For all of their boldface text and colorful highlighting, the study materials that the USGBC recommends to those preparing for its Green Associate exam don’t hesitate to plunge into the nitty-gritty of LEED and the USGBC. So far, that level of detail is proving to be both cumbersome and reassuring.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, this project is as much an attempt to learn the language of LEED as it is an opportunity to examine the most pervasive green-building certification system in North America at a time when some are questioning its efficacy. So when I cracked open what the USGBC calls its Study Bundle Saturday afternoon, I was anticipating a hefty overview of the USGBC, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), and LEED—a section that colleagues who’ve already taken the exam advise reading carefully. And that’s exactly what I found.

The Study Bundle comprises a 140-page Study Guide tailored to the Green Associate exam as well as a 75-page handbook outlining LEED’s core concepts. (The latter is more or less the Study Guide in short form, which in turn is a Reader’s Digest version of LEED.) The guides follow similar organizational structures, with the Study Guide sending test takers to the core concepts handbook to recap main points at the conclusion of each chapter. The USGBC also recommends reading the Candidate Handbook and portions of its website in preparation for the test. 

This week’s reading encompassed the first 48 pages of the Study Guide and the first 24 pages of the core concepts book. It covered details of the Green Associate certification, introduced basic green building principles per the specifications of LEED, and provided an organizational rundown of the USGBC and the GBCI. Do the math and you’ll find, as I did, that one-third of the study materials is devoted to a big-picture look at the rating system and the organizational hierarchy that gives it shape.

That made for a tedious afternoon of studying. Still, it reinforced a point on which programs such as LEED often draw their critics: This is an exam about a voluntary rating system that sets specific criteria for sustainable design and construction. This is not a test about green building. Rather, it’s a test on the aspects of sustainability that are specifically covered by LEED. Most industry professionals understand that LEED’s ecosystem is designed to self-sustain through its coalition of Fellows, APs, and Green Associates, who do the good work of evangelizing project teams around a better understanding of green building via the rating system’s tenets, or credit categories, of sustainable design. 

And the study materials factor into this cycle. This LEED-centric exam is written by the organization that developed the system and administered by a third-party that the organization chartered. The LEED system is complex in its language and extensive in its scope. The organization’s study manuals are pithy by comparison—and expensive. So it bears noting that while a test taker’s best bet is to buy the USGBC’s recommended guides (rather than memorize LEED in its entirety), we’d be remiss if we didn’t make it clear that it’s going to cost you. Here’s our tally for the books and the exam to date:

Application fee: $50
Study Bundle (Green Associate Study Guide and Core Concepts): $132; $111 for USGBC member companies, such as EcoBuilding Pulse’s parent company Hanley Wood
Exam registration fee: $200; $150 for USGBC member companies and full-time students
Total: $311

Let the excessive costs end there. Other EcoBuilding Pulse editors recommend taking practice tests as a final act of preparation. Below is a list of free online sources that they’ve found to be helpful:

We’ll continue to study from the Study Bundle, which includes one chapter for each of six of the seven credit categories. Here’s how we plan to divvy them up among the coming weeks:

  • Week Two (Sept. 25 to Oct. 1): Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency
  • Week Three (Oct. 2 to Oct. 8): Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources
  • Week Four (Oct. 9 to Oct. 15): Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation in Design
  • Week Five (Oct. 16 to Oct. 22): Recap everything, and review the new Regional Priority category
  • Week Six (Oct. 23 to Oct. 29): More recap and more practice tests
  • Week Seven (Oct. 30 to Nov. 5): Yet more recap and more practice tests
  • Week Eight (Nov. 6 to Nov. 12): Tie up loose ends, carbo-load for exam
  • Nov. 15: Test Day

Check back next week to read about what we’ve learned about site planning and water efficiency. We appreciate your feedback on last week’s post. Please continue to send comments, criticisms, and notes on topics you’d like addressed to hbusta@hanleywood.com, @HallieBusta, or @Deane_Madsen