Interpreting maps

Here is a section of a map of the location of the BBC Wales building. In order to understand this map there are two things you need to know.

  • With most maps it is assumed that north is to the top of the screen, vertically up as you look at the map. If this is not followed a compass point will be overlaid on the map.
  • Every map has a scale. This tells you how far objects and places are in real life. The map below has a scale in the bottom right corner.

The advantage of the scale being directly on the map is that if the map is enlarged or reduced in size, the scale shrinks too.

Example

Find the actual distance between Llandaff Cathedral and Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf, based on the icons on this map.

A map of Cardiff with points labelled from A to D

Solution

Step 1 – place a ruler up to the scale. You need to do this to work out how much distance (in cm) is equal to 200 m.

A map of Cardiff with points labelled from A to D

The ruler shows us it’s 2 cm.

Step 2 – use the ruler to work out the distance between Llandaff Cathedral and Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf icons in centimetres.

A map of Cardiff with points labelled from A to D with a ruler measuring 8 cm between point A and E with a scale of 2 cm = 200 m

The ruler shows us it’s 8 cm.

Step 3 – divide your answer for step 2 by your answer for step 1:

8 cm ÷ 2 cm = 4

Then multiply 4 by the scale size, 200 m:

4 × 200 m = 800 m

So the distance between Llandaff Cathedral and Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf is 800 m.