Notes on Map Reading

Grid reference

1. Always remember to read from the bottom left corner.

2. If the question ask for the four-figure grid reference or grid square of a particular building, e.g. the Hindu temple shown in Fig 1. Read the number for the easting first (from the X axis) and then the northings (from the Y axis). E.g example in Fig.1 is located in 2672

3. If the question ask for the six-figure grid reference or grid square of a particular building, e.g. the Hindu temple shown in Fig 2. Start by finding the grid square with the feature, then divide the grid square into 10 equal parts along both the northings and eastings. Place a ruler onto the bottom left corner of the feature, e.g. the Hindu temple is located at 266727. Read the number for the easting first (from the X axis) and then the northings (from the Y axis).

    To measure the direction of one point to another, draw a straight line connecting them.
  • Read the question carefully– if the question ask you the direction of B from A, then draw a + sign at A and read the direction from A.

  • Draw a straight line connecting the 2 points.
  • Draw a + sign at where you are taking the bearing from.
  • Place the protractor at the + sign with 0° facing north and then read the bearings from the point starting from 0° (north) clockwise as shown in Fig.4.
The height of a place above sea level can also be indicated by the contour lines.
Contours are imaginary lines connecting areas of the same height above sea level on a map.
The contour lines can be used to show the relief of a place such as whether the slope is gentle or steep. The spacing of the contours indicate the steepness of a slope – the closer the contours the steeper the slope and vice versa.

a) valley – associated with rivers, tend to be V-shaped and narrow in the upper course, broader in the lower course
b) plateau – elevated land with flat top and steep sides
c) escarpment – continuous line of steep slope at the edge of a ridge or plateau.
Guide to describing reliefGive the average height ( or the range of height) of the relief of the area and state the height of the highest point.

Describe the relief of the area:
(a) state whether it is mountainous or hilly or whether it is part of a plateau. Point out and describe any relief feature that stands out in the area and state its location on the map.
(b) Describe the slopes in the area. States whether they are concave. Convex, uniform, steep or gently sloping.

Example of how you can describe relief:
The height of the area ranges from below 10 metres near to the coast to 548 metres in grid square 8483.
The main relief feature is T Mountain which is in the western part of the area. As the mountain extends to the south-east, it becomes narrower and its height decreases. This part of the mountain has two peaks of heights about 240 metres in grid square 8582 and about 110 metres in grid square 8682. This part of the mountain also has two spurs from grid square 8583 to 8683 extending from south-west to north-east.
The contours of T Mountain are very close together in the area west of easting 85. This indicates that the slopes are steep. The spacing of the contours on the eastern side of the mountain is wider. The slopes here are therefore less steep.

Steps taken to measure gradient
Identify the two points which the measurement is taken from and the height above sea level for the two points. You can either refer to the spot heights, the bench marks or the contour lines.
Calculate the height difference (vertical distance) of the two points.
Convert the height to the same unit of measurement as for horizontal distance if necessary e.g. 3.048 feet = 1metre
Measure the distance of the 2 points on the map. Convert to actual distance by referring to the line scale or using the map scale ie. 1: 50,000 means 1 cm on the map represents 500m in actual distance.
Gradient is expressed in ratio form – vertical distance: horizontal distance ie. 1: 30 - which means for every 1 metre increase in vertical distance, there is an increase of 30 metres in horizontal distance.

River Studies
Describing Rivera) drainage pattern ie – dendritic, trellis or radial
b) area drained – many tributaries joining the main river etc
c) direction of flow- the river flows from a higher ground to lower ground or towards the sea.
d) Course of river – ie. Straight or meandering, braiding, width
e) Presence of river features e.g rapids, waterfall

Drainage pattern
The drainage pattern of river is determined by the relief and the geological features of the land over which the river flows.

Drainage density
Refers to the number of streams on the land surface. The greater the number, the higher the density. Drainage density is highest in areas with impermeable rock of fine texture and heavy rainfall.
River valley
Wide valley floor as indicated by the widely spaced contour lines which increases in value away from both banks of the river.
V-shaped valley with steep slopes – indicated by closely packed contour lines which increases in value away from both banks of the river,
Flat valley floor as indicated by the absence of contour lines immediate to both banks of the river.

Evidence of water supply
Pump house

Settlement Pattern
a) Dispersed – houses far apart – areas with low economic development e.g. normadic herding, smallholdings
b) Linear – arranged in a line, usually along a mode of transport ( rail, road) or waterway (river, coast) to take advantage of the accessibility and resources.
c) Nucleated – concentration of buildings or houses – usually at road junctions or centers of economic activities ( e.g. community or village with facilities like school and shops)

Choice of site for the location of airport, plantation, settlement etc.
Availability of large area of flat land, ability to expand, very accessible e.g. near to rail or roads, availability of services or resources – remember to look closely at the map symbols on the map and refer to the legend of the map.

Examples of questions on land use

Describe the pattern and location of land use.
The towns are located along the coast on low relief, as seen between Easting ______and ____,  and Northing _______and __________.
Agricultural activities are generally located on low relief near sources of water such as rivers, as evident in grid square ________.
The area could possibly be a tourist area as the towns are located near the beach and corals. The tourists can participate in water sports near the beach and can go for snorkelling or diving near to corals.

Describe and explain the relationship between the relief, and the transport and communication infrastructure.
The transport and communication infrastructure seen in the topographical map extract consists of roads and footpaths. These are located on flat land. As the roads and footpaths connect and service settlements and plots of cultivation, as seen between Easting _____and ___and Northing ____ and ______, they tend to be on low relief. This is because the low relief makes it easier for the roads to be constructed.

Describe and account for the location of the area used for food production in the map.
The main food production is the growing of sugar-cane to be made into sugar as shown by the presence of large area under sugar plantation and the presence of sugar mill in grid square ________.  
The sugar plantations fill most of the area shown. This is probably because of the relatively low relief and the gentle slopes of the area which make these areas accessible. No sugar plantations are found in areas of high relief and steep slopes found in grid squares ______and ______.
The roads are important for the transportation of sugar-cane to other settlements for refining or for sale. It also allows workers to be transported from their homes to the plantations and back. They are generally located on areas of low relief and gentle slopes because these conditions make the infrastructure easy to construct.

Read Users' Comments (12)

12 Response to "Notes on Map Reading"

  1. Lawryy xD, on October 6, 2011 at 10:51 PM said:

    Thank you so much for this guide!!

  2. thia zheng leong, on August 22, 2012 at 9:04 PM said:


  3. thia zheng leong, on August 22, 2012 at 9:06 PM said:


  4. Yakini McLeod, on January 15, 2014 at 9:48 AM said:


  5. Yakini McLeod, on January 15, 2014 at 9:48 AM said:

    THNKS a billion this will get me an a for sure

  6. Liza J, on May 30, 2014 at 11:39 AM said:

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  7. Afif Rusdy, on October 27, 2014 at 7:35 PM said:

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  8. Afif Rusdy, on October 27, 2014 at 7:35 PM said:


  9. rockstarvishwak vishwak, on December 20, 2014 at 2:25 PM said:

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  10. Marissa Scott, on May 29, 2015 at 4:58 AM said:

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  11. Simba Kanyenze, on November 10, 2015 at 12:13 AM said:


  12. Ma Zing Ah!, on May 6, 2016 at 12:30 AM said:

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