings are going to be built whether or not we like it or not. Let’s make them green.

      More points are given for reusing the existing exterior and interior building materials so there is a push to renovate what we have. Anna

  4. 7

    Dave Milman says

    Congrats on the success of your exam. I found a great tool to use when i was studying but only a week or so before I did it.. I really had my best luck with . had great resources and even had private tutors to use..

  5. 8

    Mark Croce says

    I want to get my leed ap cert. and have just started taking some online classes. After reading your letter I have found some good info for studying. I would like to know how long it took before you thought about taking the test.

    • 9

      Green Talk says

      I studied for two months and really hard for the last month. Taking exams were valuable to me since it made me learn the material. It also depends what is your orientation, ie are you an engineer, architect, etc. I think people who have no knowledge of the building industry would find this exam very hard. Thankful I built green so I had some background but still found the actual test really hard. I hope this helps. Anna

  6. 10


    Why take the LEED Exam Prep course?

    Studying and applying to become a LEED AP can be both expensive and time consuming. Our programs are designed to get you through the process quickly and easily. CleanEdison has developed a comprehensive course of study to help you master the ins and outs of the exam, so you can start enjoying the many benefits of being a LEED Accredited Professional.

  7. 11


    I want to thank CleanEdison for accomodating my organization by providing a customized Operations and Maintenance training around our property management portfolio. Not only did we get a feel for LEED O&M, but the instructor was able to apply the material to the buildings we work with every day.

  8. 12


    The LEED Exam is pretty tough. Everblue students report a historic 90 percent first-time pass-rate on the LEED Exam. This compares to the national average of about 35 percent. Everblue’s live, two-day course grants you enthusiastic lessons about the LEED credits, 400 simulated practice questions, one-on-one instruction by a qualified instructor, and seven credit memorization worksheets. Everblue is the premier LEED education provider!

    • 13

      Green Talk says

      LEED Certification, thanks for the input. I think the simulated practice questions are the key. Anna

  9. 14

    Vanessa says

    Hi, I’ve been looking at some websites to decide to prepare for the LEED AP exam and I’m a little confused, I hope you can help me. I want to take the leed ap building and construction exam, do i have to buy both the leed green associate prep guide and the leed ap bd+c guide? Or just eh leed ap bd+c guide?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge