90+ 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. Attribute Sampling vs Variable Sampling
  8. Audit vs Inspection
  9. Authority vs Power
  10. Budget vs Estimate
  11. Business Partner vs Seller
  12. Business Risk vs Insurable or Pure Risk
  13. Change Control vs Configuration Control
  14. Change Control vs Perform Integrated Change Control
  15. Close Phase vs Close Project
  16. Common Cause vs Special Cause
  17. Concurrent Engineering vs Fast Tracking
  18. Contingency Reserve vs Management Reserve
  19. Control Account vs Code of Account
  20. Control Account vs Planning Package
  21. Control Account vs Work Package
  22. Control Limit vs Specification Limit
  23. Control Scope vs Validate Scope
  24. Corrective Action vs Defect Repair
  25. Corrective Action vs Preventive Action
  26. Cost Baseline vs Cost Budget
  27. Cost Plus Fixed Fee (CPFF) vs Firm Fixed Price (FFP) Contract
  28. Cost Plus Incentive Fee (CPIF) vs Fixed Price Incentive Fee (FPIF) Contract
  29. Cost-Benefit Ratio vs Benefit-Cost Ratio
  30. Crashing vs Fast tracking
  31. Create Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) vs Decomposition
  32. Critical Path Method vs Critical Chain Method
  33. Direct Costs vs Indirect Costs
  34. Discrete Effort vs Apportioned Effort vs Level of Effort
  35. Distribute Information vs Report Performance
  36. Duration vs Effort
  37. Duration vs Elapsed Time: Elapsed time includes non-working days whereas duration does not include non-working days.
  38. Earned Value vs Planned Value
  39. Earned Value vs Actual Cost
  40. Earned Value Management (EVM) vs Expected Monetary Value (EMV)
  41. Enhance vs Exploit
  42. Enterprise Environmental Factors (EEFs) vs Organizational Process Assets (OPAs)
  43. Estimate at Completion (EAC) vs Estimate to Complete (ETC)
  44. Fallback Plan vs Workaround
  45. Forward Pass vs Backward Pass
  46. Free Float vs Total Float
  47. Functional Organization vs Projectized Organization
  48. Gold Plating vs Scope Creep
  49. Grade vs Quality
  50. Histogram vs Pareto Chart
  51. Known Unknown vs Unknown Unknown
  52. Lead vs Lag
  53. Logical Relationship vs Precedence Relationship
  54. Master Schedule vs Milestone Schedule
  55. Negative Risk or Threat vs Positive Risk or Opportunity
  56. Personal Power vs Positional Power
  57. Product vs Deliverable
  58. Product vs Result
  59. Product Scope vs Requirements
  60. Progressive Elaboration vs Rolling Wave Planning
  61. Project Buffer vs Feeding Buffer
  62. Project Calendar vs Resource Calendar
  63. Project Coordinator vs Project Expediter
  64. Project Life Cycle vs Product Life Cycle
  65. Project Management Plan vs Project Documents
  66. Project Management Process Group vs Knowledge Area
  67. Project Management Process Group vs Project Phase
  68. Project Performance Appraisal vs Team Performance Assessment
  69. Project Quality vs Product Quality
  70. Project Schedule vs Schedule Baseline
  71. Project Schedule vs Schedule Model
  72. Project Scope Statement vs Statement of Work
  73. Project Scope vs Product Scope
  74. Project Team vs Project Management Team
  75. Qualitative Risk Analysis vs Quantitative Risk Analysis
  76. Quality Assurance vs Quality Control
  77. Control Quality vs Validate Scope
  78. RACI vs RAM
  79. Residual Risk vs Secondary Risk
  80. Resource Leveling vs Resource Loading
  81. Resource Leveling vs Resource Smoothing
  82. Risk Threshold vs Risk Tolerance
  83. Role vs Responsibility
  84. Schedule Performance Index (SPI) vs Cost Performance Index (CPI)
  85. Stakeholder vs Shareholder
  86. Subproject vs Subnetwork
  87. Tool vs Technique
  88. Verification vs Validation
  89. Value Analysis vs System Analysis
  90. Work Performance Information vs Performance Reports
  91. 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.