It’s the final countdown: one week left until my scheduled LEED Green Associate exam. And the prospect of actually taking the test is making me a bit anxious. The scope of the material it covers is fairly wide—as discussed in previous posts—and because the study guides aren’t comprehensive, it’s been difficult to determine how deep to dive into the information. That’s not to say it hasn’t been a learning experience. I signed up to take the test for a few reasons:

  • Sustainable design and construction is one of my “beats,” in journalism jargon, and learning the nuances of LEED should grow my subject-matter proficiency.
  • LEED is the most widely-used certification system in North America, though its alternatives are gaining ground, prompting industry watchers to more seriously consider other options.
  • The credential requires annual maintenance, which will force me to keep learning. This can be accomplished through participation in educational sessions at the many trade shows and conferences that our staff attends each year.
  • I figured I’d have ample time to study—outside of the regular day-to-day workload.

The first and second reasons are panning out as anticipated. The third is TBD. But the last has proven difficult to accommodate, although it’s not insurmountable. I’ve been required to channel my old-school study skills: color-coded flash cards, outlines, problem sets, and lots of memorization. There’s no right way to study, I’m told, so long as you do it. Since beginning this series, I’ve received a handful of emails from test-takers past and present sharing their own experiences. Among them, Linda Gonzalez, president and founder of sustainability blog Free to Design Green, let me know she is documenting her journey on her website. Gonzalez lists the resources she is using to prepare, including a blog by newly minted LEED-Green-Associate and M.Arch Caroline Lebar, in which she explains her comprehensive (and free) approach. Lebar touches on the aforementioned information overload and how it manifested on test day:

“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.”

She suggests reading the official study materials closely and sampling practice questions in order to get a feel for the test’s logic. Though I’ve yet to take a full practice test, her advice jives with my experience. The more of the material you read, the more sense it makes. Be the exam. And bonus points to Lebar for including a USGBC boilerplate at the bottom of her post, which I’ve learned is supposed to be added to any documents that reference the credential, the exam, or its parent organizations. Well, humph.

Other people who’ve emailed have also emphasized practice tests. In-house, our parent company’s chief sustainability editor Katie Weeks agrees:

“What I found most helpful was taking practice tests over and over again, and spending much time noting which questions I got wrong and why. I started to notice similarities in phrasing and emphasis among different tests. For example, refrigerant questions came up in every single one. And variations that apply to LEED for Homes and EBOM, which made me double back on those in studying.”

I’m told by people who’ve passed the exam that it’s also worth reviewing the secondary sources, which are listed in the Candidate Handbook. And, frankly, for those of us relatively new to sustainable design field, it’s a chance to dig into some of the sector’s founding documents, such as global industry consulting firm Davis Langdon’s 2007 “Cost of Green Revisited” report, which evaluates the progress of and remaining roadblocks to broader scale implementation of sustainable design, as well as the EPA’s 2004 Guide to Purchasing Green Power. While the documents aren’t new, they’re solid foundation for understanding the forthcoming changes in LEED v4.

In short, there’s a lot of ground to cover. But Deane Masden, Assoc. AIA, assistant design editor at Architect magazine, and I are getting there. While I was putting together this post, EcoBuilding Pulse’s intern Annie Milewski, LEED Green Associate, a senior at George Washington University majoring in environmental studies and sustainability—dropped a box of 400 flashcards on my desk and offered some encouraging words.

Here’s to an instructive weekend.


Missed last week’s post? Read it here. Please send your questions, comments, and extra flashcards to, @halliebusta, and @deane_madsen.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Abee5 via a Creative Commons license.