Do You Have Basic Map Skills?

By: Jacqueline Samaroo

About This Quiz

"Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?" Does that sound like you, or are you ready to run this map all over town? When it comes to reading maps, do all roads lead to your destination? Or do you get sidetracked by some unknown signs?

Reading a map is not just about the signs. It's also about the measurements. Depending on where you are in the United States, some people might refer to distance in well... distance, while others will tell you in time! "Excuse me, could you tell me where the post office is?" One person in New York might tell you, "It's three blocks away," while another person in Boston might say, "It's  five minutes down the road!" In other places, you're in such a remote area that you can't always guarantee there will be a person to ask, and your phone might not have any reception.

Ultimately there's no substitute for a physical map, and that means it's time to see how good your basic maps skills really are! This quiz will test whether they will  lead you home or leave you stranded on the side of the road, hoping to hitch a ride! Good luck and Godspeed!

A white “H” on a blue background or a red cross on a white background are two of the typical symbols for a hospital. The red and white version is, however, mostly reserved for times or situations of conflict.

The cross (resembling +) is often used on Christian buildings. In times gone by the cross which was used more closely resembled the capital letter “T”.

There are many symbols used to represent educational institutions on a map. Among them are the abbreviation “SCH” and the image of the square academic cap typically worn by graduates.

Post offices handle mail of all types, but are universally associated with envelopes This is why the closed face of an envelope is most often used to indicate a post office. Otherwise, the letters “PO” are also commonly used.

Museums have traditionally been grand buildings, a fact which helps to explain why a many-pillared building is often used in their symbol. Most times, a capital letter “M” is added to the center of the design.

Restaurants and other eating establishments are most often depicted with a knife and fork. There are some symbols which cross the two utensils and others which place them either on a plate or on opposite sides of one.

There are some map symbols which indicate that the swimming area is specifically a pool. On these, we normally see a ladder leading into/out of the water.

While the outlines of a male and female figure are commonly used to represent a restroom, there are a few other symbols. These include “PC” for “public convenience toilets” and “WC” for “water closet.”

Both bus stations and bus stops are generally indicated by the outline of a bus. A bus stop symbol, however, may also include a vertical “bus stop sign” next to the bus.

The universally recognizable outline of an airplane is the symbol most often used for an airport. There are some maps which show the outline of a landing strip or runway.

The symbol for the public telephone is typically a “receiver” or “handset” and is based on the traditional landline telephone. This is so even though landline telephone use is experiencing a steady decline caused by an increase in the use of both cellular and internet alternatives.

A single windmill is usually depicted by a single symbol on a map. A wind farm, on the other hand, is typically shown as two or more windmill symbols together.

There are several common ways to indicate the location of a cemetery on a map. They include the letters “CEM”, a cross and a cross atop a mound.

Campground symbols are almost always a depiction of a tent. While some may look like a simple inverted “V”, others take on the appearance of a tepee outline.

Most picnic area symbols capture the basic shape of a picnic table. The shape is sometimes simplified to an “X” with a bar “__” across the top.

Maps use several different symbols to identify an area designated for fishing. These include the outline of a fish; a fish on the end of a line; a fish alongside a line and hook; and a person casting a line.

While the two activities are not necessarily done together, they are often combined on maps. Scuba diving is frequently shown with the “SCUBA” abbreviation.

The marsh symbol is a combination of symbols for both water and plants. There are different types of marsh symbols, such as those for a freshwater marsh, a salt marsh or a submerged marsh.

The depiction of a roadway tends to change based on the scale of the map. Small scale maps which cover a large area will most likely only indicate major roads.

There are a wide variety of highway symbols used on maps. Some show tunnels, overpasses and underpasses, as well as bridges and drawbridges.

The scale is the ratio in which real-world elements have been scaled down on the map. It is possible for different sections of a map to be drawn to different scales.

Large scale maps show a smaller area in greater detail when compared to both medium and small scale maps. Interestingly, the smaller the number on the right hand side of the scale, the larger the scale is said to be.

As the number on the right hand side of the scale increases some changes take place on the map. These include: it can show a larger area; and it shows less details. Typical maps of the world have scales in the region of 1: 50,000,000.

Both numbers on the scale are in the same units, in this case that is cm. For practical reasons, someone using the map may need to convert to a larger unit, so in this case it is 1 cm to 0.5 km. Some scales carry the conversion to make it easier for the map reader.

Civilizations have routinely come up with ways to denote different directions. Predominant among them are the use of the directions in which the sun rises (east) and sets (west), as well the location of celestial bodies in the night sky.

The geographic, terrestrial or true south pole is a located in Antarctica. The magnetic south pole is, however, currently located off the coast of Antarctica. At the present time, the two souths are more than 1,700 miles apart.

Northeast is the direction midway between north and east. Its direct opposite is southwest.

On Earth, west is the direction in which the sun sets. It is perhaps for this reason that several ancient civilizations associate the west with death and the afterlife.

Southwest is the direction midway between south and west. It is the direct opposite of northeast.

On Earth, east is the direction in which the sun rises. It is one of the four cardinals point - the others being north, south and west.

A compass needle points to the magnetic north. This is a different location from the position of geographic or true north.

South-southwest is one of the points indicated on a 16-point compass rose. For compass roses with 32 points, south-by-west and southwest-by-south are on either side of south-southwest.

The use of grid lines to locate places on a map is called grid reference. Common types are 4-figure and 6-figure grid reference, with 6-figure grid reference giving a more precise location.

Isotherms are a common feature on maps used by meteorologists. Following on the universally accepted convention, blues are usually used for the coldest temperatures and reds for the hottest.

Contour lines can help you to visualize the shape of the land. To make maps less cluttered and easier to read, contour lines are normally not used all over but only for certain elevations or depressions.

A map which shows isobars will most likely also display capital “L” for areas with the lowest pressure and capital “H” for places with the highest pressure.

A physical map is normally shaded in blues, greens and browns to represent, mountains, valleys, plains, wooded areas, waterways and water bodies. All of these features are typically labeled on a physical map.

These maps will show both natural resources and economic activities within an area. Abbreviations or easily recognizable symbols are usually used on resource maps.

Political maps are usually brightly colored and show boundaries between and within countries. For example, a political map of Europe will show the separation of the different countries, while the section representing England will show the separation of the counties.

A climatic map shows the prevailing weather patterns experienced in a certain area. A climatic map is typically a conventional map, such as a physical map with the climatic information superimposed on it in bright colors.

A topographical map is very much like a physical map. The main differences tend to be that it uses less colors but more contour lines to show the relief of the land.

The equator is a great circle since it divides the Earth into two hemispheres. It is a special great circle because it is equidistant from both the north and south poles, and thus has 0 degrees latitude. The closer you are to the equator, the quicker both sunrise and sunset will appear to be.

Greenwich Meridian (or the meridian through the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, United Kingdom) is generally accepted as the international prime meridian. The antemeridian of Greenwich is the 180 degrees meridian, along which the International Date Line is formed.

The equator is one of the major lines of latitude. The others are Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer (both to the north of the Equator) and the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle (both to the south of the Equator.

While each and every line of latitude circles the Earth, it takes two lines of longitude (or meridians) to complete one circle around the globe. However, whereas the equator is only line of latitude that is also a great circle, the circles formed by pairs of lines of longitude are all great circles.

The International Date Line only roughly follows the 180 degrees meridian. It zig-zags to avoid some territories having two separate calendar days at the same time.

It is often said that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. When it comes to navigation, however, the shortest distance between any two points on Earth (a sphere) is actually achieved by following the path of a great circle.

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