Expert Advice on Green Buildings

LEED AP Exam: Harder Than Passing the Bar?

To gain an edge in the growing field of environmental sustainability and property law, and to better assist the increasingly large number of corporate clients with high profile sustainability policies, attorneys of all types are increasingly seeking to become LEED Accredited Professionals, or LEED APs. Indeed, with green building quickly becoming written into law across the United States, real estate attorneys, investors, construction and operations professionals are finding that understanding green building may be critical to ensuring that client sustainability goals are achieved.

One time fat and happy green law pioneers who had carved out niche practices serving eco-focused clients, are now finding themselves under pressure to compete and stay current. Understanding the nuances of sustainability law requires constant study as more law firms add "LEED AP" to their credentials and launch practice groups focused on green businesses. While the sustainability industry has been relatively recession-proof, lawyers are preparing themselves for when the real estate industry returns to its former strength, with green building expected to become the norm.

A recent study by McGraw-Hill forecasts that the entire green building market (both residential and commercial) may more than double from approximately $36-$49 billion to $96-$140 billion by 2013. In percentage terms, when looking solely at the commercial and institutional real estate development markets, the green building market is projected to grow from it's current 10-12% of the market to 20-25%.

According to noted green building professional Jerry Yudelson, the green building industry is expected to grow at a rate of over sixty percent (60%) in 2009 on a cumulative basis. This is due to many factors, not the least of which is President Barack Obama's strong focus on green jobs, energy efficiency, new green technologies and renewable energy. Green building scholars expect the trend to last at least as long as President Obama's first term, and hopefully, they say, through 2017. Within the next two years, President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package is touting that it will create or save about 3.5 million jobs in America. Of the $787 billion, approximately $83 billion is targeted for green jobs, or jobs that are a byproduct of the U.S.' renewed focus on energy independence. Energy independence will help us live in more energy efficient ways that will save money, reduce waste and benefit the bottom line for years to come.

Professionals seeking LEED Accreditation are required to pass an examination that tests a deep understanding of the green building practices and principles put in place by the United States Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. The LEED AP exam was launched in 2001 to recognize, through accreditation, individuals’ understanding of green building practices and principles and a high level of familiarity with LEED requirements.

By most accounts, the exam is a bear. Some attorneys compare its rigor with the experience of studying for the bar exam. Many aspiring LEED APs find themselves passing the exam only after months of study and strategies for passing the exam vary widely. Formal online preparation courses exist which allow a candidate to follow his or her own schedule for study, while offline LEED Exam Prep courses are offered that require a significant commitment of time and more money. Online LEED study guides and flash cards also extremely useful, as are online LEED Practice Exams.

While newly minted LEED APs report that the test requires focus on things they have learned in their practice, as well as memorization of the entire LEED building certification process, they report that the biggest impediment was finding the time to study. Indeed, this may serve to limit the number of lawyers seeking the LEED AP credential.

The amount of LEED-related work may now be relatively small, but most lawyers view the accreditation as a long-term investment.

Expert Advice and Comments

Oh please...comparing the

Oh please...comparing the LEED AP exam to the bar? Give me a break. Let's face it. The LEED AP exam is memorization for much of it and the rest is understanding the relationships between the sections etc. It is simply ridiculous to think that a LEED AP, especially a newly minted one, has the knowledge and expertise to consult on anything other than LEED point totals.

Consumers and "Green" Professionals alike need to understand that all the LEED AP designation tells you about that person is that they know the LEED program really well. Does it mean that they know building pressures, GSHP cop numbers, HVAC design, durability solutions, or any of the myriad of things a true high-performance residential (or commercial) consultant needs to know? No!!

The initials after a name are nice, but cannot replace good, old-fashioned experience.

I couldn’t agree more. I work

I couldn’t agree more. I work as an environmental engineer on building systems and the LEED AP exam is indeed straight memorization. Does it separate the boys from the men? Kind of, sort of, for the most part. My opinion is that anyone can pass the LEED exam (engineers, architects, contractors, developers, etc.) because they know ABOUT building systems, but do they actually know HOW to design the systems? NO!!

Plenty of my friends, including myself, became LEED AP’s while still in college because we were good test takers. Would you consider a sophomore or junior in college to have a “deep understanding of the green building practices and principles put in place by the USGBC”? Probably not. With V3 out I am glad to see they are keeping the AP certification level more prestigious as you need direct involvement on a LEED project to even sit in on the exam. Overall I think this is a good system, but there is more distance to go to keep the AP certification respectable.

While I've neither studied

While I've neither studied for nor taken the LEED AP exam I know plenty who have. Simply the (alarming) proliferation of folks tacking LEED AP on their most recently-printed business cards should be a clue that the exam is not terrifically challenging.
From my experience with many folks who are proud LEED APs, my suspicion is that the exam is also not sufficiently challenging to weed out those who have no business hanging out their "green building expert" shingle. But that may not even be the point.
Passing an exam will does not a "green bulding expert" make. As JJones notes, a successful test taker understands how to navigate through a program upon which the test is based. That is very much different than understanding how buildings work.

The growing number "green professional" certifications available has been accompanied by rush to attain those certificaitons. Somewhere in all that money being exchanged for those certifications must be the "green" everyone is so excited about these days.

LEED AP Harder Than Passing the Bar?

No Way!

I will admit that preparing for the LEED AP exam was intense, it in no way compared to amount of studying, prepping and memorizing necessary for passing the Bar. That was an experience I will never forget. However, I did prepare for the LEED AP along the same lines of preparing for one of my Bar subjects, which included reading and re-reading the guidance document, making up my own outlines, my own flash cards, and finishing by concentrating on practice exams. I highly recommend the Green Exam Prep practice exams. I took more than one exam at a time, to desensitize myself from the "multiple choice experience" and increase my test taking time. I set it up so that my wrong answers were flagged immediately with the explanations. I read over my wrong answers many times, and gradually improved my scores. The test itself was a little more difficult than the practice exams, but if you follow the program, you can pass the first time. For anyone taking this exam, good luck!!


"From my experience with many folks who are proud LEED APs, my suspicion is that the exam is also not sufficiently challenging to weed out those who have no business hanging out their "green building expert" shingle"

prefaced by:

"While I've neither studied for nor taken the LEED AP exam I know plenty who have."

I guess this is the kind of experience one is speaking of... Completely ignorant to any actual knowledge, yet speaking critically of those who have undergone the process and succeeded with an emphasis on their lack of experience.

Pot calling the kettle green?


I don't need to take LEED to

I don't need to take LEED to know that it's NO WHERE near as hard or taxing as a state bar exam.


leed exam is a joke compared to bar:

let's see

leed - 2 hours, 80 questions

bar exam - day 1, 6-7 hours, 6-8 essays (depending upon state), and 90 minute multi-state performance exam (take a mock case file, analyze facts and mock case law, and draft whatever document it tells you to).

Day 2, 6 hours, 200 questions multiple choice. no regurgitation either. analyze facts and apply law. key distinction here - ANALYZE. not pure regurgitation.

Day 3(for a lot of students), repeat essay exam portion for an additional state. same 6 hour 7-8 essays on applicable state law.

Oh and let' not forget the 90 minute, 60 question multi-state ethics exam (must be taken after second year law school or after bar).

LEED AP Harder Than Passing the Bar?

I think not...

But on the other hand, and estimated 30% pass rate shows it is weeding out some of the people who dont have a clue.

The amount of LEED-related

The amount of LEED-related work may now be relatively small, but most lawyers view the accreditation as a long-term investment.

LEED v. Bar exam

I'm an attorney and real estate broker who just took and passed the LEED AP exam. Having taken two different state bar exams, the LEED AP exam is not even in the same ballpark of difficulty as a bar exam. I would say, however, the LEED AP exam is not to be taken lightly and does require dedicated study to master the material. In my experience, the LEED AP exam is significantly harder than a real estate broker exam, for example.

My decision to obtain the LEED accreditation was based on a desire to be better informed and up-to-date with what is going on the green building industry and gain a better understanding of green building standards. I don't believe the accreditation, by itself, makes anyone (myself included) a green building expert. I believe it does, however, provide a good knowledge base and enhanced industry credibility.

With the new LEED 3.0 standards and accreditation experience/educational prerequisites, those receiving the new accreditation(s) will probably be of a much higher caliber than those who received accreditation under the v2.2 and earlier standards (which is probably exactly what USGBC is trying to achieve).

Took the LEED AP EB back in

Took the LEED AP EB back in November 2007, failed, and was extremely intimidated.

Began studying for NCv2.2 back in April. Spent roughly 3 weeks half-assing studying...reading the book, doing flashcards, checking my email, surfing the web, etc. Slowly learning and memorizing.

In the last week or 2 weeks before my exam I tackled practice exams. Practice exam guidelines said I needed 80-85% to be confident...I barely broke that on the 2nd time around taking each exam. First go-rounds netted me about 58-60%.

Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck. Lost a lot of sleep during the week before my test. Lost weight too!!

Let go of everything, took the test last Saturday and got 190 out of 200 points...95%.

Seriously, the questions WERE A JOKE.

--Dan, ***LEED AP***.

Before we hear what a genius

Before we hear what a genius you are Dan...190 out of 200 is actually 86.6% since the test gives you 125 points just for showing up.


The LEED exam is fairly demanding and one should not enter into it lightly if they don't want to waste their time and money. To compare it to the Bar is not really fair as they are completely different things. I for one would not compare it to the ARE, which is my backgrouond. The LEED exam, like many others, is meant to test your fundamental understanding of the subject matter, thats all. What really weeds out those that probably dont belong in other fields is the required education and experience that is required BEFORE you are eligible to sit for the test. So lets all grow up here, accept the test for what it is and go forward with our careers.

rpfjr's picture

125 Points... Just for Showing Up?

Hi Super Fred,

That's interesting... We've never heard that about the 125 points just for showing up to take the LEED AP exam. Could you elaborate on that?

Thanks again,

Rob is the founder of

RE: 125 points for just showing up....

Exactly as 'Super Fred' explained....the way the scoring is adjusted the scoring ranges from a minimum of 125 to 200 points.....i.e. if you miss every single question you get a score of 125.....'JUST FOR SHOWING UP....'


Well I am not an ESQ but I am a LEED AP
The point here is that the exam is tougher then one would think. The LEED rating system is a step in the right direction for our world. Hell we could use a lot less Lawyers and a few more LEED AP's. When is the time any of you saw an attorney jump into the dumpster to see what is being trashed at the site For that matter I never even see an attorney at a job site at all.
Mr. Green AIA, LEED AP

Passing the bar is not that

Passing the bar is not that easy. I took board exam twice and luckily i passed it. Taking that exam makes your mind crumble, you really to study hard.