Preparing for LEED v3

Thu, 2009-09-24 01:11

Hi everyone, this is Chris from Everblue. I was Chaz’s instructor a few months back. I’d like to answer two questions that hopefully anyone interested in taking new exams likely has:

1) What is v3 LEED all about?
2) How do I prepare for the test?

First question. Unlike the old v2.2 exams, the v3 exams are broken into two tiers. The Tier I exam is called the LEED Green Associate exam. After passing that exam, you will be a LEED Green Associate. The GA test was available in the U.S. starting May 18. 

Most of the confusion about all of the exams stems from the USGBC’s decision to phase out the v2.2 exam over a three month period (April 1 - June 30) while simultaneously offering the newer version of their test in the middle of that time frame (Green Associate, May 18).

Under the new standard, the Tier II credential is called LEED AP+ and there are five specialty exams that a person can choose from. You only need to pass one of the exams to become a LEED AP+. Those five exams will become available according to this timeline:

May 18 - LEED Existing Buildings Operations & Maintenance
June 12 - LEED Homes
September - LEED Building Design & Construction (the new LEED NC)
September - LEED Interior Design and Construction (the new LEED CI)
2010 - LEED Neighborhood Development

To quickly address the question about exam difficulty, let me be the first to say that the jury is still out as not many people have taken the test yet. Somewhere behind the scenes GBCI has their target percentages and they’ve simply weighted the tests so that only a certain number of people who take the exam will pass.

From what I have seen of the new Green Associate exam, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that I would say that the individual test questions are somewhat easier on the GA exam than they were under LEED NC v2.2. There is much less useless memorization involved (ie. no more percentages, but still some references). There has also been a move away from some of the trickery that was much more common the the old exams.

The bad news is that you probably need to get more questions correct to pass the GA exam. Under LEED NC you could reasonably expect to pass if you got 60-65% of the questions correct. I only have limited data to work with so far because none of my students have failed the exam yet, but my best guess is that you need to get about 80% of the questions correct in order to pass. So, while the individual questions may be somewhat easier, the test is still weighted so that only a certain number of people will pass. My guess is that GBCI only wants 33-50% of test takers to pass the GA exam.

Most people on this forum should not be interested in the LEED AP+ exams yet as they should pass the GA test first before they worry about Tier II, but from what I have seen it will be a significantly harder exam than the old LEED NC v2.2. Again, the good news is that they give you a calculator. The bad news is that they expect you to use that calculator with much more detailed calculations. It all depends on how they weight the exam, but my sense is that you have to go into that test knowing the material to a much greater depth than you could get away with under LEED NC v2.2.

The reason why the USGBC/GBCI have moved in this direction is because they want a certain type of individual to pass. Less memorization favors older test takers with more practical experience rather than people who are good at memorizing. More calculations and conceptual questions tests a person’s understanding of the material. Under the told test, plenty of people could pass the test because they knew how to take a test. What the USGBC ended up with were lots of people walking around with LEED AP titles who actually knew shockingly little about LEED.

Although it’s still early, the new structure makes more sense than the old “one size fits all” LEED AP or nothing system. If things had always been the way that they are now, no one would care. However, there is a certain sense of unfairness that many students have that they now have to take two 2 hour tests that are arguably harder than the old 2 hour test that was available until just recently. I don’t disagree. There is probably a better way the USGBC could have made this happen, but they didn’t go that route so this is how things will be.

I’m also willing to bet that 80+% of people who take the Green Associate exam will never bother to go on and take a LEED AP+ exam. The reason for that is the same reason why the old one size fits all system didn’t any make sense. Somewhere north of 100,000 people became LEED APs under the old system. Of those, probably less than 10,000 are actively using the title they’ve earned. Of the many students I’ve taught, most want the title so that they can show that they can “walk the walk” with LEED and won’t screw something up on a LEED project if someone asks them to do it. Very few plan on being a project administrator, project LEED AP, or major decision maker on a project. The Green Associate title is perfect for those individuals. For everyone else, the LEED AP+ exam is what you’ll end up taking.

Everblue FAQs

Now. Onto the second question: How do I prepare for the test? Here is a general summary of the kinds of study materials that are out there:

1) Flash cards
2) Online practice tests
3) Online classes
4) Online live classes
5) Live classes/seminars
6) Study guides
7) MP3’s

Without getting into specific products offered by specific companies, I’d like to give everyone an honest assessment of the pros and cons of each of those - including live classes, which is obviously what I do for Everblue. (Spoiler alert: They’re not for everyone).

Flash Cards: Of all of the items listed above. I think that these are of the least value. If the purpose of a flash card is to help you memorize material, then you are better off creating your own flash card. Sure, you can buy someone else’s, but ultimately you are looking at that person’s typing instead of your own. I am a firm believer that one of the fastest ways to memorize materials is to write them down. This holds true for flash cards. The connection that writing establishes in your brain accelerates the process of learning the material.

Online Practice Tests: These are a great benefit. I think the users of this forum know where to find these, but I would caution test question junkies to avoid trying to find every practice question on the internet and doing them all. You are much better off taking 300 questions and understanding all of them well than you are taking 1000 questions and understanding them poorly. The benefit of a practice test comes from understanding why the right answer is right and why the wrong answer is wrong. If you just take practice tests for the sake of taking practice tests, you probably aren’t taking the time to understand the lesson to be gained from each question. Once you understand the lesson, it doesn’t matter how you see that topic presented on the test as you will be prepared for it. Last, and this caution extends to anyone buying test prep products, beware of what you buy. Just because someone sells practice materials online does not mean that they are actually good materials. I have seen far more incorrect, sloppy, and inaccurate materials than I have seen good materials in the world of LEED. 

3) Online classes. I’m not the biggest fan of these for the simple reason that it’s hard to pay attention to the material for any reasonable length of time. I’ve tried to watch some online courses for unrelated topics that I was actually interested in and found myself surfing in under 5 minutes with the class playing the background (and me not paying attention). Learning about LEED is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Watching paint dry on a computer screen is even less fun. Of course, these are usually significantly cheaper than a real class, but I don’t think there are many people that find this training to be worth the money.

4) Online-live classes. These can be slightly better as there will be a live instructor on the other end of the internet to keep students engaged, but many factors can affect the quality of the training. I teach this stuff to real people and it’s tough to keep their attention. It will take an especially gifted instructor to keep everyone’s attention without being there in person. Other factors such as the quality of the instructor’s internet connection, the speed of the web server being used to host the class, and the number of students in the class can also have a significant affect on quality. These can be done right, but since I’ve not seen many live classes conducted properly I’m skeptical that the material will get any better with someone trying to do the same thing with an added barrier of a computer screen thrown into the mix. Again, cost for these is usually cheaper. For individuals with location issues this would be a better choice than an “Online anytime” course where the material is pre-recorded.

5) Live classes/Seminars. Disclaimer: I’m an instructor with Everblue. That being said, I think that a live class has the potential to give the biggest bang for your buck for most people. I say potential because there are many many garbage courses that are taught out there. Too many people think that simply because they’ve got a slideshow that they can effectively teach others about LEED. As someone that has arguably prepared more people for the LEED NC exam than just about anyone in the country, take my word for it that you should only take a class if you know its a good class. Otherwise, it can be a big waste of money. The three big things that make a good class: Instructor’s presentation skills, instructor’s understanding of LEED, and the quality of the structure of the course. More often than not most live LEED courses are missing one or more of those key ingredients. Personally, I stand by the quality of Everblue’s courses and all of our instructors, but I think Chaz’s word carries much more weight on this forum than mine ever could so I’ll defer to him on that one.

What are the benefits of taking a live class? Well, it’s at the top of the food chain in terms of test prep. With a topic as boring as LEED, having a real instructor present to keep you engaged who can immediately answer your questions as they occur to you is critical. Scheduling a class also imposes some discipline in that it forces you to show up and sit there and learn material rather than procrastinating endlessly as many people do.

There are two other very big benefits that go unaccounted for. First, I have no doubt that a live class can give you a significantly better shot at passing the exam. There is no doubt in my mind that the pass rate on the LEED exams is consistently somewhere well south of 50%. However, we regularly have entire groups that we teach where 100% of the students will pass on their first attempt. Just avoid any confusion, however, I want to be clear that not everyone passes after taking a class or our class. Some people don’t put in the time to study after class. Some don’t ever take the test because they never schedule it and procrastinate indefinitely. Some put the material aside for a long period and forget everything and then try to cram it all back in one day before the test. Some take the test before the are ready. Some think that all they have to do is memorize test questions without actually understanding them. Still, these people are a small minority. To put it another way, of everyone that I’ve ever taught, I can count on a couple of fingers the number of students that failed the exam and still didn’t think our class was worth it. Many have acknowledged that we gave them a fighting chance they likely would have never had and gone on to refer friends and colleagues.

The second benefit to taking a live class is one that almost NO ONE ever takes into account: the value of your time. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that a typical person studying on their own can put in 100-200 hours of study time. With that, they are still more likely than not to fail the test. A typical person who attends our 2 day class can expect to study around 30 hours following the class and is about 90% certain that they’ll pass. Note: my estimates for study times are very big generalizations and every individual is different, but I think most would agree they’re not too far off the mark. If you place a value on each hour of the 50-150 hours that you could save by attending a class, then the price of the course is often outweighed by the amount of time that it will save you. To put it another way, if I can save you 60 hours of your time, which is certainly not unreasonable, and if you could then go and make $10/hour during that 60 hours that I freed up then you would be able to make $600. If you could make $20/hour during that 60 hours of time you could make $1200. Hopefully the example illustrates the point that I’m trying to make. Still, most people don’t take their time into account when they begin studying for this test.

Who is a live class not right for? There are three groups of people. First, someone without the money. There’s nothing wrong with that. I know that our courses aren’t cheap, but I also know that you’re getting what you’ve paid for and no one walks away disappointed that they came. Second, someone with unlimited free time AND the discipline to use that time. This could be students (who typically place very little value on their free time) or maybe someone who is unemployed. The key here is actually having the discipline to use that free time to study. Third, someone who thinks that they won’t have to study on their own following the course. If it were that easy it wouldn’t be worth doing.

6) Study Guides. Ironically, the USGBC has not released a GA Reference Guide. They have put out a short study guide that is for sale for $35, but it only gives the most basic overview of LEED. It is good as an intro, but certainly not something that will get you to pass the exam. I think there are a few others out there but I haven’t seen them to pass judgment. None of them cost much so the risk is pretty low if you make a bad call. Likewise, as is the case with all LEED study products, I’m sure the quality of some of them is questionable at best.

7) MP3s. This is a relatively new study material, but I have heard some students who are auditory learners say that they’ve benefited from listening to MP3’s repeatedly. Personally, I’m a visual person, so I wouldn’t get much use out of them.

That’s all I’ve got. I’m sorry for going on so long, but whenever I pop on here to take a look of what’s going on I inevitably see the same questions/concerns over and over, so hopefully this explains things a little more clearly.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a link to our FAQ on our website if you had any other questions that I might have missed here:

Everblue FAQs