Free LEED AP v4 Exam Study Tips

Rob Freeman's picture
Rob Freeman
Vice President
March 27, 2015

The sooner you read these LEED AP v4 exam study tips from Alex Spilger, the sooner your preparation process will become easier and more effective...

Alex Spilger, LEED AP
Alex Spilger, LEED AP
Credit: GreenStep

LEED credentials are increasingly in demand by employers. Indeed, a 2014 study by research firm Burning Glass found that U.S. employer demand for LEED Green Associates and LEED APs grew by 46% in just 12 months.

If you're reading this, chances are you've already passed the LEED Green Associate exam.

But if you haven't, you'll want to start first with the LEED Green Associate exam, which is the first Tier exam in LEED professional credentialing. (Learn more about passing the LEED Green Associate here)... Then follow these tips from the Master of the LEED exam...

Tips for Passing the LEED AP v4 exam from Alex Spilger:

Alex Spilger, founder of GreenStep, has compiled a selection of advice and tips on passing the LEED AP exam.

Who is Alex Spilger and why should you care?

Alex has taken the LEED exams 22 times and has committed himself to knowing the ins and outs of the LEED exam better than anyone on the planet.

Alex has worked on over 75 unique LEED/green building projects, including the first LEED v4 project in San Francisco, and many of his clients rely on him for both LEED consulting and LEED exam preparation help. His clients include leading companies such as Google, GoPro, Stanford Business School, JLL, CBRE, HP, Waste Management and many others.

When Alex founded GreenStep Education, his objective was to develop the best in class LEED exam preparation materials available for the green building industry.

I can tell you, as someone who's worked with Alex for awhile now, that when it comes to knowing the LEED exam and the best exam strategies, what to study and what not to, no one comes close to Alex. 

Of course, you are FREE to choose any LEED study materials among the dozens or so on the market...

But, beware... While no one has taken the LEED exams more times than Alex, anyone can publish their own study materials and claim they're going to help you...

Trust me I'm a LEED expert

Alex reports that the new LEED v4 exam is tougher than the LEED 2009 version, and his commitment to taking and retaking the exams is why thousands of people trust GreenStep's study tools to save them time, money, and get them started on a successful career in the green building industry.

How are the new LEED v4 Exams Different from 2009 (v3)?

The new exams are different in three ways:

1) More Detail: In addition to the existing credit sections from LEED 2009, the LEED v4 exams have added a new emphasis on areas such as Environmental Product Declarations and LifeCycle Analysis. Add 20% to the amount of study time you would have needed for the LEED 2009 exams because the questions are wordier, and the information is denser...

The implications of this are that the LEED v4 exam may be more difficult to pass within the 2 hour time frame.

2) LEED Project Experience: Unlike LEED 2009, there is no longer an experience eligibility prerequisite, so anyone can take the new LEED AP exam.

The new LEED v4 exams gauge LEED Project Experience from within the exam itself, so USGBC strongly recommends that you have experience working on a LEED project prior to the exam.

However, because gaining access to a LEED project is often very difficult, we have incorporated actual LEED project experience into all of the GreenStep LEED AP v4 Study Packages.

3) More calculations: Difficult calculation questions are common in the LEED AP v4 exams. Calculations may include basic addition and subtraction, but also may include more complex calculations such as:

- Calculating densities per acre
- Floor Area Ratios (FAR)
- Using flush and/or flow rates for toilets, sinks, showers, etc. that are important to WE Indoor Water Use Reduction (prerequisite or credits)
- Solar Reflectance Index (SRI) related calculations of roofs or those needed to calculate roof slope for heat island roof
- Renewable Energy Production, Green Power and Carbon Offsets
- Flushout requirement calculations and more.

1) The Reference Guide is Not a Good Study Tool

Reference Guide is not a study toolWhile 100% of the LEED AP exam questions come from the Reference Guide... Whether you're studying for BD+C, O+M or ID+C, the message is the same...

The Reference Guide was not designed to be an efficient exam preparation tool.

For example, the LEED v4 BD+C Reference Guide is 817 pages long and it turns out that 80% of the material is irrelevant to passing the exam...

Note that the content in the LEED v4 BD+C Reference Guide is comprised of multiple rating systems:

  • New Construction
  • Core and Shell
  • Data Centers
  • Hospitality, Schools
  • Healthcare
  • Retail
  • Warehouses and Distribution Centers

While all rating systems are covered, the New Construction rating system is disproportionately emphasized on the LEED exam.

For this reason, the Reference Guide should be thought of as a reference tool or an owner's manual for whatever LEED rating system you'll be working on on a regular basis, but it's not an efficient tool for studying...

Note: If you will be working on LEED projects regularly, we recommend purchasing a copy of your Reference Guide from USGBC. However, one of GreenStep's Study Guide mottos is that the Reference Guide is not required to pass.

Preparing for the LEED AP exam should be done by focusing all your efforts on a concise study guide based on the exam itself, along with thoughtful, realistic practice questions based on actual experience with the new LEED v4 exams.

GreenStep's BD+C v4 Study Guide, and ID+C and O+M study guides, are easy to follow and read, and are 100% relevant to the exam.

2) What Should I Study?

Equations on the LEED Exam

The vast majority of the questions come from specific sections of the Reference Guide.

40% of the questions for the new LEED exams come from the front and back sections of the credits themselves.

The Intents, Requirements, Potential Technologies and Strategies sections within each important credit are commonly found on the exam... The Requirements section is emphasized repeatedly.

The 13 or so other sections where LEED AP exam questions come from are from within the credits themselves, including the Summary of Reference Standards, Implementation, Calculations, Exemplary Performance, Definitions and Changes from LEED 2009.

While these sections are emphasized, not every credit includes every section mentioned above. For instance, while some credits have Referenced Standards, Calculations or Exemplary Performance Standards, others do not.

As a result, any content not included in the GreenStep LEED AP study guides has been omitted intentionally to provide you with only what is relevant and important to understanding the concepts covered on the exam.

3) Questions Relating to Project Experience

Just want to pass

The new LEED v4 AP exams attempt to test candidates on knowledge relating to LEED project experience from within the exams themselves.

In general the "Project Experience" questions relate to the following topics which are covered throughout the GreenStep Study Guides:

  • LEED Pilot Credits
  • Owners Project Requirements
  • Basis of Design (BoD)
  • LEED Certification Steps
  • Synergies between credits
  • Integrative Process and IPD
  • CIRs, LEED Interpretations and Addenda
  • LEED Charrette and Kickoff Process
  • LEED Online
  • Minimum Program Requirements
  • LEED Site Boundary
  • LEED Impact Categories
  • LEED Certification Review Process
  • LEED Project Registration
  • LEED costs

Direct experience working on a LEED project can be very helpful in answering many of the questions, and we encourage LEED AP candidates to participate in project experience, either online or in-person, prior to taking the LEED AP exam.

4) Don't Let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good

It's critical to MEMORIZE the information that's provided in the GreenStep Study Guide. That said, having all the information memorized may not always help you choose the right answer.

You may never find the perfect answer you are looking for, and that can cause you to waste a lot of time... So, if you can't find the correct answer(s), look for the best answer(s).

Since there is no penalty for guessing, make sure you don't leave any questions unanswered.

Avoid spending too much time on confusing questions. Use the "Mark" feature to flag the question and come back to it at the end. If possible, try to go through all the questions at least once, leaving time at the end of the exam to go through the entire exam one more time.

One useful method for memorizing the information is to make your own flash cards from the GreenStep Study Guide. The process of writing down the information in your own words is equally important as reviewing it over and over.

And if it is in the GreenStep Guides, it is to be memorized.

5) Format of LEED Practice Questions:

In addition to memorizing the specific information within each credit, such as credit percentages, strategies, key terms, exemplary performance thresholds, etc., you should be familiar with where information fits within the context of the LEED rating systems.

free LEED AP BD+C exam

For example, here are a few exam questions that exemplify what you may encounter on the LEED AP v4 exam.

These types of questions exemplify what you will find in the GreenStep practice tests:

Question 1: Which of the following sites would help earn points for Diverse Uses? (Choose 3)

A) Within a 1/4 mile of 2 or more bus stations that serve both local and long distance routes
B) Within a 1/4 mile of 2 or more train stations that serve both local and long distance routes
C) Within a 1/4 mile of a beauty salon
D) An empty parking lot located within 1/4 mile of a fire station
E) A site that is equipped with both bicycle racks and showers for the use of the public and community
F) 7 story commercial office building that only includes office space, no amenities

The correct answers are... C, D and F. In order to answer a question like this correctly, it's important to understand the structure of the Surrounding Density and Diverse Uses credit. To earn points for Diverse Uses, the credit requirements state that there must be a certain number of basic services within a 1/2 mile of the project.

You must know the 20+ basic service categories that may apply, of which a fire station and "Hair Care" are included. Bus stops, train stations and bike racks all earn points, but under different credits, not under Surrounding Density and Diverse Uses.

Why should a commercial office building qualify, even if it does not serve the surrounding community? A commercial office building qualifies simply because it is listed as one of the possible basic services.

Question 2: Which of the following are required on all LEED projects?

A) Agreeing not to develop on wetlands or endangered species habitat
B) Reviewing contractor submittals as part of the commissioning process
C) Recycling, reusing or diverting 50% of construction waste
D) Using low VOC paints on the interior
E) Prohibiting smoking in all areas of residential buildings
F) None of the above are required on LEED projects
G) All of the above are required on LEED projects

The correct answer is F, "None of the above." Only the prerequisites are required within LEED, all credits are optional. Answers A, B, C and D all relate to requirements of different LEED credits, not the prerequisites.

Answer E relates to a prerequisite dealing with Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control, but "Prohibiting smoking" is not a requirement of that prerequisite for residential projects. Residential projects may allow smoking in certain designated areas if specific guidelines are followed. 

Question 3: Which credits would be affected by moving the main entrance of the building? (Choose 2)

A) Access to Quality Transit
B) Bicycle Facilities
C) Light Pollution Reduction
D) Quality Views
E) Diverse Uses
F) Acoustic Performance
G) Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control

This is another example of a question that tests your knowledge of the credit specifics, without asking about the requirements of each credit directly. Many questions on the exam are similarly indirect, yet specific. If you've memorized the important details for each of these credits, you would know that the answers are B and E.

The distance for Diverse Uses is measured from the main entrance. And while long term bicycle storage is based on the distance to any "functional entry", short term bicycle storage is based on the distance to the main entrance, thus Bicycle Facilities may also be affected.

The distance for Access to Quality Transit is measured from a "functional entry" which may be different from the main entrance. Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control does not distinguish between main entrances and normal entrances.

The remaining credits do not take the location of entrances into direct account.

We recommend preparing for the LEED AP exam by studying with full length, 100 question practice tests that mimic the actual exam. Individual exams and bundled packages are available in the GreenStep sections for BD+C, ID+C and O+M.

Additional Tips

When preparing for tests that require a lot of memorization, such as the LEED AP exams, you'll retain information more effectively by establishing a regular study schedule and by studying more intensively over a shorter period of time, rather than studying intermittently over the course of several months.

There is no set rule as to how many hours you should study since everyone is different. But in general, we recommend at least 10-12 hours per week for 3-4 weeks to allow time to memorize all the information in the GreenStep workbooks, while taking full length practice exams.

Take each practice exam at least twice and spend the necessary time to review the exams in detail so that you thoroughly understand why each answer is correct or incorrect.

Super Study Pack

The LEED v4 BD+C Super Study Pack includes the GreenStep Study Guide, Exam Simulators and Project Experience. The benefits of the GreenStep Guide are outlined above. GreenStep practice tests provide immediate feedback, with detailed explanations, offering insight into why an answer is correct. The project experience component will further familiarize you with the intents and processes behind the most common LEED credits. These are credits that you will find in almost any LEED project.

Repeat the process of reading the GreenStep study guide and taking practice tests over and over until you're scoring 100%.

And if you have any questions at all while you're studying, post a question here and we'll get right back to you.

Good luck!


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