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How to pass the topographical skills test in 2024


The topographical assessment is one of three TfL tests that private hire drivers must pass to get a PCO licence. You must have this to work for Uber, or alternative operators such as Bolt or Free Now, in Greater London and so the topographical test is a crucial step. 

In case you wondered, the other TfL tests are the two-part English Language Requirement (ELR) – and Otto Car has prepared a complete guide to that subject here.

This blog post covers everything you need to know about the topographical skills assessment, including what this test is all about and how to train for it. There are sample questions from TfL plus extra tips and handy resources to help you pass the first time. 

If you need a single article to prepare for the topographical test, you are in the right place. 

What is the TfL topographical skills test?

In simple terms, topography means understanding how to use maps. A topographical skill involves map-reading and route selection but the test does also check basic knowledge of London geography. The goal is to make sure that Uber drivers can navigate between fares, even though most people rely on a satnav these days. 

Who needs to take the topographical assessment? 

Pretty much every private hire driver who works in London needs to pass this test. There are a small number of exceptions:

  • Previously licensed PHV drivers who have passed a TfL topographical skills test
  • Licensed London taxi drivers (both All London and Suburban)
  • Professional London tourist guides (e.g. Blue Badge Driver Guide)

Until February 2020, TfL allowed drivers with a relevant vocational qualification in road passenger transport to avoid this test. Since then, only the three reasons stated above are acceptable excuses. Everyone else has to do the assessment. 

How do you book a TFL topographical test?

Once you have submitted your PCO licence application to TfL, you will receive a letter and email with a specific date to attend a topographical skills test centre. This will be at the official TfL premises in either Baker Street or West Kensington.

You must have a confirmed booking to do the actual test. For booking queries, you can contact the TfL Topographical Team by email at tphtopo@tfl.gov.uk or phone on 0343 222 4444 (charges may apply).

Discover more about how to get a PCO licence in 2023 here

How much does the topographical test cost?

The test costs £36 and a retake is £16. Many drivers worry about what happens if you fail a topographic test but there is no need to panic. That said, you must pass on the first or second attempt. Otherwise, you will have to re-apply for the PCO licence. 

How do you prepare for a topographical assessment?

The first step is to understand the structure of the test itself. There are four sections, each designed to test different aspects of your map-reading skills and basic driving knowledge. You will complete it either on paper or, more likely, on a computer.

The four sections are as follows:

  • Index-based questions
  • General topography
  • Planning a route
  • Compass-point questions

Section 1: Index-based questions

These questions test your ability to use the index of an atlas (i.e. book of maps) to find places in London. This sounds complex in theory but it’s pretty simple. You will be given an atlas and asked for the grid reference and page number of specific locations or landmarks.

Example question

Locate the grid reference and the page number of Addington.

What it will look like

In a standard index, you will see the names of various places arranged in alphabetical order. You merely scroll through the index until you find the location you need, then note the grid reference and page number of each location in your answer.

For this picture, the page number is on the left (e.g for Addington it is Page 20), and the grid reference is the number on the right (e.g for Addington it is A3). It’s sensible to buy the Master Atlas A-Z for London here and do a mock test at home. 

Did you know

Note that landmarks which begin with “the” have this word listed after the main description. For example, “The Shard”, will be written as “Shard, The”. You will also find that places of interest (i.e. landmarks) are helpfully shown in red on the index page of the Master Atlas and there are dedicated pages in the atlas for public transport stations and hospitals. 

Section 2: General topography

This section involves using the map in a standard atlas to identify directions to/from different points or locations.

Example question

What direction is London Heathrow Airport from Central London?

How to work it out: 

You first need to locate where Heathrow and Central London are located on the same map-page. The next step is to determine the direction you would travel to move from one location to the other. In this case, the answer is to go west.

Did you know

It’s helpful to be familiar with the style of the maps and the common abbreviations used in the London Master Atlas. For instance, Courtyard is shortened to Ctyd and Boulevard is Blvd. You can find all of these abbreviations in the section titled ‘how to use this index’. 

Section 3: Planning a route

In this section, you will be shown two different points on a map, and must then draw the best route between these locations. The easiest way to understand how this works is to watch the TfL video below. It will show you what this part of the test looks like on a computer and also how to use the software.

This section has the most marks, so it’s vital to get it right. Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Fail to follow the most direct route (i.e. not necessarily the fastest one)
  • Don’t acknowledge the map symbols (e.g. one-way systems or roundabouts)
  • Don’t arrive at the correct end location (i.e. as shown on the map, not a nearby drop-off)

Did you know

The standard road-markings of the maps in the test are all shown on the Reference page of the London Master Atlas. For example, red arrows indicate one-way streets. If you do take the test on a computer, it’s a good idea to enlarge each map to see these clearly.

Section 4: Compass-point questions

This section asks you to demonstrate your knowledge of compass points within directional based questions. Put simply, though, you mostly need to show here that you understand the difference between North, South, East and West.

You will be presented with different scenarios and must then use these basic compass directions to answer each question.

Example question

You start at junction 1 and travel two streets east. Then you travel one street south. What junction number are you at now?

Answer: In this case, the answer will be junction 6.

Topographic Skills Assessment Test

Did you know

Unless stated otherwise, North is always upwards. If you can’t remember the correct order, note that it is always North, East, South and West, when displayed like the numbers on a clockface. A good way to jog your memory here is: Never Eat Soggy Waffles (NESW). 

What score do you need to pass the topographical test?

You must score at least 60 out of 100 to pass. This sounds high but it’s only slightly more than half the marks. If you stay calm and use the full two hours carefully, you should get the test result you need to pass. Good luck.

Extra training resources

  • Various companies aim to sell you an online training course but caution is wise
  • The official TfL topographical skills test page contains good advice here
  • Uber provides a free online training resource for this test via EduMe here
  • AppDriver has a free guide on how to use a London Master Atlas for the test here

Read more: How to pass the TfL English test for PCO drivers in 2023

Read more: 2023 Highway Code changes that PCO drivers need to know

Not sure which PCO car to choose? Try our car selection tool to find out the car that best suits your needs.

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