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Map skills

Basics of mapping: 2


Just like a key to a door, the key on a map helps you to unlock the information stored in the colours and symbols on a map. You must understand how the key relates to the map before you can unlock the information it contains. The key will help you to identify types of boundaries, roads, buildings, agriculture, industry, places of interest and geographical features.

Ordnance Survey map symbols

Copyright © Crown Copyright 100019855 - Reproduced by kind permission of Ordnance Survey


Make sure you read the title of a map before you start to use it. This will give you a general idea about the information it stores. While it may appear a straightforward thing to do, under exam conditions, it is easy to confuse different maps or not use the one that is most useful.


Map scale

Map scale

The scale of a map allows a reader to calculate the size, height and dimensions of the features shown on the map, as well as distances between different points. The scale on a map is the ratio between real life sizes and how many times it has been shrunk to fit it on the map.

The scale below is for a 1:50,000 scale map. At this scale, 1 cm on the map represents 50,000 cm on the ground (= 500 m or 0.5 km).

Ordnance Survey maps, the most common type of map in the UK, come in several scales.

  • Travel maps have a scale of 1:125,000. This means 1 cm on the map represents 125,000 in the real world or 1 cm = 1.25 km. These are used by drivers going long distances.
  • Landranger maps are 1:50,000 (1 cm = 500 m). These are useful for drivers going shorter distances.
  • Explorer maps are 1:25,000 (1 cm = 250 m). These are useful for walking and other outdoor pursuits.
  • Landplan maps are 1:10,000 (1 cm = 100 m). These show individual streets clearly and might be used by town planners.

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