Road Scholar

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Participants are to be able to interpret, collect data, and make conjectures from maps, usually road and/or topographic maps. Competitors must also be able to draw maps. Participants are given 50 minutes to answer questions pertaining to the map.

The Event

Road Scholar is split up into three sections: Topographic maps, or quadrangles, state highway maps, and map drawing. All three of these sections must be completed within the 50 minute time period.

Topographic Maps (Quadrangles)

Quadrangles, quads for short could be considered the key component of Road Scholar. There are many things that you need to learn for using quadrangles. Some of these things can be found below. This is what a quadrangle looks like: Quad

Map Location- This can be found in the top right corner of the quad. On the first line it will say the location, and on the second it will say the state.
Neat Lines- These are the outer boundaries of the map. They keep the map "neat".
Gratuicle Tick Marks- There are four of these on the quad. They divide the map into 9 sectors, one for each of the eight directions. Often times on a test it will say to find an object in a "sector". The sectors are labeled from left to right accross the map.
Series- All quads used in Road Scholar are in the 7.5 minute series.
Scale- All quads used in Road Scholar have a scale of 1:24000.
Legend- This can be found in the bottom right corner of the quad. It shows what each of the types of roads are. Primary, unimproved, etc.
Contour Lines- These brown lines indicate the elevation.
  • Index contour lines are darker brown than intermediate. The elevation is written on the line.
  • Intermediate countour lines are a little bit of a lighter brown color. The elevation is not written on the line.
Contour Interval- This is found in the center of the bottom margin of the quad. This number indicates the number of feet between each contour line.
Magnetic Declination- There is a diagram located at the center of the bottom margin of the quad. This diagram will have three (sometimes two) lines coming out of it. The one straight up is true north. One of the other two will say MN. This is magnetic north. The magnetic declination is the number of degrees between true north and magnetic north, and it is written right next to line MN.
Map Symbols- The map symbols needed during the event can be found here: Map Symbols
Survey Control Marks- Numbers on a quad which indicate the elevation more accurately than contours.
Stream Gradient- Use the formula "change in elevation/distance x 1000" to find the answer. You will need to use sting for this to accuratley find the distance along the stream/river.
Slope Gradient- Use the formula "change in elevation/distance x 100" to find the answer.
Public Land Survey System (PLSS)- On the bottom and side neat lines of the quad, you will see something that might say T. 5 S and R. 5 E. T stands for township and R stands for Range. Within each of these divisions, there are 36 sections. You can find the number of the section on the quad in red in the center of the section. Each section has four quarters, NE, NW, SE, and SW. Within each of those quarters are another four quarters, once again being NE, NW, SE, and SW. After you have all of this information for a specific location, you could write it out like this: NE 1/4 NW 1/4 14 T. 5 S R. 6 E. Pretend that there is an "of the" between the NE 1/4 and the NW 1/4. This means that it is the NE 1/4 of the NW 1/4 of Section 14. Please note that not all states use PLSS so not all quads have PLSS on them.

Highway Maps

State Highway Maps are also a large part of the event. There is slighly less to learn about highway maps than quads. This is an example of one: State Highway Map

Mileage Chart- This chart gives you the exact mileage between cities. It's found on the side or back of map. Only major cities are located on the mileage chart. If the cities you are trying to find the distance between are not on it, you must use the little numbers next to the highway to find the mileage.
Little Numbers- Adding together all of the little black numbers (on highways) between cities also determines mileage. It's a good idea to write down each of the numbers that you see, as it is easy to miss a number.
Grid System- Highway maps have a grid system. Go to the number and letter, and bring your fingers together. If you are looking for a specific city, you can find the city on the chart on the side of the map. Next to the city will be the grid description.
Population- The population of a city is usually found on the side of the map next to the city name. You can also find the grid location there.

Map Drawing

It is absolutely crucial that you have the map symbols for the map drawing. The map drawing may ask you to draw a specific type of building, which you will need the map symbols sheet for. There is one practice exercise available in the Road Scholar section of Road Scholar SOINC. It is a good idea to practice on your own too. Try making up your own exercise, and drawing it. An example of a square found in the competition can be found in the helpful hints section.

Usually, the map squares are equivalent to one PLSS section on a quadrangle.


Participants should become familiar with reading topographic maps as well as road maps, and knowing what symbols mean on a map. See the USGS ( for a list of road map symbols. A good study tool is the coaches handbook which goes in depth with all the things you need to know.

Many practice tests can be found on You may need to order maps from to complete the tests.

The Competition

You should make sure that you are bringing the right things into the competition. Because you're allowed to bring anything you want, you should take all the notes that you have. It is also absolutely necessary that you bring a ruler, a 360 degree protractor, string (to measure stream gradient),and extra paper (to measure distances and as scratch paper.) A magnifying glass can sometimes be useful, and a map symbol sheet is needed for the map-drawing. A calculator is also helpful because it saves time.

Helpful Hints

It is wise to split the test between you and your partner while in a competition because of the time limit. You may think that 50 minutes is a long time, but when you get into the competition the time seems to fly by. Try to use different state maps while practicing so that you have more experience with different states and terrain. Also, purchase or find different tests to practice with. Finally, try to memorize important formulas such as stream gradient, slope gradient, latitude and longitude.

Drawing the land survey maps

  • be prepared make the squares beforehand
  • have one person draw it

here is an example File:Rdschmap drawing.jpg

Check out these sites: Includes some general information, how to make a topographic profile, measuring stream gradient, and a sample map. this link gives a great description of how to profile. this has tons of links to other places.