Map Reading for Police Officer Exam Study Guide (page 2)
Map reading is a learned skill. It is related to math in that it often involves understanding directions and being able to calculate distance and time. If you have ever been lost, you know that it can be frustrating and at times even frightening. For a police officer, the ability to know where you are, gauge direction and distance, and figure out how to get from one place to another can mean the difference between the saving the life of a caller, a colleague, or even, under extreme conditions, yourself.
Depending on the size and type of the jurisdiction of your department, finding your way around can be fairly easy once you understand the town's grid pattern and become familiar with its outlying areas. But in some instances, particularly if you work in a special jurisdiction agency, you may travel through numerous towns and villages or may be expected to patrol areas that are often unmarked and that do not adhere to a logical grid pattern. You will be expected to copy down the address given to you by the dispatcher, locate it quickly on you map, and proceed to the call for assistance. Once you get there, you may require assistance from others; this means you must also be able to describe your location sufficiently for backup officers, supervisors, fire, or emergency medical personnel to also respond to the scene.
Like so many other skills, map reading involves practice. While some individuals may have better innate senses of direction than others, practice is the only way to become good at map reading. Map questions test whether you have the ability to follow spatial and directional information and also to convey it to others. Is it possible to study for map questions? Yes, it is. The easiest way to study is to read maps. Just like you can improve your vocabulary and English usage by reading more you can improve your map reading skills by studying maps. Most maps use a commonly-established set of symbols; learn what they are and train yourself to look for them as soon as you open a map. Also look immediately for the directional information (north, south, east, or west) to help you orient yourself.
The maps on police exams are often in a simple grid pattern. The north-south-east-west directions will be clearly marked and there will be a key explaining any symbols that are not self-explanatory. There will be instructions on which questions should be answered based on each map; there will usually be more than one question per map. If your jurisdiction includes map questions on its exam, there is very likely to be more than one set of these questions.
As with all questions, you must read the map questions carefully. Before answering any of the map questions, be sure you are looking at the correct map for the series of questions you will be answering. Then begin by studying the map carefully, looking for the directional arrows and any large, obvious locations. Do not be concerned about moving the map around during the test. If you feel you can get a better sense of the map's directional qualities by holding it up or turning it around, do so. Since your answer sheet will be separate from the question book, the proctor of the exam should not prevent you from doing this. If you are concerned, raise your hand and ask the proctor whether this is permissible.
The directional arrows will help you prepare yourself for questions that may be based solely on directions or getting from one point on the map to another. But there are other features that will help you. If a hospital is prominently displayed on the map, there is likely to be at least one question asking you how you would arrive there or proceed from there to someplace else. The same is true if a library, police station, or cemetery is a prominent feature of the map. The buildings or locations that are prominently featured also act as landmarks, just as they do when you actually are on the road. How many times have you instructed someone coming to your home to turn left at the municipal hospital, or right at the fire station? It is likely your test questions will be similar.
Try to understand immediately what the map depicts; a map may be of highways, city streets and avenues, or bus routes or railroad tracks. Unless you are taking the test for a handful of very large municipal agencies, it is likely that your test will be used by more than one police department. This means that the maps may not be specific to the agency you are testing for. If you are taking the exam for a municipal police department, you may be startled to find that the map may be based on highways and rural routes rather than city streets. If you are taking the test for a transportation agency or parks and recreation department, you may not see a single map that depicts the jurisdiction you will actually police.
The key to success on answering the map questions is to take your time and to study the map carefully before turning to the questions. If you jump directly to the questions and then try to look at the map only to find the answer to the specific question, you may miss important information. In your haste to see only what you think the question pertains to, you may also misread the question and the answer choices. Consider that the test developer, while not specifically trying to trick you, may have written answer choices that provide similar names of streets, avenues, or other key map features.
Finding the Shortest Route and Finding the Direction
The two most common types of map questions involve finding the shortest route from one location on the map to another and identifying the directional relationship between two or more locations on the map.
For questions involving finding the shortest route, first study the map to see where you are and to get your bearings just as you would in your own vehicle. Read the question, remembering to turn the map in any direction if this helps you get a better sense of place. Now figure out the best route without first looking at the answer choices, which may prejudice your judgment. Once you have done this, look at each answer choice and trace the suggested route with your finger or the point of your pencil. Do this with each choice. If none of the choices are the one you mapped out, and if none of the choices are "d. none of the above," take another look at your route to see if you missed something the question presented. If you missed a crucial piece of information or misread the map, start over and reconsider each of the choices presented by the question.
Finding the direction questions may take two forms; sometimes they are based on a map, but sometimes the information will be in words only. If there is a map, follow the same method, tracing your path after reading the question and then comparing your route to each of the answer choices and selecting the choice that matches your route. If the question is in words only, read carefully to make sure you understand where the question places you and where it wants you to go. Consider drawing a very rough map based on the words to help you follow the path of the question.
For practice thinking through map questions, study the map provided and then answer the questions based on it.
Map Reading Sample Questions
Answer questions 1-6 based on the map. Review the directional arrows and the map key. You are not permitted to go the wrong way on a one-way street.
- Officers Singh and Bean have just completed a call at the southeast corner of the Raymond Avenue Mall. They are notified of a silent alarm going off at a residence located at the northwest corner of Arroyo Drive and Linda Lane. What is the quickest route for the officers to take to reach the residence?
- Turn north on Spivey Road, then east on Linda Lane, and then north on Arroyo Drive.
- Turn east on John Street, then north on Vincente, then west on Linda Lane, then north on Malinda Road, and then east on Brigham Boulevard to Arroyo Drive.
- Turn north on Spivey Road, then east on Brigham Boulevard, and then south on Arroyo Drive.
- Turn north on Spivey Road, then east on Battery Road, then north on Malinda Road, and then east on Brigham Boulevard.
- Officers Mayweather and Schultz have just crossed Needle Street while driving southbound on Arroyo Drive. They are dispatched to a call of an altercation between a bus driver and a passenger at a bus stop located at Raymond Avenue and Battery Road. fWhat is the quickest route for the officers to take to the bus stop?
- Continue south on Arroyo Drive, then west on John Street, then north on Malinda Road, then west on Needle Street, then north on Spivey Road, and then west on Battery Road to Raymond Avenue.
- Continue south on Arroyo Drive, then west on Shore Drive, and then north on Raymond Avenue to Battery Road.
- Make a U-turn on Arroyo Drive and then go west on Battery Road to Raymond Avenue.
- Continue south on Arroyo Drive, then east on Shore Drive, then north on Vincente, and then west on Battery Road to Raymond Avenue.
- Officer Riccadelli is driving west on Battery Road. She makes a right turn onto James Avenue, then a left turn onto Linda Lane, then a right turn onto Raymond Avenue, and then a right turn onto Brigham Road. What direction is she facing?
- What is the number of two-way roadways (whether streets, avenues, or drives) depicted on the map?
- What is the number of roadways (whether streets, avenues, or drives) that intersect with Spivey Road?
- You have been assigned to escort the mayor from the northwest corner of the Raymond Avenue Mall and John Street to the entrance to Town Hall, which is located a few feet to the left of the northeast corner of the building. Following the most direct route, how many turns will you have to make?
Tips for Map Reading Questions
- Read carefully and follow all directions.
- Feel free to move the map around during the test to face the direction you find comfortable.
- Find your starting point.
- Find your ending point.
- Use a small object as your police car and find the shortest route, paying special attention to the traffic signals.