Looking for a way to transition your career into the new green economy? Need to boost your resume in a tough job market? Achieving the LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) credential allows you to market your knowledge of green building to potential employers. This first level of LEED professional credentialing is designed for professionals who want to demonstrate green building expertise in non-technical fields of practice, and to demonstrate basic knowledge of green design, construction, and operations.
by, Jessalyn Dingwell, Green Economy Post
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is the most widely-accepted environmental design and green building certification in the United States. The LEED GA credential demonstrates to potential employers your understanding of the LEED system, your dedication to environmental issues, and your desire to go the extra mile and continue your education. This guide will walk you through the necessary steps to achieve your LEED GA credential.
What are the tiers of LEED Professional Credentials?
In 2009, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) updated both the professional credentialing and green building certification requirements. The new credentialing system includes three levels of credentials.
LEED GA: This is the first tier of LEED Professional Credentialing. This credential attests to basic knowledge and skill in understanding and supporting green design, construction, and operations. Under the new USGBC guidelines (sometimes referred to as v3) you are required to pass the LEED GA exam before achieving the LEED AP + Specialty designation. However, if you are eligible, you can take the LEED GA exam at the same time as the LEED specialty exam.
LEED AP + Specialty: This second-tier credential, LEED Accredited Professional or LEED AP, signifies an advanced depth of knowledge in green building practices and specialization in a particular LEED Rating System: Building Design & Construction, Operations & Maintenance, Interior Design & Construction, Homes, and Neighborhood Development. (Professionals certified prior to 2009 were not required to specialize in a particular rating system. More information about transitioning to the new requirements is available on the GBCI’s website.)
LEED Fellow: This highest level credential is still under development, but will require a high level of knowledge and expertise in green building. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) will likely award the LEED Fellow credential to professionals with many years of experience and outstanding contributions to the practice of green building.
Am I eligible to take the LEED GA exam?
You must meet one of the following three requirements to be eligible to take the LEED GA exam and achieve the LEED GA credential:
- Work on a LEED Project. This path requires documented involvement on a LEED-registered project. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) states that the level of involvement need not be technical. Specifically, the necessary level of involvement may be achieved by aiding or assisting on a project by providing administrative or research tasks, managing templates, coordinating meetings, tracking consultants and/or contractors, or compiling documentation for review. This involvement must be documented in a letter from your employer, the project leader, or through LEED Online.
- Employment: This path requires employment (or previous employment) in a sustainable field of work. GBCI broadly defines this as, “employment in a profession or at a company that relates to environmentalism or the green building industry.”
- Education: This path requires completing an education program that addresses green building principles. If you are relatively new to the green building industry, and don’t meet the above two requirements, your best bet is to take one of the USGBC’s classes which satisfy the requirement and require less paperwork than other options. I took the LEED Core Concepts & Strategies course, which offers an overview of the LEED system and basic requirements for building certification. Almost everyone in the class was taking it specifically to become eligible to take the LEED GA exam and the instructors spent some time discussing exactly what would be covered on the exam.
Also, you will be required to agree to the Disciplinary and Exam Appeals Process, the Credential Maintenance Program and a possible audit. More detailed eligibility information is available on the GBCI website.
What are the steps to take the LEED GA exam?
First, it is important to understand the relationship between the GBCI, USGBC, and Prometric. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) provides the research and education supporting both the professional credentialing and the LEED building certification program. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) recently split off from the USGBC in order to provide an unbiased organization to review the applications for credentials and maintain rigor in the testing process. Much of the information you need to study for the exam is housed on the USGBC website, but you will need to access GBCI in order to register for the exam. Prometric is a third party that administers the test directly to test takers through testing centers located throughout the country.
Step One: Apply for the exam on www.gbci.org. Log in to your account and under “My Credentials” click on “Apply For Exam.” You must upload your documentation proving eligibility and pay a $50 application fee. Within seven days, you will receive an email indicating if your documentation is accepted. At that time, you may proceed to the next step and register for the exam.
Step Two: Register for the exam at www.prometric.com/gbci. You will pay the registration fee of $150 for USGBC members/full time students or $200 for everyone else. You will be able to choose the time and location of your test from a wide range of choices in your area.
Step Three: Take the Exam at the Prometric testing center you selected. You have two hours to complete the test, and plan an extra 20 minutes for the tutorial and survey. Arrive early at the testing site. The other people at the testing center may be taking many different tests, some issued by the GBCI and some from other, unrelated professional organizations. You will be assigned a seat with a computer and the computer will prompt you through the set up and exam process. Staff are available to help should you encounter any problems. The testing software is easy to use, but spend a few minutes at the start of the exam using the tutorial to increase your confidence and allow your mind to focus on the content of the questions. I found, and most people that I spoke with agree, that if you are prepared, two hours is more than enough time so you do not need to rush. At the completion of the test, the computer will provide your results and let you know if you received a passing score.
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How should I prepare for the exam?
The LEED GA exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions which you must complete in two hours. Plan to spend at least several weeks studying for the exam if you are unfamiliar with the concepts. The exam tests your knowledge of basic concepts, but you will be required to know some of the technical requirements, such as basic ASHRAE standards that appear in multiple rating systems (e.g., 62.1, 90.1).
LEED Green Associate Candidate Handbook: This is the number one most important document for you to review when preparing for the exam. It provides the nitty-gritty details of registration, an outline of the topics on the exam, sample questions, and links to free resources covering each topic area in detail. I recommend reading all of the Primary References listed on page 12 carefully. Don’t ignore, The Treatment by LEED of the Environmental Impact of HVAC Refrigerants, to learn the different types of refrigerants and the pros and cons of each type. The Ancillary References I found most useful were: Guide to Purchasing Green Power and Foundations of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Environmental Rating System: A Tool for Market Transformation. The other Ancillary References warrant a look, but some are they are quite lengthy, and it’s not necessary to read each of them in detail to pass the exam.
Study Guides: USGBG sells the LEED Green Associate Study Guide. This is the only study guide approved by the USGBC so you can expect its information to be accurate and relevant to the test. Currently, it is only available in hard copy. There are many commercial preparation programs and guides available in a wide variety of formats, including, webinars, in-person classes, flashcards, and iPhone games. Your level of understanding of the material and the amount of time you have to allocate to studying will determine whether you need to invest in additional study guides or classes. Clean Edison, PPI, GreenStep, and Everblue are a few of the big players in Green Associate exam preparation.
Do you absolutely have to buy a study guide to pass? Probably not. Strictly speaking, all of the information you need is contained within the USGBC’s many free guides and studies. The problem is that it might take a long time to collect the information and determine which information is relevant to the exam. I purchased PPI’s hard-copy study guide since the USGBC’s study guide was not yet available when I took the exam. I found that studying the Green Associate Candidate Handbook’s listed resources, the information contained in the Core Concepts and Strategies course, and PPI’s study guide was sufficient to pass the exam on my first try.
Scoring: The exam is scored using a scaled process with scores ranging from 125 (minimum score) to 200 (maximum score). You must achieve a minimum score of 170 to pass the exam. Unfortunately, this means you won’t know exactly how many questions you need to get right to pass the set of questions you will be asked. Some suggest that aiming for 70% correct on practice tests is a close approximation.
Retaking: You may make three attempts to pass the exam during your application period, which lasts for one year after the date you were approved to take the test. After an application expires, candidates are required to wait 90 days before submitting a new application to GBCI.
What should I do after I pass the exam?
Celebrate! Also, update your resume, LinkedIn profile, and business cards to reflect your new credential. Your educational requirements do not end after passing the exam as you must meet certain ongoing maintenance requirements.
Credential Maintenance Requirement: Green Associates must attend 15 hours of continuing education every 2 years. You also must pay a $50 biennial maintenance fee and agree to abide by the GBCI disciplinary policy.
© 2010, Jessalyn Dingwell. All rights reserved. Do not republish.