While paper 1 focusses mainly on theory and concepts, paper 2 is all about the interpretation of maps, diagrams, photographs and other graphical information.

Some skills should be practised in advance to obtain higher marks on this paper.

Calculating distances

Maps will have a scale of 1:25000 or 1:50000. This means that 1 cm on the map is 0.25km or 0.5 km respectively. In the exam, you may be asked to find out the length of a road/river/etc. In that case you measure the distance on the map and convert that into metres or kilometres using the scale on the map.

eg. A river is approximately 8 cm long on a 1:25000 map .

  1. Multiply 8 by 25000. This is 200000 cm.
  2. Convert cm to metres or kilometres. 200000 divided by 100 is 2000 m, which in turn is 2 km.

Coordinate references

You may be asked to state the location of certain features on the map. This is done by using a grid reference system. On the sides of the map, you will find numbers that increase from left to right and from bottom to top. The two-digit numbers on the bottom (x-axis) are called eastings, as they increase when travelling east. The two-digit numbers on the left (y axis) are called northings, as they increase when travelling north.

Four figure area reference

The four figure reference is given by writing the easting of square and then the northing of the square. Bottom left (of the square you are referring to). On the picture, the red square would be referred to as 1844. 18 is the easting value and 44 is the northing value.



A six figure reference is used to show the precise location of a feature. First the easting is given as usual, then the easting is specified by dividing a square into 10 parts and giving another easting figure. The same is done for the northing.

map six figures.png
Map for six figure grid reference

For example, the four figure grid reference of point U would be 1314.

For the six figure reference first write the two-digit easting, then specify. U is about two tenth between 13 and 14 along the easting. So the three digit easting value would be 132 (two as in two tenth). For the northing value the two digit grid reference would be 14. As U is at around 3 tenth between 14 and 15, the three digit northing would be 143. Then combine easting and northing, and voila, the six figure reference of point U is 132143.

Still struggling with finding how many tenths a point is from the northing or easting. Usually a square on a map used in the IGCSE exams will be 1 cm long. So each tenth would be one millimeter. Use a ruler to find the exact millimeter value for the six figure reference. Just in case a square is not a cm: find the length of a square and the distance of the point from the two-digit easting or northing. Then divide the distance of the point by the length of the square.

eg. If a square measures 1.5 cm, and your point is 0.6 cm east of the two digit easting: 0.6 cm divided by 1.5 cm results in 0.4. so the 4 would be the third digit of your easting.

The compass rose and bearings

File:Brosen windrose.svg
By Brosen, CC-BY-2.5

You may be asked to describe the location of one feature in terms of another by giving basic directions. This may include the distance on the map, as well as the compass direction. The IGCSE requires you to give direction on a 16 point compass.

Bearings are used to give the direction of a point in degrees, always starting from north. This means that North would be 0° from north (or 000 as a bearing), East would be 90° ( written as 090 for bearings), South would be 180° ( written as 180) and West would be 270° (written as a bearing of 270). As bearings are not usually exactly one of these values, use a protractor to measure the angle and then convert it into bearing format.

Map symbols

You should be able to read the key of a map to find out what a certain feature depicts.

Easter Island map-en
Map with legend: By Eric Gaba (translation: Bamse), CC-BY-SA

For example, you may be asked:

Find out the altitude of Te Peu in the West of Easter Island (50-100m)

What is found at Orongo? (Ruins)

NB: Different maps may use the same symbols to represent different features.

 Contour lines

Flat topped mountain: Contour lines from Siyavula Uploaders on CNX, CC-BY 3.0

Contour lines connect points of equal altitude (elevation above sea level) on a map. If contour lines are far apart, the gradient of the terrain will be low, whereas when lines are close together the land is steep. Contour lines can also be used to recognise geographical features.




You may be asked to construct the cross-section of a feature. The video below explains an easy way to do this.


When interpreting a cross-section, you can describe (whether)

  • slopes are concave or convex
  • the gradient is steep or gentle
  • the maximum height
  • the type of feature shown (eg. hill, mountain, mountain range, flood plain, plateau etc.)
  • characteristics of a feature ( broad, flat, etc.)

More information on geographical features and their appearance on topographic maps: Recognising landforms on OS Map (pdf).

Calculating gradient

You might be asked to calculate the gradient of a feature. Usually the exam will give you an appropriate cross-section (eg. from one contour line to another, or from one trigonometrical station to another). Find the difference in altitude between the highest and lowest point along your transect line. Find the horizontal distance between the two points using the map scale. Then apply RISE OVER RUN:

Altitude divided by distance = gradient

Interpreting map evidence

A large part of paper 2 is based on interpretation of the map using the legend and other information that has been provided. Common questions refer to:

  • identifying settlement patterns (nucleated, dispersed, linear) and giving reasons
  • identifying street patterns and types of residence eg. straight roads often indicate row housing, cul-de-sacs and curved roads often indicate privately owned, detached houses
  • siting of a settlement (eg. flat land, along a road, on a hilltop) and its advantages
  • human locational factors eg. good transport links, employment
  • natural features eg. river features, mountains, beach, forest, etc.
  • land uses eg. industrial, commercial, agricultural
  • functions of an area eg. tourism, industry, agriculture and features that have encouraged these functions (eg. volcanoes – mining and agriculture)
  • how humans have changed the environment eg. construction of dams, groynes, dykes

Interpreting and constructing graphs

You should be able to analyse line graphs, bar charts, pie charts, pictograms,  divided bar graphs, histograms, kite diagrams, flow diagrams, wind rose graphs, dispersion graphs, isoline maps, scatter graphs, choropleth maps, pie graphs, triangular graphs and radial graphs.

Line graph

Displays the independent variable on the x-axis and the dependent variable (information that is being measured) on the y-axis.

Line graphs usually show continuous data.







Bar charts show data by category. Categories are displayed on the x-axis, while the dependent variable (numerical) is displayed on the y-axis.




File:Iris Petal Length Histogram.svg

Histograms may look like bar charts, but they always represent continuous data on the x-axis, and there is no space between bars.



Pie chart



A pie chart can display the same information as on a bar chart, but in circular form. The proportion of each sector indicates the percentage that it makes up of the whole circle.




Scatter graph


Scatter graphs are used to show a relationship (correlation) between two variables. ie. As one increases, the other increases or as one decreases, the other increases.

A scatter graph can also be described as having no correlation, if there is no overall trend (no line of best fit can be drawn).



File:Map of states showing population density in 2013.svg
Choropleth Map


A choropleth map shades areas in proportion to the variable shown in the key. This means that if the value (of the data displayed) is higher, the shading will be darker.




Radial graph

Radial graphs (or radar graphs) can display many quantitative variables on one axis.