Studying for the LEED Green Associate exam

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Studying for the LEED Green Associate exam

In my role at USGBC, I use my experience in communications and marketing, but I am not a subject matter expert in LEED certification or sustainability per se. I have to query our LEED team when there’s a detailed question about how rating system credits are referred to in an article.

Creating and sharing resources for sustainability professionals on the foundational LEED Green Associate credential is an important part of our work on the education and marketing teams. After spending five years at USGBC—and writing and editing literally thousands of articles on green building—I was ready to make the leap and try to earn the credential myself, both to expand my industry knowledge and to reduce the number of times I have to reach out to our staff experts.

Here’s my breakdown of the top benefits and challenges I discovered in my LEED Green Associate studies.

Benefit: You realize sustainability strategies are everywhere.

LEED plaques are visible. Usually mounted near the front entrance of a building or in the lobby, they proudly present the achievement of a whole team of people in building or operating a space in a healthy, environmentally friendly way.

LEED plaque at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, DC

On my way back from Digital Summit 2019, I noticed the LEED plaque in the Marriott Marquis lobby. Plaques are easy to notice. Strategies can be less visible.

However, a LEED plaque is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Underneath that is months and possibly years of planning, design, construction and operations to meet the goals of defined impact categories through specific LEED credit categories like Energy and Atmosphere or Materials and Resources.

The unexpected benefit of my Green Associate studies was that all this extra focus opened my eyes even more to more detailed examples of sustainability all around me. Not just the solar panels, but the pervious paving:

Tweet about pervious pavement and LEED Green Associate studies

…and the electric vehicle charging stations:

EV charging stations at USGBC

It seemed like everywhere I walked, I found another example of a LEED strategy in action.

Challenge: Creating a study process that works for you.

Because of the COVID-19 closures that rippled through the U.S. in March, and then some further scheduling changes, my study journey was a little protracted. Plus, with a full-time job, it could be tricky finding times to study when my mind was still fresh. I found that lunch breaks and weekend afternoons were the best times to do my reading.

Studying for the LEED Green Associate exam

Studying with my sleepy assistant.

If you thrive on deadlines and love the idea of studying in boot-camp fashion, though, go for it with our custom two-week study plan on Education @USGBC.

The many independent study resources available on Education @USGBC make it easy to find a format that appeals to you. I learn best by reading and writing, so I concentrated on reading the required publications and taking notes. If you are more interactive, you might want to ask someone in your home to quiz you with flash cards, or you might sign up for an instructor-led online workshop. Videos on the core concepts of LEED are also available.

Challenge: Taking the big, bad exam.

I thought it might be easier for me to retain the material because of my experience working at USGBC—and maybe it was, a little. But not much! I was a little intimidated by how in-depth and technical the study materials were. You don’t just need to understand green building principles and LEED categories—you must also know certain standards, entities and measurements exactly. Be sure to budget time for memorization in your studies, as well as conceptual understanding.

The best choice I made in my study plan was to take six or seven LEED Green Associate practice exams. Each time I took one, I’d write down what I got wrong or didn’t understand, and then look up more about that term or concept. Those practice sessions turned out to be absolutely essential study element for me when preparing for the exam.

When I took the exam, I used the remotely proctored online option available since May, using Prometric’s ProProctor platform. I didn’t have to worry about going in person to a testing center. The guidance sent to you when you register is comprehensive, so there are no surprises about the exam protocols. I found the pre-exam tutorial slides to be helpful and the exam itself to take less than the time allotted, but this will be different for everyone. As a bonus, you find out right away whether you passed!

Benefit: You can only go up from here.

Besides the morale boost of having a nifty LEED Green Associate icon on my profile, I’m also realizing that LEED credentials are meant to be built on. I could go for a LEED AP next, or earn some knowledge-based badges. In the next two years, I have 15 continuing education requirements to fulfill, which means I’ll be taking courses or reading case studies frequently—being motivated to stay on top of industry developments even more than I was as a straight marketing professional.

Plus, I’m now part of the very cohort of global sustainability professionals I’ve been writing for and about since 2015. This study process has helped me understand even better what our USGBC community does. In less than four months, nearly 3,000 people have taken the LEED Green Associate exam’s remote version. Current and future architects, engineers, LEED project managers, contractors, facility managers—and communications people—are taking steps together toward the same vision.

Earn your own LEED Green Associate credential