Free LEED v4 Green Associate Study Guide

Claire Moloney's picture
Claire Moloney
Consultant
June 26, 2014

My name is Claire and I’m here to help you prepare for the new “v4” version of the LEED Green Associate exam.

The LEED Green Associate credential is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in working in the field of sustainability.
The LEED Green Associate credential is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in working in the field of sustainability.
Credit: Poplar Network

Hello green builders! My name is Claire - you might remember me from the previous Free LEED Green Associate Study Guide from LEED 2009 that I wrote for Poplar Education.

I created that guide from my personal experience passing the LEED Green Associate twice: first with a 95% in December 2010 and then with a 98% in September 2012. (Note: I am not affiliated with USGBC or GBCI).

Now, I’m here to help you prepare for the new “v4” version of the LEED Green Associate exam.

USGBC released the new version of the LEED rating systems, called LEED v4, in November 2013 at Greenbuild. While LEED v4 is the newest version of LEED, project teams actually have a choice of whether to pursue certification under LEED 2009 or choose LEED v4.

Why did USGBC update its rating systems to LEED v4?

Free LEED Green Associate Exam

According to Alex Spilger, founder of GreenStep, an experienced LEED consultant who has worked on over 100 projects with companies including Google, Skype, Twitter and others, USGBC has committed to continually updating the LEED Rating Systems every few years in order to adapt to new technologies, streamline the Certification process and increase the level of standards that projects must meet for each Certification level.

With its November release, LEED v4 is the latest update, and is the culmination of years of effort and includes significant changes from LEED v2009.

Indeed, the development of LEED v4 involved thousands of stakeholders throughout the process and reflects more than 21,500 comments USGBC received from public input.

However, while LEED v4 is officially up and running, LEED v2009 still remains current, relevant and wildly popular.

To ease the transition from one rating system to the next, USGBC overlaps the most current system with the previous system. Indeed, in October 2014, the folks at LEEDUser reported that the phase out period for LEED 2009 would be extended through October 2016, giving project teams another 18 months to relax about LEED v4 compliance.

This means that LEED v2009 will likely remain relevant through 2017 and beyond for projects with longer schedules.

Alex indicates that most of the clients he has worked with at BCCI Construction and now at Cassidy & Turley, have opted to register their projects under LEED 2009, rather than LEED v4, since it is the more established Rating System and because the industry has not yet fully adapted to meet specific LEED v4 criteria for certain credits.


Are the LEED Exams New?

Yes. Regardless of the phase out period for new LEED project certifications, there is no such "phase out" period for LEED professional credentialing exams.

On July 1st, 2014, the new LEED v4 versions replaced all the 2009 exams, with the exception of LEED for Neighborhood Development. The LEED AP for Neighborhood Development exam is expected to be updated in February 2015. Read the comments here for more information on LEED AP v4 ND.

As of today, all new LEED Green Associate and LEED AP candidates are required to pass the exams under LEED v4.

How is the LEED v4 Exam Different?

In LEED v4, there are many new credits, as well as old credits that have been updated or combined, and credits that have been retired entirely. For instance there was a substantial overhaul of the Materials and Resources credit category, which now applies a "lifecycle" approach to entire buildings at the project level.

Projects are rewarded for reusing as much material as possible, while also using less material overall. The new approach in the MR category helps teams make smarter decisions about the impact of building materials on the built environment. There is also a new “Location and Transportation” credit category, which addresses credits like "Green Vehicles" and new rating systems for additional building types, including data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality, existing schools and retail, and mid-rise residential projects.

The LEED Green Associate exam gauges knowledge of more general information as it pertains to LEED and green building. In our experience, the new exams are around 30-35% different in terms of content than the LEED 2009 exams. And while USGBC and GBCI do not release information about how they score the exams, the organization has released a "Cheat Sheet", for the new LEED v4 exams which outlines content areas in the form of Task Domains and Knowledge Domains that are covered on the exam. Task Domains reflect the tasks necessary to perform LEED safely and effectively. Knowledge Domains reflect the rating systems’ credit categories and what one needs to know.

Task Domains

- Communicate broad and basic green building concepts to team or colleagues
- Research and create a library of sustainable building materials
- Assist others with sustainability goals
- Create project profiles/case studies/press releases
- Serve as a green advocate to clients, team members and the general public (e.g. why green building)
- Stay current on any updates to LEED and green strategies in general
- Navigate LEED Online
- Assist project leaders with LEED correspondence to project team members (consultants, contractors, owner, etc.)
- Assist in managing the documentation process
- Assist in managing the LEED certification timeline

Knowledge Domains

LEED Process (16 questions)

- Organization fundamentals (e.g. role of USGBC/GBCI; mission/vision; non-profit)
- Structure of LEED rating systems (e.g., credit categories, prerequisites, credits and/or Minimum Program Requirements for LEED certification)
- Scope of each LEED rating system (e.g., rating system selection; rating system families: BD+C, ID+C, O+M, ND, Homes)
- LEED development process (e.g., consensus based; stakeholder and volunteer involvement; rating system updates/evolution)
- Credit categories (e.g., goals and objectives of each: LT, SS, WE, EA, MR, EQ, IN, RP; synergies)
- Impact categories (e.g. What should a LEED project accomplish?)
- LEED certification process (e.g. certification levels: Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum; LEED Scorecard; 3rd party verification; role of documentation submission; LEED Interpretations; Addenda; awareness of different system versions [e.g., LEED Online])
- Components of LEED Online and project registration
- Other rating systems (e.g., in general what other rating systems are out there?)

Integrative Strategies (8 questions)

- Integrative process (e.g., early analysis of the interrelationships among systems; systems thinking; charettes)
- Integrative project team members (e.g., architect, engineer, landscape architect, civil engineer, contractor, facility manager, etc.)
- Standards that support LEED (e.g., breadth not depth of American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers [ASHRAE]; Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association [SMACNA] guidelines; Green Seal,
- ENERGY STAR®, HERs, Reference Standards listed in ACPs, etc.)

Location and Transportation (7 questions)

- Site selection (e.g. targeting sites in previously developed and brownfields/high-prioriy designation areas, avoiding sensitive habitats, located in areas with existing infrustructure and nearby users, reduction in parking footprint.

Sustainable Sites (7 questions)

- Site assessment (e.g., environmental assessment, human impact)
- Site design and development (e.g., construction activity pollution prevention; habitat conservation and restoration; exterior open space; rainwater management; exterior lighting; heat island reduction)

Water Efficiency (9 questions)

- Outdoor water use (e.g., use of graywater/rainwater in irrigation; use of native and adaptive species)
- Indoor water use (e.g., concepts of low flow/waterless fixtures; water-efficient appliances; types and quality)
- Water performance management (e.g., measurement and monitoring)

Energy and Atmosphere (10 questions)

- Building loads (e.g., building components, space usage [private office; individual space; shared multi-occupant spaces])
- Energy efficiency (e.g., basic concepts of design, operational energy efficiency, commissioning, energy auditing)
- Alternative and renewable energy practices (e.g., demand response, renewable energy, green power, carbon offsets)
- Energy performance management (e.g., energy use measurement and monitoring; building automation controls/advanced energy metering; operations and management; benchmarking; ENERGY STAR)
- Environmental concerns (e.g., sources and energy resources; greenhouse gases; global warming potential; resource depletion; ozone depletion)

Materials and Resources (9 questions)

- Reuse (e.g., building reuse, material reuse, interior reuse, furniture reuse)
- Life-cycle impacts (e.g., concept of life-cycle assessment; material attributes; human and ecological health impacts; design for flexibility)
- Waste (e.g., construction and demolition; maintenance and renovation; operations and ongoing; waste management plan)
- Purchasing and declarations (e.g., purchasing policies and plans; environmental preferable purchasing (EPP); building product disclosure and optimization [i.e., raw materials sourcing; material ingredients; environmental product disclosure])

Indoor Environmental Quality (8 questions)

- Indoor air quality (e.g., ventilation levels; tobacco smoke control; management of and improvements to indoor air quality; low-emitting materials; green cleaning)
- Lighting (e.g., electric lighting quality, daylight)
- Sound (e.g., acoustics)
- Occupant comfort, health, and satisfaction (e.g., controllability of systems, thermal comfort design, quality of views, assessment/survey)

Project Surroundings and Public Outreach (11 questions)

- Environmental impacts of the built environment (e.g. energy and resource use in conventional buildings; necessity of green buildings; environmental externalities; triple bottom line)
- Codes (e.g., relationship between LEED and codes [building, plumbing, electrical, mechanical, fire protection]; green building codes)
- Values of sustainable design (e.g., energy savings over time; healthier occupants; money-saving incentives; costs [hard costs, soft costs]; life-cycle)
- Regional design (e.g., regional green design and construction measures as appropriate, regional emphasis should be placed in Sustainable Sites and Materials & Resources)


Free LEED v4 Green Associate Exam


What Changes were made to the LEED Credit Categories?

I’ll go through each of the credit categories to show how LEED v4 has been updated. For a thorough review, you can look at the v4 rating systems on USGBC’s website.

Integrative Process Credits

While USGBC has always strongly stressed integrative project design, or “IPD”, Integrative Project Planning and Design is now a prerequisite in the LEED for Healthcare rating system. Other rating systems offer one point under the Integrative Process credit for using a collaborative design process from the pre-design phase to support high-performance, cost-effective project outcomes through an early analysis of the interrelationships among systems.

The project team should identify potential synergies across credit categories and document how their early analyses informed their project requirements and basis of design. These synergies can often save the project team time, energy and money because there are fewer miscommunications and work-arounds.

Location and Transportation

This new credit category addresses sustainable communities and land use. Many of the credits in this category were originally found in the Sustainable Sites credit category in LEED 2009, but have been edited and incorporated here.

For example, credits include “sensitive land protection”, “access to quality transit”, “green vehicles”, “surrounding density and diverse uses”, and “bicycle facilities”, all which have their slightly varied counterparts in LEED 2009.

Some notable new features in this category include points for projects that build on LEED for Neighborhood Development certified sites, as well as a credit for “high priority sites”. New projects can earn points for building in historic districts, on brownfield remediation sites, or on a site with “priority designation”, such as a site on an EPA National Priorities List or that is sited as a Federal Empowerment Zone.

As you can see, LEED v4 has kept some prerequisites and credits virtually the same, but has made some significant changes to nearly every major credit category. Many of these additions, such as the water and energy metering requirements, focus on the certified building’s continued performance, rather than just the design.

LEED v4 encourages the use of materials that are sustainable from extraction to disposal. v4 has also made site selection and consideration a more important part of the LEED decision-making process, and provides extra incentive for integrated project design.

Sustainable Sites

The Sustainable Sites credits, for the most part, are similar to those in version 2009. Some credits, such as “Bicycle Facilities”, “Access to Quality Transit” and “Green Vehicles”, have been moved from this category to the new “Location and Transportation” credit category.

LEED v4's Sustainable Sites credit category still contains credits for construction activity pollution prevention, heat island reduction, light pollution reduction, open space, and protect or restore habitat.

One notable change is that the stormwater management credits are now referred to as “Rainwater Management”. The credit is quite different from the previous stormwater credits, in that it allows two options for compliance: 1) percentile of rainfall events and 2) natural land cover conditions. For percentile of rainfall events, the project must manage the runoff on the site for a certain “percentile of regional or local rainfall events”. For the natural land cover conditions option, the project must “manage on site the annual increase in runoff volume from the natural land cover condition to the post developed condition”.

Another new credit for new projects is called “Site Assessment”. It awards one point for projects that assess the site’s condition before design for features such as topography, hydrology, climate, vegetation, soils, human use, and human health effects. The project team will be able to use the assessment to make better, more sustainable decisions about the building.

Water Efficiency

Though it still focuses on general water use reduction, the Water Efficiency credit category has some major changes in v4.

Instead of “Water Use Reduction” and “Water Efficient Landscaping”, the credits are now named “Indoor Water Use Reduction” and “Outdoor Water Use Reduction”. While the indoor water use prerequisite and credit are similar to the “Water Use Reduction” credit from LEED 2009, outdoor water use reduction is now required as a prerequisite (with room for additional improvement with an optional credit), whereas in LEED 2009, Water Efficient Landscaping was only an optional credit.

Innovative Wastewater Technologies is no longer a credit, since its concepts have been spread among other credits in the category.

Cooling Tower Water Use is also a new credit, recognizing that cooling towers are a major source of water waste. In the past cooling towers were only really addressed in LEED for Existing Buildings.

Another significant update to this credit category is water metering. Building-level water metering is a prerequisite, and additional water metering is worth points. Meters can be installed on various water subsystems, such as irrigation, domestic hot water, and indoor plumbing fixtures.

Energy and Atmosphere

The Energy and Atmosphere credit category is similar in structure to the LEED 2009. It still addresses commissioning, refrigerant management, minimum and optimized energy performance, green power and renewable energy.

Like Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere now requires building-energy metering in a new prerequisite. The building must install a meter (or submeters) that track the total building energy consumption at least monthly. The project must commit to providing that data to USGBC for at least five years. A project can also earn an additional point for more rigorous metering and tracking of its energy usage. This is consistent with USGBC’s increased emphasis on building performance, rather than just design.

There are three changes in the Energy & Atmosphere section as it pertains to Green Power, now called "Green Power and Carbon Offsets". Specifically, buildings must offset total energy use, not just electricity, teams can accomplish this with a combination of credits, and must do so for a longer time commitment.

Another significant addition is “"Demand Response”. This credit awards points to projects that participate in a utility’s existing Demand Response program or, in cases where they are not available, provide infrastructure to participate in a future program.

Materials & Resources

As mentioned above, the Materials and Resources credit category has arguably changed the most out of all of the existing credit categories.

This category has been completely overhauled to address a lifecycle perspective with building materials. The only prerequisites and credits that look remotely similar to the LEED 2009 version are “Storage and Collection of Recyclables” and “Construction and Demolition Waste Management Planning”.

New credits include “Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction”, and “Building Product Disclosure and Optimization” for Environmental Product Declarations (EPD), Sourcing of Raw Materials, and Material Ingredients.

The Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction has four options: historic building reuse, renovation of abandoned or blighted buildings, building and material reuse, or a whole-building life-cycle assessment. The intention of the credit is to encourage reuse and lessen the building’s environmental impact.

The Building Product Disclosure and Optimization credits aim to encourage the use of products with limited impacts throughout their lifetimes, and from manufacturers that provide transparency about the product’s ingredients and manufacturing processes.

In LEED 2009, these credits really focused on individual features like FSC-certified wood or a certain percentage of recycled material. These new credits attempt to capture more of a comprehensive view of the material’s sustainability throughout its life cycle. They not only encourage the project teams to use more sustainable materials, but also incentivize product manufacturers to provide better, more detailed information about where their products came from, how they were produced, and what they contain.

The LEED v4 MR category also includes new focus on PBT Source Reduction, Furniture and Medical Furnishings, and Designing for Flexibility.

Indoor Environmental Quality

Unlike Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality is very similar to the original credit category from 2009.

It still addresses minimum indoor air quality performance and environmental tobacco smoke control in its prerequisites. It also addresses daylight, views, thermal comfort, low emitting materials, and a construction indoor air quality management plan in its credits.

“Enhanced Indoor Air Quality Strategies” is a new credit in this category that builds on Increased Ventilation from the previous rating system. It does include a requirement for increased ventilation, but also for carbon dioxide monitoring, entryway systems, cross-contamination prevention, filtration, and air contamination prevention and monitoring. Depending on whether the building uses mechanical, natural, or mixed-mode ventilation, it must meet certain elements of the credit.

The EQ category also places a greater emphasis on building acoustics, whereas in LEED 2009, this was an emphasis only within schools.

Innovation

Formerly called “Innovation in Design” or “Innovation in Operations”, Innovation is very similar to its LEED 2009 counterparts. Projects can still earn points for using innovative strategies, achieving exemplary performance, or attempting pilot credits.

There is also one point available for having at least one LEED AP with specialty as a principal participant of the project. It’s important to note that legacy LEED APs are not eligible for an Innovation point in LEED v4.

Regional Priority

Regional priority is almost identical to the credit in LEED 2009. Projects can earn up to four out of six points available for using strategies identified by that region’s USGBC council or chapter.


How to Study for the LEED GA v4 Exam

The format of the new LEED v4 exam is the same as LEED 2009 (100 multiple choice questions in a 2-hour timeframe). Here are my recommendations for the study tools and tricks to use for the LEED v4 Green Associate exam. Throughout this guide I refer to Poplar's LEED Green Associate practice materials, because I used them myself, but there are many LEED exam preparation companies to choose from. Ultimately, the choice often comes down to reputation and/or price.

Alex Spilger's GreenStep Education is also excellent for both LEED Green Associate and/or LEED AP exam preparers. As an experienced LEED exam trainer, Alex has taken the LEED exams 21 times and counting, more than any other person.

Exam Prep Course:

Exam prep courses are ideal for beginners who have little or no exposure to LEED. They are helpful for covering the entire LEED rating system and the basic green building concepts that you will need to know. You can find in person classes or online courses. Online is often a much less expensive option than in person.

The first time I took the LEED Green Associate I participated in a 2 day exam preparation course beforehand. I found this to be very helpful because I was still in school at the time and new to LEED. My instructor was very knowledgeable and explained all the aspects of working on a LEED project, the intents and philosophies behind each credit category, and how the credits were applied in the real world. She had personally worked on many LEED projects and this was very helpful to me in terms of understanding.

However, exam prep courses may feel like review to well-seasoned LEED professionals, so they may want to skip a course and practice with sample tests or just buy a great study guide.

Study Guide:

The Poplar LEED GA study guide was the most important tool I used to prepare, and critical to my success on the exam. Buying a good one will save you a lot of time and energy because you will study only the material you need to know. USGBC often suggests using many of its primary references (rating systems, reference guides, etc.) however I didn’t use any of the LEED primary references. I found that only two questions on the exam were not covered in the guide.

Flash Cards:

I’m a visual learner, so the handwritten flash cards that I wrote were extremely helpful to me. I quizzed myself on each card and placed them in a “right” and “wrong” pile and stopped when no cards were left in the “wrong” pile. While writing them myself helped me memorize the information, you can also purchase printable/downloadable flashcards online.

Practice Tests:

Other than the study guide, LEED GA practice tests were the most critical to my success on the test. Once I memorized the study guide information and quizzed myself with flash cards, I took practice tests over and over until I scored 100% on each one. I reviewed each wrong answer so that I would get it right the next time. Sometimes, I even created a flash card to help myself memorize the right answer.

You can purchase either PDF or exam simulator versions of practice tests. The study guide I mentioned above includes a 100 question practice test. Using simulators may be most effective, however, as they are designed to mimic the actual exam experience. Virtual exams/simulators should also be able to be used from an iPad or iPhone, which can be convenient.


How to Register for the LEED Green Associate Exam

The process to register for the LEED v4 Green Associate exam is the same as for the LEED 2009 exam. You will need to apply to take the exam first through your account on USGBC.org, then once you have paid the fee, you may choose an exam date with Prometric.

1. Go to Prometric website to schedule an exam appointment.

2. Enter your Eligibility ID from the USGBC website to proceed with selecting a test site, scheduling a date and time and entering payment information. Prometric offers testing centers throughout the world and in almost every major city in the U.S.

3. When the exam appointment is scheduled, you will receive a confirmation number onscreen and from Prometric through an email.

4. Record your confirmation number.You will need this confirmation number to confirm, cancel, or reschedule your appointment through the Prometric website, prometric.com/gbci. You will not be able to confirm, reschedule, or cancel with your Eligibility ID. If you need to reschedule, you will typically be able to do so without a fee with sufficient notice prior to your exam.

5. Once you have scheduled an exam, print your confirmation notice from Prometric. Keep your confirmation notice for any communication with Prometric about your exam. If you do not receive a confirmation email from Prometric, call Prometric customer service.

For whatever reason if during the process you need to talk with a human at Prometric, you can call their phone number at 888-215-4154. You can contact GBCI at the number at the bottom of their home page here.


Exam Taking Tips and Tricks:

  • Brain Dump:

All LEED exams are administered at a Prometric testing center. You will not be permitted to bring anything into the exam with you and before you enter the testing room, you'll be asked to empty your pockets and put all your personal items in a private locker at the testing center. However, the Prometric proctor will provide you with a small whiteboard/tablet or a sheet of blank paper and a pen or pencil to bring with you into the exam room.

As soon as you enter the room and sit at your desk, you may use your whiteboard and pen to write down information that you are trying to remember. I recommend writing down information that you only recently memorized, or had trouble remembering during your practice tests. For example, I wrote the ASHRAE standards and what they referenced.

  • Use the Test Itself as a Tool:

Since the test is multiple choice, you will not only be able to use process of elimination to help answer certain questions, but also you can use the test itself as a tool. Some questions may contain information that will help you figure out an answer to another question. Indeed, we recommend going through the exam several times (at least twice) if possible.

On your first pass through the 100 questions, answer all the questions you are sure you know the answers to. The computerized exam program allows you to "Mark" questions that you don’t know the answer to so that you can go back to them. Then go through all the questions again from the beginning and you may find that you're remembering information you couldn't recall previously.

I find that if I spend a lot of time thinking about a question during the middle of the test, I will second guess myself and become anxious. Marking questions you’re unsure of and coming back to them can help you to think about it with a fresh mind and remain calm.

Plus, it’s better not to waste minutes on a timed exam... You want to answer every question, even if you guess, because unanswered questions are counted against you.

How Long to Study:

"How long should I study?" is a very popular question among LEED Green Associate exam takers. However, the length of study is a very personal thing.

I personally studied for about 6-8 hours a day for the week leading up to the exam. However, I think this was overkill. I was able to take the test in only around 30 minutes because I had the information so well-memorized. I think I could have studied for much less time, maybe 25 hours, and still passed.

The amount you will need to study will depend on a number of factors. Some people have better memories than others, and some have a stronger background in LEED and green building. Others are better test takers. In general, I would recommend somewhere between 20-40 hours.

Key Takeaways:

  • Study Guide Choice:

You have a choice of which study guide to use. Our experience is that your choice of study guide should be one that focuses on only the information you need to study and nothing more. In other words, a good study guide should be shorter rather than longer.

This is essential for passing the exam, and is especially important if taking the LEED Green Associate and LEED AP exams sequentially during the same testing session. We recommend taking the exams separately as it will save you time and energy and will help you target the information you need to memorize.

  • Flash Cards:

You can make (or buy) flash cards from the material. The important thing about flash cards, compared to practice exams, is that the flash cards require full memorization to answer the question at hand, whereas practice tests present the answer to you along with several "wrong" answers. This memorization is helpful in recalling key information and terms, such as the various standards including SMACNA, Green Seal, Floor Score, SCAQMD and other terms that are important in LEED.

  • Practice Tests:

Use practice exams and retake them until you score above a 95% (though 100% would be ideal). Review your incorrect answers after each test so that you can learn from your mistakes. Remember that, with the LEED Green Associate exam (and also with the LEED AP exam), it is often necessary to choose the "best" answer, not necessarily the "right" one that you might choose in the real world.

For example, USGBC has an M.O. and it's to expand the adoption of LEED as a voluntary standard throughout the world. Remember this if you encounter a question that asks if you should ignore local zoning laws just to earn a point in LEED that would have significant positive environmental impact. The correct answer will NOT be to ignore local zoning... Most likely it will be to forget that particular point and choose another strategy.

That's it! Overall, you should be able to pass the LEED v4 Green Associate exam as long as you understand the new prerequisites and credits and have the right study tools. Also, if you are looking for another person's perspective on passing the exam using these materials, you can read Katie's post on her experience. If you are looking for tips on how to pass the LEED AP v4 with Specialty exams, click here.

Best of luck!

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