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  80+ Commonly Confused Concepts for the PMP and CAPM Certification Exams

Commonly confused concepts for PMP and CAPM Certification Recently I started a discussion in PMP Cert Online Study Group on the topic - Commonly Confused Concepts (for the PMP and CAPM Certification Exams). The topic resonated really well with forum members and within couple days, we had 75 items on the list. In this post, I'm sharing that list with you. The list is meant to serve as a "checklist" for PMP and CAPM aspirants.

I realize that not every item on the list would be confusing to every one. Therefore, I have set up a survey for you to vote for the items that you find most confusing. The result of the survey would serve as a guideline for those preparing for the exam.

Many of the concepts have been explained on this blog previously and I've linked the items to the respective posts. Answers to many others can be found in the PMBOK Guide itself. Regarding the remaining items, I'll address the ones which receive a significant number of votes. You can also expect to see many of these items on BrainBOK in the form of sample questions and flashcards.

If you are preparing for the PMP or CAPM exam, my humble advice to you is to make sure that you understand these concepts well, before you go for the exam.

Which is the most confusing concepts to you for PMP/CAPM?

Here’s the list of commonly confused concepts:

UPDATE: All the items listed below, plus many more, are now covered in BrainBOK Flashcards. BrainBOK can help you save weeks of preparation time, and make your preparation more enjoyable, efficient and effective.

  1. Accepted Deliverable vs Validated Deliverable
  2. Accountability vs Responsibility
  3. Accuracy vs Precision
  4. Activity vs Work Package
  5. Administrative Closure vs Contract Closure
  6. Analogous Estimating vs Parametric Estimating
  7. Authority vs Power
  8. Budget vs Estimate
  9. Business Partner vs Seller
  10. Business Risk vs Insurable or Pure Risk
  11. Change Control vs Configuration Control
  12. Change Control vs Perform Integrated Change Control
  13. Close Phase vs Close Project
  14. Common Cause vs Special Cause
  15. Concurrent Engineering vs Fast Tracking
  16. Contingency Reserve vs Management Reserve
  17. Control Account vs Code of Account
  18. Control Account vs Planning Package
  19. Control Account vs Work Package
  20. Control Limit vs Specification Limit
  21. Control Scope vs Verify Scope
  22. Corrective Action vs Defect Repair
  23. Corrective Action vs Preventive Action
  24. Cost Baseline vs Cost Budget
  25. Cost Plus Fixed Fee (CPFF) vs Firm Fixed Price (FFP) Contract
  26. Cost Plus Incentive Fee (CPIF) vs Fixed Price Incentive Fee (FPIF) Contract
  27. Cost-Benefit Ratio vs Benefit-Cost Ratio
  28. Crashing vs Fast tracking
  29. Create Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) vs Decomposition
  30. Critical Path Method vs Critical Chain Method
  31. Discrete Effort vs Apportioned Effort vs Level of Effort
  32. Distribute Information vs Report Performance
  33. Duration vs Effort
  34. Earned Value vs Planned Value
  35. Earned Value vs Actual Cost
  36. Earned Value Management (EVM) vs Expected Monetary Value (EMV)
  37. Enhance vs Exploit
  38. Estimate at Completion (EAC) vs Estimate to Complete (ETC)
  39. Fallback Plan vs Workaround
  40. Forward Pass vs Backward Pass
  41. Free Float vs Total Float
  42. Functional Organization vs Projectized Organization
  43. Grade vs Quality
  44. Histogram vs Pareto Chart
  45. Known Unknown vs Unknown Unknown
  46. Lead vs Lag
  47. Logical Relationship vs Precedence Relationship
  48. Master Schedule vs Milestone Schedule
  49. Negative Risk or Threat vs Positive Risk or Opportunity
  50. Perform Quality Assurance vs Perform Quality Control
  51. Perform Quality Control vs Verify Scope
  52. Personal Power vs Positional Power
  53. Product vs Deliverable
  54. Product vs Result
  55. Product Scope vs Requirements
  56. Progressive Elaboration vs Rolling Wave Planning
  57. Project Buffer vs Feeding Buffer
  58. Project Calendar vs Resource Calendar
  59. Project Coordinator vs Project Expediter
  60. Project Life Cycle vs Product Life Cycle
  61. Project Management Plan vs Project Documents
  62. Project Management Process Group vs Knowledge Area
  63. Project Management Process Group vs Project Phase
  64. Project Model vs Schedule Model
  65. Project Performance Appraisal vs Team Performance Assessment
  66. Project Quality vs Product Quality
  67. Project Schedule vs Schedule Model
  68. Project Scope Statement vs Statement of Work
  69. Project Scope vs Product Scope
  70. Project Team vs Project Management Team
  71. Qualitative Risk Analysis vs Quantitative Risk Analysis
  72. RACI vs RAM
  73. Residual Risk vs Secondary Risk
  74. Resource Leveling vs Resource Loading
  75. Resource Leveling vs Resource Smoothing
  76. Risk Threshold vs Risk Tolerance
  77. Role vs Responsibility
  78. Stakeholder vs Shareholder
  79. Subproject vs Subnetwork
  80. Tool vs Technique
  81. Validation vs Verification
  82. Value Analysis vs System Analysis
  83. Work Performance Information vs Performance Reports
  84. Work Performance Information vs Work Performance Measurements
I hope I've not left you more confused than what you were before reading this post :) If you have other items that you would like to see on the list, post them in the comments section below.

Special thanks to everyone who contributed to this list. I could not have done it alone. It is an example of great teamwork.

Last Update:
Image credit: Flickr / a God's Child


  1. Hello Harwinder,

    I cleared PMP yesterday and just wanted to let you know that your insightful , simple and easy to understand articles, helped me a lot with my preparations and Thanks a ton!!

    just wanted to share this website that was quite close to the real exam in terms of the kinda questions and situation

    Thanks Again!!!

  2. Hello Shankar,

    Congratulations ! I'm glad to be of help. Share your experience on the lessons learned page when you get a chance.

    Enjoy your moment.


  3. Dear Sir,

    Thanks. Your posts are very useful.I have a question.

    How the duration is calculated in Critical chain method? With CPM we use single point (or 3 point with mean value); PERT we use 3 point (weighted average) but how about in critical chain?

    Thank you very much for keeping a great job for all of us.

  4. I was going through the list of most confusing concepts for PMP exam and found the link to item #14.common cause vs. special cause broken. It points to Accuracy vs. precision. Please fix.
    I also want to thank you for this wonderful post. It really helps clear some concepts.

  5. Nice blog i want know more about PMP Certification guide me

  6. Dear Harwinder,

    I have six years are experience in IT working as a Team Lead. I don’t have any experience in Project Management.

    I am planning to take PMP certification with proper training, but I am not confident.

    Please guide me.


  7. Hello Manju,

    Thanks for writing in. I'm not sure what kind of experience you have as a Team Lead. If you are not quite confident, you might want to go for CAPM first.

    P.S.: Your post is not under the right topic. So, I'm going to delete it after about a week.


  8. This article really helped to disabuse me of a few misapprehensions I was laboring under. Thanks for that, and we'll see what else I can learn here!

    1. Juwann,

      Glad to hear that.

      As I mentioned above, the description for these 80 pair of terms plus many more are now available in BrainBOK.

      Best regards.

  9. Dear Harwinder,

    Today I cleared PMP exam. What a day it was !!!
    The study materials you have in this site helped me lot to achieve this big success. I really recommend that all PMP aspirants MUST visit this resource site for more understanding.

  10. Dear all,

    There are so many of the the list above that does not have a hyperlink, am I the only one who see this or its for everyone? There are few terms that I need to know but there is no link to click for them, please suggest!

    Thank you
    Ramandeep Singh

    1. Hi Ramandeep,

      Not all the items have a hyperlink. BrainBOK flashcards contain explanation for all these items and more.


  11. Hi,
    This is the greatest topic have ever read by now, but I wonder how most of the subjects do not have a hyperlink allowing us to read the subject? Please help me in that regard.

    1. Thanks Bahman for your comment. I do not have publicly available links for the topics that are missing the hyperlinks. But each of those topics (and about 25 more) are covered in BrainBOK Flashcards, and Sample Exams.


Please do not include URLs (links) in your comments as any comment with links would be deleted automatically.

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