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LEEDing the way to a Green Collar Job, Vol. III (the Exam)

In Vol. I on the subject I described the US Green Building Council’s LEED AP (Accredited Professional) certification program, and my plan to become LEED AP certified to strengthen my sustainability credentials and to help guide the renovation of my historic opera house to LEED Gold status.  Well, I just took the LEED AP exam….and passed!

The LEED AP exam is very difficult, to be sure. Of the 80 questions on the exam I was only certain of 40 — and this was after studying about 100 hours over 3 weeks.  The exam not only tests your knowledge of the specific LEED Reference Guide for whichever category you are pursuing (e.g., New Construction, Existing Buildings, Commercial Interiors), but it also tests your understanding of the inter-relationship between categories, and between specific credits within each category.  Many questions provide extraneous information and require you to select the “three approaches that best meet…”; and are meant to test your ability to read the question fully and very carefully, and to apply your green building knowledge to specific examples.

The test is scored from 125 – 200, with a score of 170 required to pass.  I don’t know how, but I managed to score a 186.  Weighting for each question appears to vary based on previous respondents’ performance for that specific question, and the scoring algorithm may only be known by a funny-looking man hiding behind a curtain turning knobs and dials somewhere within the Green Building Council Institute, the organization responsible for administering LEED certification.

For those considering LEED AP certification be aware that 2009 will bring substantial changes to the program.  In addition to raising the bar for building certification (e.g,. more points needed for each category and a 20% Water Efficiency improvement now a prerequisite), the GBCI will be introducing a tier of certifications from ‘LEED Fellow’ at the top to ‘LEED Associate’ as the entry-level credential.  I won’t get into the detail of the 2009 changes as they are many and complex, and do not appear to be completely understood yet by even hardcore LEED professionals.  You can also watch a video from Peter Templeton, head of the GBCI, at the recent GreenBuild expo. In case you were wondering, there are about 65,001 LEED APs currently, and this number continues to grow rapidly.  The ‘legacy LEED APs’ will not have to be re-credentialed going forward, and will simply need to affirm the upcoming Code of Ethics, stay current through continuing education, conferences, published articles, etc., and pay the $50 bi-annual registration fee.

LEED 2009 Certification Categories

Following are some study resources and prep tips.  I strongly recommend taking practice exams, and if possible, have a specific building project in mind as you review the material to make the general concepts and specific credits less abstract.  The official on-line exam is administered by Prometric, and you are allowed 10 minutes before the test begins to complete the ‘mouse tutorial’ and/or make use of the 4 pages of scratch paper they give you.  Several test takers swore by the ability to have a brain dump before the test and write down whatever they could to help them remember various facets of the information (credit requirements, referenced standards, credit synergies, etc.).  Personally I didn’t think it would really help me to write down stuff I already knew and so just jumped in.

  • In the Leed – a very popular and information-rich blog run by a guy who maintains the site for free (you can buy his study prep book, though)
  • Green Exam Prep – a company that sells on-line practics exams, flash cards and training courses.  The on-line exams includes 4 80-question test banks, which you can take as many times as you like for 60 days.  These tests proved invaluable to my studying – but I stopped taking them 2 days before my exam to focus on the material and not their questions.  I suggest selecting the ‘real-time’ grading option so each incorrect answer is explained after each wrong response – and don’t get discouraged, I started with scores in the high 40’s.
  • U. of Florida Powell Center for Construction & Environment – another helpful collection of resources and practice exams

There are many more resources available, but these are some of the best I came across.  I created a fairly simple Excel table to help me distill much of the info, and you may want to as well.  I can email you the Excel file if you’d like – reach me at gkarayannis AT hotmail DOT com. You absolutely need to know the Reference Guide forward, and backward, and you need to know which standards govern which credits.  Fortunately, any math expected during the test will be based on simple assumptions and round numbers.

All it takes is diligence, determination and about $650 ($200 for the Reference Guide, $400 for the exam and $50 for the on-line practice tests).  I wish you the best if you decide to take the exam, and am confident that if you do you will think more broadly about sustainbility as a result.  You may look at a building roof and wonder how they could capture rainwater to reduce stormwater runoff and potable water demand (use it for irrigation or flushing toilets); or you might realize that that big copy area really should be environmentally isolated using negative air pressure; or you might even realize that the best building is one that isn’t built — but is instead an existing structure refurbished to meet a new need.

Have any Question or Comment?

13 comments on “LEEDing the way to a Green Collar Job, Vol. III (the Exam)


Very informative. Thanks for LEEDing the way to a bright future!


Really helpful

Congrats! And thanks for sharing.


George – thanks much – very informative. I recently ordered my study guide and am waiting for its arrival. I had been looking on the GBCI’s site for details on the new vs. old guides as well as program changes; not sure if it is there and I continue to miss it or – not. Is the information on the new exam/program posted anywhere that you are aware of?




The ‘2009 changes’ link to RealLifeLeed provides some useful information. Be sure to take the test before the end of March, which I believe is the cutoff for taking the current New Construction test.



Just got this email from USGBC in response to a question I submitted:



Looks like the previous comment is formatted incorrectly. Here is the scoop from the USGBC:

Registration Deadline for LEED NC v2.2 and LEED CI v2.0 Exams

In order to maintain alignment with the new LEED 2009 Rating System, the last date that candidates will be able to register for the current LEED for Commercial Interiors 2.0 and LEED for New Construction 2.2 LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) credentialing exams will be March 31, 2009 (11:59 PM, Pacific Time).

New registrations will not be accepted by GBCI after March 31, 2009. Scheduling and testing deadlines for the LEED NC 2.2 and LEED CI 2.0 LEED AP credentialing exams have not been determined.

Nathan Morey

FYI – For anyone planning to take the LEED NC v.2.2 Accreditation Exam, March 31st is the last day to register for a testing slot – as George says.

My suggestion would be to get and study a LEED NC Reference Guide. If you’d like help understanding the rating system and prepping for the exam, there is a helpful six and a half hour online multimedia course that you can take anytime at Good luck!


George, I’m curious– do you feel that having taken the test, you are now better prepared to lead the restoration of your theatre? Do you see use for your certification in your career beyond this project?


Hi Bob,

The short answer is Yes, and Yes. The training (not the certification) is helping me think through much more clearly, and more completely, the costs and benefits of restoring the theater to LEED Gold. I simply never would have thought about mitigating the heat island effect, reusing rainwater to flush toilets, installing a green roof or seriously minimizing VOCs as just a few examples. I’m can also now engage the architects on a fundamentally different level – more as a peer in many respects than simply as a customer.

The certification (as well as the training) will likely help me in my career transition from high tech to clean tech, even if I don’t land a job directly in the green building industry as it demonstrates my understanding of key sustainability concepts and practices. Well, at least that’s the plan.. 🙂


Thanks George, big help


Thank you so much for the LEED info (esp the links and your Excel file). I definitely need all of the help I can get to pass this exam before it changes!

Joe Koncelik

Great post, helped me know how to get ready for the exam. As a lawyer I would like to get AP accredited to assist clients who either develop or work on these projects.

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