How do you read a map?

To read a map you need to understand:

  • what directions mean and how to use a compass.
  • grid references.
  • how to find what symbols mean by using a key.
  • which type of map you are reading, for example, Ordnance Survey (O/S) maps, street maps, atlases and globes.
Play the video to watch Ayesha and James learn how to read maps so they can find the treasure.

Map-reading tips

Being able to read a map takes skill. Here are some tips to help you out:

Grid references

This person is pointing to the park. It is located where two lines cross. If you follow the lines to the edge of the map you will see a number.

TIP: First you find the number that goes across the bottom, which is 33 here. Then you find the number going up the side, which is 11 here, so the grid reference is 3311.

You may see brackets around a grid reference and a comma to separate them, for example: (33,11).

Compass points

Sometimes the direction you need to take isn’t exactly north, east, south or west and it might be in the middle of two points:

  • north-east (NE) is in-between north and east.
  • south-east (SE) is in-between south and east.
  • south-west (SW) is in-between south and west.
  • north-west (NW) is in-between north and west.

Take a look at useful tips with compasses and maps:

James is pointing at the red needle of a compass to show where north is

Finding north

To find north, hold the compass in your hand and turn around until the coloured needle points to ‘N’.

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Did you know?

Ordnance Survey or O/S maps cover the whole of the UK. After World War One, over 6,500 trig stations (like the one in the photograph) were built across the country. Surveyors (people who observe the condition of land) placed their measuring instruments on them.

Today this method has been replaced by planes and digital photography, but many trig points can still be found around the UK.

One of over 6,500 trig stations built after World War One.
Test your maths and times table skills!