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X Marks the Spot! Helpful Vocabulary for Maps.

Having trouble writing about maps? We're not surprised. Writing about maps for IELTS Task 1 seem really tricky. But we have a treasure waiting for you…ok – well a treasure of vocabulary and pointers for you to write an amazing Task 1 answer!

When you take the writing portion of the IELTS Academic exam, you may have to write about a map in Task 1. Though maps are less common than charts or processes, it is always good to be prepared! And be glad! Getting a map on Task 1 is actually easier to write about than you may think!

In this article, we cover some useful vocabulary and phrases you can use when writing about maps. For more information about successfully writing about maps, see our course: Unlocking IELTS Writing - Task 1: Maps. In this course you will learn:

  • A simple formula to use when writing about a map on the IELTS exam. This formula will work every time!

  • Key vocabulary and grammar for writing about a map

  • Information on common mistakes students make on IELTS Task 1 and how to avoid them

Today, we are going to review some useful vocabulary for writing about maps. Let’s look at a sample map.

Most maps on the IELTS exam ask you to describe differences on a map between two periods of time. In this example, we see the same location in 1990 and in 2015.

When describing maps, you will use vocabulary to describe place, movement or direction. In addition, if you write about differences between two maps, it is useful to use compare or contrast vocabulary, too.


You can use the propositional phrases to describe where something is located on the map in relation to another object or a fixed point. Common phrases are: located at, located near, next to, between, opposite from, across from, near, behind, in front of, past, etc.

I love this helpful graphic!

Let’s look at a few examples using our sample map.

In 1990, there was a stop sign located at the intersection.

On the map from 1990, we can see that there is a farm behind the three houses next to the road.

The houses are located across from a factory and warehouse.


In some cases, you will write about how objects move through a map. Through, above, over, under, past are all terms that can be used for this.

There is a footpath that leads from the road, over a stream and to a wooded area with a pond.

The stream runs alongside the roadway.

The stream runs past the farm.


While you don’t want to over use directions in your Task 1 response, using them in one or two sentences can be useful.

In 1990, there was a heavily wooded area south of the stream.

There were three houses located on the southeast side of the road.

Compare and Contrast

When writing about the differences between two maps, it is good to include some phrases that compare or contrast the two maps. Comparison terms include likewise, similarly, just as, also. Contrasting terms include however, on the other hand, in contrast, whereas.

In contrast, by 2015, the area appears more urban. The factory and some warehouses have been replaced with retail shops and a gas station.

Likewise, an office building is located where two of the houses once where.

The pond remains, however, it has been transformed into a fountain.

For more examples of compare and contrast vocabulary, check out our blog post Vocabulary to Compare, Contrast and Clarify It has some great examples and helpful graphics!

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Review the sample map below and see if you can fill in the blanks with words for place, movement or direction.

Exercise: Fill In Sentences

  1. There is a footpath that spans _______ a stream and runs _______ a wooded area .

  2. The footpath leads ___ a small pond.

  3. _______ the factory, there are three warehouses.

  4. There is a small park and pond _______ the municipal building.

  5. On the corner, there is a gas station _______ retail shops.

  6. A new roadway was built _______ the stream and runs _______ the municipal building.

  7. There is a stop light located ___ the intersection ______ the gas station.

Possible answers: 1) across, through; 2) to; 3) next to or southwest of; 4) across from or opposite; 5) next to or beside or southwest of; 6) across or over, past or in front of or alongside; 7) at, near or next to or by.

Sample IELTS Answer

See if you can pick out the vocabulary we have discussed in the sample IELTS Task 1 Writing answer* below.

This map shows the same location, 1990 and 2015. In 1990, this location appeared to be a mix of industrial and rural, with a factory and warehouses on one side of the road and homes and a farm on the other. A wooded area and pond are on the south side of the map, just a short distance away from the homes and farm. There was also a footpath leading from roadway and across the stream to the pond.

In contrast, by 2015, the area appears to be more urban. The factory and some warehouses have been replaced with retail shops and a gas station. Likewise, there is an office building located where some of the houses once were. The biggest changes are the addition of a municipal building and extension of the road across the stream and through were the farm once stood. The pond has been transformed into a fountain and wooded area appears to be a public park.

*Note: This sample is to show how the words and phrases can be used to describe the graph. This is not an IELTS answer, but a learning tool.

Want more?

Register now for our full course on Unlocking IELTS Writing - Task 1: Maps. This course includes everything you need to know to write about maps for the IELTS examination! Hey – I used what I learned from this course when I wrote out the sample answer!

Good luck on your IELTS exam!

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