Strategy for Commerce & Accountancy Optional for UPSC

Commerce and Accountancy is one of the optional subjects the UPSC offers for the civil services mains examination. It is not as popular as subjects like public administration and geography, but there have been many candidates who have cleared the IAS exam with distinction because of their high marks in the commerce optional. In this article, you can read all about the commerce and accountancy optional in the IAS mains exam – tips for success, syllabus, books to refer and more.

How many take Commerce and Accountancy optional?

As per the latest available data from the UPSC, 152 candidates had opted for the commerce optional in the 2015 civil services exam. Out of this number, 21 candidates cleared the exam giving this subject a success rate of 13.8%. The following table shows the number of people who had taken the UPSC exam with the commerce optional and the number of people who cleared it.

Success rate of Commerce Optional (2010 – 2015)

Year No. of candidates appeared No. of candidates cleared Success Rate (%)
2015 152 21 13.8
2014 214 22 10.3
2013 200 15 7.5
2012 188 28 14.9
2011 232 16 6.9
2010 356 26 7.3

As you can see from the above table, the number of people who take up the commerce and accountancy optional hovers around the 200 mark on an average. Take a look at the next table, which gives the names of a few toppers with the commerce optional.

IAS toppers with commerce optional

Name Year Rank
Shivani Goyal 2017 15
Siddharth Jain 2017 11
Sanket Agrawal 2017 257
Gaurav Garg 2017 315
Prashant Raj Shukla 2016 64
Sourav Jain 2016 161
Aayush Garg 2013 63
Raj Karan Agarwal 2013 474

Pros and Cons of Commerce and Accountancy Optional

Commerce and Accountancy is a technical subject, much like the core science subjects and as such, only candidates with a background in commerce are advised to take this up for the IAS mains exam. Students who have done their B.Com, M.Com, BBA, MBA, or CA can take this subject as their optional, particularly if they are comfortable with the subject and genuinely enjoy reading it. Being a technical subject, it is generally considered scoring. However, there are also drawbacks to taking this subject like the minimal overlap it has with the General Studies papers when compared to subjects like history, geography, political science, pub ad, etc. Let us analyse the pros and cons of the commerce optional here.

Pros of Commerce and Accountancy Optional

  • It is a technical subject and so is scoring. There are numericals worth about 150 marks every year and this makes it scoring, particularly for students with a sound base in this subject. So, if you cover the syllabus very well, you can easily score up to 250 marks.
  • Large parts of the syllabus for this optional is static. There is not much linkage with current affairs. Due to this, many of the questions are straight-forward and repeated.
  • Another advantage of a technical subject is the lack of subjective interpretation by the examiner. This reduced unpredictability in estimating your performance.
  • You will face far less competition with this optional unlike geography, pub ad, etc.
  • There is abundant study material available for this optional.

Cons of Commerce and Accountancy Optional

  • The syllabus for the commerce optional is lengthy and requires time for a comprehensive coverage.
  • You need a high level of accuracy and competence if you wish to score marks in the numericals. As much as they are easy to score marks, unless done accurately, you can very well easily lose marks in the numerical problems. The numericals asked by the UPSC are a bit unpredictable too.
  • This subject requires a good amount of reading and practice. You also need to integrate study material from various sources for both papers.
  • There is very little overlap with the general studies papers.

UPSC Commerce and Accountancy optional syllabus

Let us take a look at the syllabus for Commerce and Accountancy for the UPSC mains exam.

There are two optional papers in the UPSC exam pattern. Both the papers are for a total of 250 marks making the total optional marks to 500.

Download the Commerce and Accountancy syllabus PDF.

Commerce Optional Strategy

General tips for UPSC maths optional:

  • The most important aspect of your preparation is solving previous year UPSC question papers. This will give you an idea of the most important areas and also give you answer writing practice. Approximately, 25 – 30% questions are repeated.
  • While answering questions, understand what is asked and answer accordingly.
  • It is important to present the answer in a systematic manner. Divide the answer into subheadings and parts. Presentation is very important and is a tool to make your answers stand out from the crowd.
  • Include relevant diagrams, flowcharts and tables in your answers wherever necessary.
  • If the question concerns any problem, give recommendations at the conclusion of the answer.
  • Don’t give your answers a generic feel, substantiate them with any relevant thinkers or theories.
  • In case the question is about a particular theory, always start with the assumptions to that theory. Then, explain the theory and finally, give practical examples to it. This is true for both cost accounting and financial management.
  • Practice practical questions regularly. Check the previous year papers for repeated questions and practice them sincerely.
  • Make short notes for topics that are frequently repeated in the exam. For this, go through the past question papers and make short notes for questions, especially 10 markers. For instance, questions on accounting standards are generally repeated, so it would be prudent if you make ready notes for it.
  • It is important to enrol in any good test series since this will give you good time management and answer writing practice.

Commerce paper I strategy

In this paper, there are basically two kinds of questions – theory and practical.

  • Financing Accounting – You have to read ‘Corporate Accounting’ by JR Monga. This will help in both theory and practical questions. There are many questions which come directly from this book. Accounting standards – For this section, you can refer to Praveen Sharma notes on the topic. For the last ten years, there have been no practical question asked from this section. You can focus only on theory here.

    Example questions:
    Q. Explain the concept and nature of accounting standards. Why are these needed? (10 marks, 2018)
    Q. State the Indian Accounting Standards regarding Foreign Exchange Transaction. (10 marks, 2017)
    Q. Explain, in brief, the main provisions of Indian Accounting Standards regarding cash flow statement. (10 marks, 2018)


  • Cost Accounting – For this section, you can refer to ‘Cost Accounting’ by Maheshwari and Mittal (select chapters only).

    Example questions:
    Q. A company manufacturing two products furnishes the following data for a year:


Product Annual output (units) Total machine hours Total no. of purchase orders Total no. of set-ups
A 5000 20000 160 20
B 60000 120000 384 44

The annual overheads are as under:
Volume related activity costs: Rs.550000
Set-up related costs: Rs.820000
Purchase related costs: Rs.618000

You are required to calculate the cost per unit of each product ‘A’ and ‘B’ based on:
(i) Traditional method of charging overheads
(ii) Activity based costing methods                                 (15 marks, 2017)


  • Taxation – There are two parts to this – direct taxation and indirect taxation. For direct taxes, you can read the book for CA Inter by Girish Ahuja. This is a very important book and if you study this thoroughly, you can answer any question on income tax. For indirect taxation also, you can read the book by Girish Ahuja. In this section, do only the theory part.

    Example questions:
    Q. In what way does the liability of tax of a “not ordinarily resident” person differ from that of a “resident” person under the Income Tax Act? (10 marks, 2018)
    Q. “Residential status has its effect on computation of taxable income under the Income Tax Act, 1961.” Discuss. (15 marks, 2017)
    Q. Write a note on ‘Service Tax’. (10 marks, 2017)


  • Auditing – For this section, you can read the book for CA Final by Surbhi Bansal.

    Example questions:
    Q. Explain the major provisions of tax audit for claiming deduction under section 35 D and 35 E. (10 marks, 2018)
    Q. Verification of advances is an important function of an auditor of a Bank. (10 marks, 2017)



  • Financial Management – This is a vast topic and many sources are recommended for it. Nevertheless, you can read RP Rustagi for this section. In fact, it is better if you study this one book thoroughly rather than read multiple books and get confused.

    Example questions:
    Q. Critically examine the relationship between the key financial decisions, return, risk and market value. (10 marks, 2018)
    Q. Discuss the Risk-Return Trade-off in financial decisions. (10 marks, 2017)


Commerce paper II strategy

In this paper, there is only theory.

  • Organisation Theory & Behaviour – For this section, the best book to read is ‘Organisation Theory and Behaviour’ by TN Chhabra and BP Singh. This book is sufficient, but if want to add a little something extra to your answers, you may read the book on OB by Robbins.

    Example questions:
    Q. Explain the following: (a) Benchmarking (b) Organisational Re-engineering (c) Halo Effect (d) Adaptive Coping Cycle (e) Red-Tapism  (10X5 marks, 2018)
    Q. What is the nature of ‘selfs’ in the Johari Window? What implications does each have for interpersonal conflict? (10 marks, 2018)
    Q. Explain the following: (a) Management by exception (b) Principle of accountability (c) Empowered organisation (d) Trait theory (e) Cynical puppeteering of people (10X5 marks, 2017)
    Q. The theories of motivation are not competitive to each other, their inter-relationship needs an understanding for integrating them. Suggest steps for the same. (20 marks, 2017)


  • Human Resource Management – The basic book required here is ‘Human Resource Management’ by CB Gupta. This book will have to be covered in its entirety.

    Example questions:
    Q. How is performance management system different from performance appraisal system? Also explain how customised performance appraisals can be used as a strategic tool for performance management system. (20 marks, 2018)
    Q. Explain the following:
    (i) 3600 feedback (10 marks, 2017)
    (ii) Merit rating vs. Job rating (10 marks, 2017)



  • Industrial Relations – You can refer to ‘Industrial Relations’ by TN Chhabra and RK Suri.

    Example questions:
    Q. Discuss the objectives and functions of International Labour Organisation (ILO). Also critically examine its pattern of structure and contribution in the field of Indian labour market. (20 marks, 2018)
    Q. Explain: International Labour Organisation (ILO) (10 marks, 2017)


Commerce and Accountancy optional books for UPSC Mains

Paper I Booklist

  1. Corporate Accounting by JR Monga
  2. Cost Accounting by Maheshwari and Mittal
  3. Fundamentals of Financial Management by RP Rustagi
  4. Accounting Standards by DS Rawat
  5. Student’s Guide to Auditing – Aruna Jha

Paper II Booklist

  1. Organisation Theory and Behaviour by TN Chhabra and BP Singh
  2. Human Resource Management by CB Gupta
  3. Industrial Relations by TN Chhabra and RK Suri
  4. Organisation Behaviour by LM Prasad
  5. Organizational Behavior by Stephen P. Robbins

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