LEED Green Associate

February 21, 2013

Today I am pleased to report that I have passed the LEED® Green Associate exam, so I am now officially a LEED-accredited professional. I have a few thoughts on this process that might be helpful for others looking into getting their own LEED Green Associate credential. While I’m certainly in support of sustainable building practices, which is why I went to the trouble to get the credential in the first place, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to take a critical stance toward the whole enterprise in order to challenge the profession (and the industry) to be more self-aware.

The preparation: I passed the exam by using only resources that were freely available to me through my school library, including an e-book version of the LEED Green Associate study guide by Michelle Cottrell and the USGBC LEED Core Concepts Guide. (Although I asked the library to obtain a new copy of the official USGBC LEED Green Associate Study Guide since the one they had was lost, they still haven’t gotten it in.) I read all the free, online “primary sources” for the exam, plus looked at a few additional websites on specific things like the ACEEE’s Green Scores for cars and the text of the SCAQMD Rule 1168. I started studying in January during my winter break, did most of my studying then, and continued off-and-on until now. I felt reasonably well prepared for the exam. I also took one free full-length practice exam offline and a couple of other free practice exam question sets, but I didn’t buy any practice exams or books or anything else. I should disclose that I was pretty determined from the outset not to spend any money beyond the exam fee, since I’m quite skeptical of the whole test-prep industry.

The exam: My general impression of the exam was that it was poorly written, with ambiguous answers on numerous questions, and poorly calculated, with a grading format that makes it nearly impossible to judge how well you will do in advance. The exam is 100 questions, but is graded on a scale of 125 to 200 points, with 170 as the cutoff for a passing score. The questions are unequally weighted, so missing one question doesn’t translate directly to missing 2 points; in addition, there are an unknown number of unscored “trial” questions thrown in that are being tested for future versions of the exam. Further, many questions have multiple correct answers, all of which must be chosen correctly to receive credit (no partial credit, but no guessing penalty). So up until I submitted my exam and saw my score, I had no idea whether I would pass or not. There were a number of questions I wasn’t completely sure about, but I didn’t know whether it would be too many. I was relieved to see that I passed with a fairly wide margin, but then again, the margin was practically meaningless since I couldn’t tell with any certainty how many right answers I needed to pass.

Conclusions: Perhaps the goal is to make it so that applicants feel they need to know every answer in order to pass, to encourage them to study the material more thoroughly, but since it’s nearly impossible to understand some of the exam questions, it’s really just nerve-wracking to study for this exam. So be prepared for that. I was also amused to see that while I got between 90-100% correct on six of the seven exam “categories” (these are seemingly arbitrary categories, not actual divisions in the exam, that are described in the exam specifications), I only got 67% correct in the “Stakeholder Involvement in Innovation” category. I don’t really think that I am particularly deficient in this area. Were there only three questions in this category, out of the 100 exam questions, and I missed one of them? I’m guessing that I only missed between 4 and 6 questions total, so I couldn’t have missed that many in the one category. Bizarre.

Anyway, if I learned anything from this experience (besides a lot of more-or-less useful information about green building practices and LEED certification), it’s that the exam isn’t very easy, and it helps to read the study guides and sample exams, since they acclimate you to the vague green-speak of the USGBC which is necessary to understand the exam questions. There were a few straight-up memorization questions that seemed unnecessary, testing you on things from a table in the primary sources (do I really need to memorize all the different types of HCFCs and their respective global warming potentials? In a real-life project, I would just look this up). There were also quite a few vague questions without clear answers. All told, I’m very glad to be done with it! Now on to saving the world, one low-embodied-energy building at a time.

As required by the GBCI, here’s the boilerplate: “LEED Green Associate” and the LEED Green Associate logo are trademarks owned by the U.S. Green Building Council and are awarded to individuals under license by the Green Building Certification Institute.