UPSC / IAS Prep: Management Optional – Nagendra Singh (AIR 120, CSE 2013)

Nagendra Singh (AIR 120, CSE 2013) is an alumnus of IIM Shillong and scored 230 marks in Management Optional. Very few people take this subject as it is considered to be ‘unmanageable’. Nagendra Singh tells his experiences here. For any queries, please contact him on his fb profile:

Note: I am merely hosting this post. Everything mentioned here has been written by Nagendra.
Nagendra’s Words

The management Optional (my score paper 1: 118, paper 2 – 112, total 230)

The syllabus is lengthy, the competitors are from IIM’s and the day UPSC decides to tweak the pattern of questions slightly; you may wonder why the hell did I ever take this subject! Yet, it works; somehow UPSC comes out with a slightly easy yet balanced paper that is very manageable and asks you to prepare very specific topics only.

The biggest advantage of management as an optional is that it’s logical as compared to humanity subjects. You’re either right or wrong, you will never face any potential injustice the likes of which is experienced in sociology, Pub Ad or Geography! If you do well, you’ll surely get decent marks.


Logical :you can guess your marks to certain degree after attempting the paper,
– Paper is predictable (you can pinpoint topics that you need to focus on!)
Less competition (so far very few people have dared to take this)
– Contrary to beliefs the papers are very easy and straightforward!

Note: those in IIM’s or just freshly out of one should definitely go for this optional (this is your best bet to clear this exam trust me!)

Even if you are from any other B school and have covered your first year books reasonably well; you should go for this optional. Non IIM students have no apparent disadvantage whatsoever in this optional!


– Impossible to cover the entire syllabus
– Paper 2 is very lengthy and managing it is a big task
– It will consume a lot of time in the first reading

There is an inherent risk with this optional due to the vast syllabus but you need to have faith on yourself as well that you’ll be able to manage it; it is after all management!

Now let us move to paper wise strategy; I would recommend all of you to go through last five year question papers from UPSC website (link is visible on home page for the same)

Paper 1

Key to success – master HR and OB topics (mandatory for good marks) and either prepare Finance or Marketing thoroughly; for all other topics you should have basic idea

Paper 1 is all theory based, the syllabus lists 6 major topics in which HR, Organizational Behavior, Finance and Marketing are the ones you need to focus on. Introduction and Accounting part you can go through once ( so far they have only asked marginal costing v/s absorption costing; budgeting techniques and inventory management). Tip – they will most likely ask about marginal/absorption costing this year (they do it every alternate year!)

The best part about paper 1 is that even in finance they ask pure theory questions like what is NPV, IRR, CAPM, leverage etc. It is so basic that even non finance experts like me could cram and answer in the paper. My strength was in HR, OB and marketing with a basic knowledge of other three topics in syllabus. You have a choice in Marketing or Finance but HR & OB is a must read for both marketing and financial experts as it makes up for 80 – 90% of section A in paper 1! (Note – I had HR as one of the specialization; so things were little smooth for me in this department!)

Honestly, if you go through previous year question papers; you’ll also be able to estimate as to which topics you would like to cover extensively. I would also suggest that you at least go through all the topics stated in the syllabus once to be secure decent marks in compulsory 10 marker questions!

Paper 2

Key to success – cover quant, Operations, Strategic management well; this paper is time consuming, you will know almost all the answers but you need to manage the time well or you’re screwed!

Paper 2 is the antithesis of paper 1! It is all application; numerical questions and case studies which make it slightly lengthy yet very scoring if you practice well! The beauty of this paper is that every year they mix extremely tough questions with easy ones; you need to watch out for easier ones Don’t get overly attached to any particular subject. Strictly attempt those questions that you feel are manageable in 3 hour window!

Case in point: 2013 paper Section A was a nightmare; Section B was a piece of cake; I first finished off 3 questions from section B in 1hr 30mins, then went on to compulsory question of section A which took me about 45 minutes and took 45 minutes for my last question! I had prepared Operations well but ended up doing the MIS case study due to lack of time!

For the case studies you need to use simple formulae and the most basic frameworks taught to us. In strategic management for example UPSC for some reason loves BCG matrix, Mckinsey framework, porter’s five why bother getting into more advanced models? Please avoid advanced models that you learned in IIMs or read somewhere, stick to the syllabus (as paper checker is a university professor who doesn’t like to be told that he knows less than you!)

In quant they frequently ask mean, median, mode, graphical method in linear programming or a basic numerical on simplex method in worst case, correlation and regression line (very basic numerical here as well); probability (maximum till bayestheorm!) and decision making (you may skip this or refer to internet documents for some basic problems), rest you can skip

In operations, I recommend you go through the syllabus well and practice previous years’ numerical questions (they are more than sufficient). So, if you are good in quant, operations and basic strategic management this paper will easily get you 120+ out of 250!

I didn’t specifically prepare MIS, Intl Busness, and Govt business relation because half of it is like GS and a basic understanding can get you through. However, again you must go through/ read all the topics stated in the syllabus once!

Tips for overall good performance in paper 1 and paper 2!

– Practice on previous year question papers frequently

– At least have a general reading of the entire syllabus; you’ll be glad you did it once (and in my opinion you only get time to do this once)

– Revise specific topics again and again, identify your strengths in both papers

– Whatever happens complete your paper, practice time management for paper 2

– Don’t use extraordinary language or models in your answer, use simple frameworks in case studies and quote the most general examples if you wish to quote one

– Whatever happens stick to the syllabus

– Be generous in using internet for topics you are not clear about; internet is the most powerful tool in this optional!

Reading Material

IGNOU booklets released by their department of management studies : these are short, sweet &the most ideal partner for this exam. I relied solely on these at times for HR, Finance, Accounting, Strategic management (actually they are the best source to cover UPSC level questions!) and international business! – do whatever it takes to get hold of these!

Topic wise books used by me are under, you can happily rely on your institute provided books/ ppts; they are also more than sufficient –
• Organisational Behavior – Robbins, judge &sanghi
• Human resource and personnel management – Ashwathappa
• Marketing – Kotler
• Financial management – ross, westerfield and jaffe
• Theory of organizational development and change – Thomas cummings (this is optional, you may only refer to IGNOU notes)
• For Quant : Complete business statistics: Aczel−Sounderpandian
• Operations Management: david collier
• Strategic Management: IIM class ppts/ Mostly IGNOU notes!
• MIS: laudon and laudon
• Intl Business: some local author book/ IGNOU
• Decision making : internet documents/ class PPts

Remember you don’t need to be master of every topic; you just need to have a broad area of study. All other things eventually come down to common sense and your good luck on that given day! Also, there is a simple test to choose whether you should take this optional or not; here’s how you can decide – just open the last two years’ question papers and read them, if you can at the current moment without any preparation feel that you can attempt 30 – 40% of the paper easily then you must not waste your time looking anywhere else!

Wish you all the best for your journey with UPSC!
Please forgive me for this long post, management is like this only, lengthy yet simple! 

Nagendra Singh
AIR 120

84 thoughts on “UPSC / IAS Prep: Management Optional – Nagendra Singh (AIR 120, CSE 2013)”

  1. Can anyone guide me books for accounting management as I am engineer and have taken management in optional …I wll apper for IAS exam in 2017 please reply…..

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