80+ Commonly Confused Concepts for PMP Certification

5 minute read    Updated:    Harwinder Singh

PMP Study Notes - Commonly confused concepts for PMP Certification 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.

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.

Survey of most confusing concepts for PMP/CAPM

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.

Please take the quick survey below and let me know what topics you find most confusing. You can select only one item at a time, but feel free to submit the form multiple times if you have multiple topics that you find confusing.

List of Commonly Confused Concepts for PMP and CAPM

PMP Flashcards

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

Here’s the list of commonly confused concepts:

  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. Direct Costs vs Indirect Costs
  32. Discrete Effort vs Apportioned Effort vs Level of Effort
  33. Distribute Information vs Report Performance
  34. Duration vs Effort
  35. Earned Value vs Planned Value
  36. Earned Value vs Actual Cost
  37. Earned Value Management (EVM) vs Expected Monetary Value (EMV)
  38. Enhance vs Exploit
  39. Estimate at Completion (EAC) vs Estimate to Complete (ETC)
  40. Fallback Plan vs Workaround
  41. Forward Pass vs Backward Pass
  42. Free Float vs Total Float
  43. Functional Organization vs Projectized Organization
  44. Gold Plating vs Scope Creep
  45. Grade vs Quality
  46. Histogram vs Pareto Chart
  47. Known Unknown vs Unknown Unknown
  48. Lead vs Lag
  49. Logical Relationship vs Precedence Relationship
  50. Master Schedule vs Milestone Schedule
  51. Negative Risk or Threat vs Positive Risk or Opportunity
  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 Baseline
  68. Project Schedule vs Schedule Model
  69. Project Scope Statement vs Statement of Work
  70. Project Scope vs Product Scope
  71. Project Team vs Project Management Team
  72. Qualitative Risk Analysis vs Quantitative Risk Analysis
  73. Quality Assurance vs Quality Control
  74. Quality Control vs Verify Scope
  75. RACI vs RAM
  76. Residual Risk vs Secondary Risk
  77. Resource Leveling vs Resource Loading
  78. Resource Leveling vs Resource Smoothing
  79. Risk Threshold vs Risk Tolerance
  80. Role vs Responsibility
  81. [Schedule Performance Index (SPI) vs Cost Performance Index (CPI)](/2017/08/schedule-performance-index-spi-and-cost-performance-index-cpi.html)
  82. Stakeholder vs Shareholder
  83. Subproject vs Subnetwork
  84. Tool vs Technique
  85. Validation vs Verification
  86. Value Analysis vs System Analysis
  87. Work Performance Information vs Performance Reports
  88. 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. w

Image credit: Flickr / a God’s Child

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Missing Avatar

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!!!

Missing Avatar

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.

Missing Avatar

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.

Missing Avatar

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.


Harwinder Singh Avatar

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.


Missing Avatar

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.

Harwinder Singh Avatar

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.

Tushar Avatar

Hello Harwinder,
If you make PDF file of all 80+ Commonly Confused Concepts for PMP Certification & it’s free downloadable it will be great help for us to understand from concept & exam point of view.

Harwinder Singh Avatar

Hi Tushar,

Thanks for your suggestion. I’m working on a new initiative around PMP certification where I’ll stitch all the resources together into a guide format. But it’s going to take a few months to get into a good shape. Stay tuned for more updates.