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Reading Maps - Distances and Directions

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Reading Maps - Distances and Directions - Lesson Summary

Every map has three essential components:
  • Distance
  • Direction and
  • Symbols

A Scale is a ratio that represents the relationship between the actual distance on the ground and the distance on the map. The scale indicates how many units of the earth’s surface are equal to one unit on the map.

You use a large scale map to represent a small area, and a small scale map to represent a large area. A map that represents a small area, such as a residential colony, a village or a town, in relatively greater detail is called a large scale map.

Small scale maps are used to represent such large areas. The letter ‘N’ with an arrow pointing upwards at the upper right hand corner of most of the maps is called the North line and it represents the northern direction. 

Using the north line as a reference, one can easily figure out the East, West and South directions in the map. One can refer to these four main directions as the cardinal points.

There are four intermediate directions:
  • North-East (NE)
  • South-East (SE)
  • South-West (SW)
  • North-West (NW)
You can use these directions to locate a place accurately on a map.

You can use a compass to find out the main directions of a place. A compass is an instrument with a magnetic needle that always points in the north-south direction. Often, pilots and sailors refer a compass to check if they are moving in the right direction.


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