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12/1/09 Update: If you're looking to keep up to date on LEED 2009, I recommend checking out our own, which was recently launched Editor's Note: When Matt Macko, a principal at Environmental Building Strategies, told me that he was the only energy expert in the room when the new LEED AP BD+C exam was written, I asked him to write the story of his experience for Here's what he told us. The details of the new LEED AP credentialing program were also announced today. You can also follow this topic on Twitter. – Tristan Roberts, LEED AP In early February 2009 I received an email stating among other things that the GBCI (Green Building Certification Institute) was looking for volunteers to write the new LEED for Building Design & Construction (BD+C) 2009 exam. On the flight from San Francisco to Washington for the three-day mid-week exam writing session, I reflected on my own LEED v2.2 exam experience and what value I could add. I had brutally memorized the Reference Guide like a cramming college student, had some background with green building in the residential sector and knew energy modeling from experience at my company. What I didn't know is that I would be virtually the only one there with energy-related knowledge. Once we arrived in D.C., we were expected to hook our brains to a Prometric knowledge draining machine for 10 hours a day, a pretty intense job in exchange for travel costs and room service. This device pulled from us anything and everything we knew about green building and LEED. Actually writing the exam tested our ability to remember the Reference Guide, follow strict question-forming instructions, work with partners, and most importantly tested our ability to search PDF's. For three days we searched the new LEED 2009 Reference Guide to dream up questions about green building subjects we had interest in. Even though the experience was intense, the atmosphere bubbled with excitement as if we were creating the next great Harry Potter novel, knowing that eager minds would be relying on our work to join the LEED AP ranks. I enjoyed collaborating with like-minded (and in many cases even more intense) people I began to meet. Everyone was surprisingly excited to work for GBCI and produce this material. Who knew three days away from their regular work schedule could be so satisfying? Well over 110,000 LEED AP's have been accredited under the old testing version. This leads me to believe either that green building is dramatically growing or the economy is bad enough that people are looking for new forms of education to differentiate themselves. Either way, or both, it's good for the industry and the planet, and will hopefully curb the gluttonous lifestyle our buildings have enjoyed through the last half century (pretty much since the invention of air conditioning). With the advent of the new LEED system, many people probably have questions as to what has changed and what needs to be done to stay on top of things. The new LEED AP or LEED AP + specialty will be a much different than its predecessor. Beginning with the commitment, skill, and diverse knowledge required to pass the exam, followed with the need for project experience, as well as a commitment to 30 hours of Continuing Education, and 4 hour time slot needed to sit for the two-part 200 question exam. The current green building climate necessitates that there be a distinction between professionals and their certification and accreditation criteria. As a result of these industry changes, the USGBC and GBCI are representing their stakeholders in the green building community such as architects, engineers, and construction workers, by ensuring the LEED AP is an appropriate representation of a green building professional of today. It is important to note that we in the professional "green" world demanded these changes and the responses to Job Task Analysis surveys showed GBCI what was important to its stakeholders. The USGBC and GBCI responded by making the changes listed below:
  • If you do nothing and/or don't wish to be an AP+ Specialty you retain your LEED AP.
  • If you sign up for the Credentialing Maintenance Program (CMP) and follow the Disciplinary Policy guidelines, you will become a LEED AP+ specialty, joining the new regime. Once you sign up for the CMP, if you took the original AP exam under the New Construction Track you will automatically be "mapped over" to the new LEED AP BD+C (Building Design and Construction) – The same is true for Commercial Interiors; you will be automatically "mapped" over to the LEED AP ID+C (Interior Design and Construction) designation.
  • The same is true for Existing Buildings; you will be automatically "mapped" over and have the LEED AP O+M (Operations & Maintenance) designation.
  • All of these changes will begin August 3, 2009, at which point a LEED AP will have two years to switch over. Thereafter, a $50 fee is required to maintain your AP+ Specialty status.
Here are some things you need to know if you're thinking of becoming a LEED AP under the new system:
  • GBCI has publicly stated that the changes to the exam system reflect the rapid advances in green building technology and practice in the marketplace. Therefore, the new exam system will help ensure that LEED professionals have the latest knowledge and understanding of green building practices AND that their proficiency is recognized.
  • The new exam handbook emphasizes the three hierarchical cognitive levels in which questions were written to. They are Recognition Items, Application Items, and Analysis Items. GBCI states the definition of them as: Recognition Items: These items assess a candidate's ability to recall factual material that is presented in a similar context to the exam references. Application Items: These items provide the candidate with a novel problem or scenario that the candidate can solve using familiar principles or procedures described in the exam references. Analysis Items: These items assess a candidate's ability to break the problem down into its components to create a solution. The candidate must not only recognize the different elements of the problem, but must also evaluate the relationship or interactions of these elements. (GBCI LEED Green Associate Candidate Handbook, July 2009, Page 5)
  • A test taker should expect questions that were written related to each of these areas in order to demonstrate knowledge. Analysis items will test the ability of a person to analyze scenarios, breaking down the LEED elements and investigating the possible synergies that exist. This context of question breakdown did not exist in previous Candidate Handbooks.
  • The AP+ Specialty will be a person who has an advanced depth of knowledge in green building practices and specialization in a particular LEED Rating System such as Building Design and Construction (BD+C) or Operations and Maintenance (O+M). The AP+ Specialty exam and designation is representative of an individual who has passed the exam and possesses the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the design process, to support and encourage integrated design, and to streamline the application and certification process.
  • The LEED Green Associate is a person who possesses the knowledge and skill to understand and support green design, construction, and operations. The LEED Green Associate exam is designed to measure your skills and knowledge against criteria developed by Subject Matter Experts and to assess your knowledge and skill to understand and support green design, construction, and operations. This exam is most appropriate for anyone entering the world of green building as well as someone who supports the LEED system.
  • The LEED AP + Specialty exam is designed to measure and assess the candidate's skills and knowledge of green building science, the LEED Rating System, and the certification process as set forth in the most recent Job-Task Analysis that was conducted by GBCI during the 3rd quarter of 2008.
In addition to the study materials listed in the candidate handbooks, I would recommend studying sustainability and the principles of green building. Understanding green building holistically will benefit a test taker greatly. From there, you will understand how the USGBC is using LEED to assess the principles of green building. On another note, since many preparatory sites out there are as "green" to this new exam as you are, I would wait until they have their bugs worked out before buying into the idea that whomever wrote their sample exams knows how the new exam is different.

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1 The information flow from GBC posted by Kandarp on 07/31/2009 at 04:12 am

The information flow from GBCI is not well structured & is not easy to understand.

Thanks Matt.

2 The USGBC/GBCI have created a posted by Chris Boggiano on 07/30/2009 at 12:55 pm

The USGBC/GBCI have created an interesting situation in the creation of the Green Associate credential. On the one hand, it serves the purpose of giving people a credential that says "I understand LEED enough to avoid screwing something up." On the other hand, 95% of legacy LEED APs that passed one of the older versions of the test have forgotten almost everything they memorized to pass the test and aren't much better.

The title of LEED AP became so coveted during the last year that anything less, such as Green Associate, doesn't appear to have much worth. The catch-22 is that if GBCI kept the flood gates open and let anyone become a LEED AP it would eventually water down the standard, but if they go too far in the opposite direction and make LEED AP an impossible achievement for the average person they risk that the market will just stop trying and move onto something new. Only time will tell if they get it right.


3 I recently read the requireme posted by Anna (Green Talk) on 07/30/2009 at 08:09 pm

I recently read the requirements to maintain my LEED AP status and as a lawyer by trade (turned green building consultant) I found it extremely confusing and overburdensome. I did not understand why no one looked at the continuing education requirements of CPAs, Lawyers, etc as a model. After I read the requirements, I was left with more questions then answers.

I have no idea which courses would be acceptable. Will there be higher level courses offered other than introduction courses so I will have enough courses to take to complete 30 hours of CE? Will the cost be reduced? If you decide to take 30 hours of CE course, the cost to maintain your AP status will be very expensive.

Can I take additional courses so I can be certified for residential or neighborhood construction or do I have to take the exam? Personally, I would like to take my hours in different areas so I can be become for proficient in what I do. I learn so much from the instructors when they provide real experiences.

I think that the GBCI is making this designation too hard that in time people will not want to become LEED APs.

Ragarding the old exam, I took the test in new construction and found it to be nit picky and did not test my ability to use the LEED concepts. I hope that the new exam has changed this approach. Thanks Matt for your insight as well as your commitment.

4 Thanks for the great article, posted by Than Hansen on 07/31/2009 at 11:06 am

Thanks for the great article, Matt. I am considering taking the LEED GA exam, having missed the deadline for the old LEED AP, but I too am wondering if my GA designation will be worth anything, when contrasted with the legions of APs out there. However, it is the only way for me to start, so I will probably press ahead.

The other concern is what I have been hearing from the non-USGBC community, that LEED really does not take enough into account in terms of building science, something that is crucial if we are to understand the effects (good and bad) of the green structures of tomorrow. Having taken the advice of architects and energy efficiency professionals, I have since completed two certifications in building science through the Building Performance Institute, and found the training demanding but worth the effort, and in the end, hope to combine both BPI and LEED training in my transition to a career in green building and energy efficiency.

Ultimately, I hope both USGBC, BPI, RESNET, etc can find some way to combine the best practices of one another's respective certifications/accreditations, to form the most effective wholistic approach to designing, building and maintaining the built environment. There are good aspects to all of them, and they shouldn't be ignored.

5 Matt- Thanks for the insight posted by Carl Seville on 08/01/2009 at 03:51 am

Matt- Thanks for the insight on the exam creation. I took the beta version of the AP Homes test this year, and found it to be a very frustrating experience, although I did pass. 1/2 the test was all commercially focused, an issue that was completely ignored in the study guide we were given. Of the homes focused other half, much of it was rote memorization of minute details such as how many points are available for a specific credit. In my opinion, tests such as these should focus almost entirely on understanding concepts rather than requiring memorizing details that are accessible via minor research. Alternately, they could be open book tests which evaluate our ability to accomplish research effectively. One issue which is not addressed in any green certifications is the fact that passing a test does not in itself qualify anyone to be a green builder, consultant, etc. I have argued in vain with NAHB and NARI to establish multi tiered certification for individuals - an apprentice level after you pass the test, and master level after you have a specified amount of experience in the field having built or certified a certain number of buildings. There are way too many people who are entitled to put letters after their names, however the public is incapable of distinguishing someone who is qualified from someone who simply passed a test. I like to think that doctors, lawyers, architects and other professionals have a minimum level of experience before they can call themselves professionals, and i think the sustainable building industry is doing itself a disservice by handing out professional designations too easily. Carl Seville, LEED AP Homes

6 VERY well stated and nicely w posted by susan on 07/29/2009 at 03:20 pm

VERY well stated and nicely written...

7 Thanks, Matt, for the insight posted by Eric Corey Freed on 07/29/2009 at 10:22 am

Thanks, Matt, for the insight into what has been a frustrating transition.

Dealing with the USGBC on these issues has been like talking to the FBI. Although I am excited for the new implementation of the LEED credentials, I haven't been thrilled with the USGBC's methods of communicating that to the 108,000+ existing LEED APs.

I hope you ordered a LOT of room service on their tab.

8 Way to go shark junior! I amI posted by Shark senior on 07/29/2009 at 10:27 am

Way to go shark junior! I amI continually amazed by your talent, foresight, and willingness to follow your own path, and to play a crucial role in clearing the path for others.

I cannot wait for the day when your name will be synonymous with intelligent, efficient, and environmentally friendly building!


9 I hope the new exam tests mor posted by Mark Hogan on 07/29/2009 at 10:37 am

I hope the new exam tests more than your ability to cram. I found the LEED 2.2 exam to be a pointless exercise in memorizing information that can be easily referenced in the office, while it did very little to test actual knowledge of green building practice or building science. In addition, If the LEED system becomes too much more complicated with specializations/continuing ed. etc. interest in obtaining the credential will decline dramatically.

10 Great point Harry, I complete posted by Matt on 08/06/2009 at 09:39 pm

Great point Harry,

I completely agree. It was challenging working with the testing experts. That said however, they were very knowledgeable about exam writing.

Having taken now 4 other "professional" green building exams (HERS, SBA, etc) I see how flawed the questioning is. The writing of questions, between the structure of the sentence to the wrong answers, is one of the best contributions the new testing procedures offers.

11 Interesting article, I took m posted by Nannette on 08/05/2009 at 12:16 pm

Interesting article, I took my exam back in the 2.0 version, so it sounds a lot different than how my test was structured. I kind of understand the specialties tests because so many people come from different experiences that it would be good to concentrate on your own area, but I wonder if some day each profession will just have their own versions too....for example LEED AP for Architects. I have concerns similar to Anna and Than. I look at the education requirements and wonder what will qualify. I see hours of costly training only available through...USGBC??? And about which credential will have more VALUE...I'm betting the current LEED APs , myself included, will be virtually worthless as time goes on, and Green Associates will have a better 'rank' in the eyes of the industry. It just seems so complex and confusing now that I couldn't help but wonder where I will fall into the ladder, and how many dollar signs it will take to get there.

12 An insight into the complexit posted by Harry on 08/05/2009 at 01:29 pm

An insight into the complexity and confusion of both the credentialing and testing can be seen in the new LEED Green Associate Candidate Handbook page 5, by the GBCI, where they talk of contracting "with a test development firm to develop and deliver the LEED professional credentialing exams", where "psychometricians work with experts in the green building industry". As with most things in life, the further the test development firm is removed from the primary knowledge (sustainable buildings), the less relevant and the more picayune they become. Also, on another note, page 11 of the handbook shows that now candidates have only three chances to take and pass the exam in any given year -- whereas before you could take them endlessly.

13 I agree with the comments reg posted by Diane on 08/04/2009 at 08:49 am

I agree with the comments regarding needless memorization with little or no emphasis on understanding the basic principles of sustainable design. It is amazing to me that we are embracing a local food movement and have not yet brought that local understanding to the design of our buildings, particularly housing. We eat food grown with a complex understanding of the particularities of climate and soil and have no regard to living in a house that does not address such basic issues as sun, wind and shade.

14 Another article on this topic posted by Chris on 08/04/2009 at 10:32 am

Another article on this topic - Green Building Credentials - How Credible Are They? was published about a month ago in Walls and Ceilings and worth reading. It is archived here:

Unlike Mr. Macko, the author of the above referenced article really DOES tell all....

15 What a "green" lie. For all posted by stephanie on 08/30/2009 at 11:08 pm

What a "green" lie.

For all of you hoping that the USGBC is true to human health and environmental sustainability....

The USGBC has been allowing smoking in its LEED certified casino projects. Smoking is allowed in casinos, in the hotel rooms, in the condo units., etc.

It's what we refer to as the USGBC's "grey" area.

16 I work for a company that off posted by HERS Training on 12/21/2010 at 10:42 am

I work for a company that offers HERS rater training as well as BPI Certification training. Although i don't have direct access to the questions, i've spent a considerable amount of time answering student inquiries during the exam. As a consequence, i get to see many of the questions. For the most part, I think that HERS certification questions are very clearly worded and easy to understand. The questions have been updated over the years in an attempt to add clarity where needed, however, there are a handful that are still confusing. BPI certification questions are definitely easier, but there is a bit more ambiguity and places... Even as a trainer, I could make an argument that there are several correct answers for some of the questions, depending on how they are read. I've certified a few homes using LEED-H but have yet to take the exam (Initially there was on LEED-H accreditation and "green raters" were not required to take a test). It's quite disappointing to hear that the development process for this particular LEED test only included the involvement of one energy professional. I wonder if this is true for the other LEED certification tests? Does anyone know what the pass rates are for LEED tests?

17 Thanks for the great article. posted by Solar Training on 08/10/2009 at 09:04 am

Thanks for the great article. I am considering taking the LEED GA exam as well. I wonder what requirements need to take that exam..

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