Symbols that typically appear on map-reading tests are grouped into categories like topography, vegetation, roads, buildings and bodies of water. Each category contains a number of individual symbols that are defined on the map's legend. When combined, these symbols paint an accurate portrait of the land being surveyed.
Most topography symbols portray the land's elevation. These symbols are drawn in brown and are typically solid, curved lines that indicate dips in the Earth's surface. Symbols to track deep land depressions, such as volcanoes, are also available.
Other topography symbols focus on the Earth's surface. Symbols made up of small, brown dots indicate a sandy area. Medium-size brown dots portray land covered in gravel or a glacier.
Vegetation symbols indicate the land's forest type. Woodlands are drawn in solid green, while areas with low brush are pictured as uneven green dots. Areas with planted vegetation, such as an orchard or farm, are shown as evenly spaced green dots.
Roads are drawn with various lines. A primary highway is a solid red line, while a secondary highway is a line that alternates between white and red. Trails are symbolized as dashes, and light-duty roads are simply thick black lines.
Buildings have different symbols depending on their use. Schools and churches are symbolized as black dots with a pennant and cross on top, respectively. Other buildings are drawn as uniquely colored rectangles or squares and defined in the map's legend.
Bodies of water are drawn as blue lines. Streams are thin and have multiple curves, while rivers are drawn thicker and straighter. Areas with falls are marked with intersecting blue lines, while rivers with rapids are portrayed with a number of parallel hash marks between the thick symbol's borders.