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There are many steps to acquiring a private hire driver licence (PCO licence), which allows you to make money driving in London. These include everything from ensuring you have a PCO-approved car and undergoing a medical assessment, to completing a DBS check and passing an English language examination. One of the steps we often get questions about is the TfL topographical test — sometimes referred to as the PCO test. If you are among those who are unsure about what the test entails, how to prepare and where to book it, then you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn more about the TfL topographical test.

What is a topographical test?

Topography is the study of the shape and features of land surfaces. In the context of the TfL topographical test, this essentially means demonstrating that you understand how to use maps. Passing TfL’s topographical assessment will prove that you have a good standard of route finding and map-reading skills, both of which are critical for private hire drivers.

What’s in the TfL topographical test?

The TfL topographical test can either be taken in paper format or on a computer, depending on the assessment centre. Candidates are given two hours to complete the test, which is divided into four sections, with sections 1, 2 and 4 requiring candidates to answer a series of multiple choice questions. Section 3 is a route planning exercise, which is worth the most marks and is the longest section of the test. The pass mark is 60/100, and the ability to read and understand basic English is required. Here is what each section consists of:

Section 1: Using indexes to identify points/locations

The first section will test your ability to use the index in an atlas to identify the grid references and page numbers of certain locations.

Section 2: General topography

Next, you’ll need to use the map in an atlas to give directions to or from different points and locations. So, if a question asked ‘What direction is Wembley Stadium from Richmond?’, the answer would be north.

Section 3: Planning a route

For section 3, you’ll be shown two different points on the map and asked to plan the best route between them. Considering this section has the most marks on offer, it’s critical to avoid making careless mistakes. You will lose marks for the following errors:

  • Failing to follow the most direct route
  • Not acknowledging the right map symbols, such as one way systems and roundabouts
  • Failing to arrive at the end location

Section 4: Compass points

Finally, you will be tested on your knowledge of north, south, east and west. The test will present various scenarios, and ask you to use compass directions to answer the questions. For instance, you may be asked something like: ‘You start at junction 1 and travel three streets west, before travelling one street east. Where are you now?’

How can I prepare for the test?

While the TfL topographic tests aren’t as comprehensive as black cab assessments, you will still need to display a broad depth of knowledge, such as:

  • The major London stations, districts, hospitals and postal districts.
  • The counties bordering London, such as Kent, Sussex and Berkshire, and their directions from the capital. You should also know the major towns and cities in these counties.
  • The motorways radiating from the M25, like the M20, M11 and M4.
  • Which motorway to use to reach a major town or city. For instance, if you were asked to name the main motorway to get to Reading, the correct answer would be the M4.
  • How to plan routes in Central and Greater London, as well as routes over 30 miles from Central London to surrounding counties.

Although there are companies which offer training, these courses tend to be pretty expensive. However, Uber provides free training at its Ignition centre in London, and there are plenty of free online resources you can use, such as on the TfL and Uber websites. It is also imperative that you buy a physical copy of the Master Atlas Of Greater London for home study.

How do I book a test?

After submitting your PCO application to TfL, you will automatically be invited to undergo a topographic test, at your choice of eight different assessment centres. The waiting list can be up to two months, so it’s recommended that you check every centre, and go with the earliest possible date.

How much does a test cost?

The price is between £50-80, depending on the assessment centre, with the Uber Ignition centre asking for £50.

What happens if I fail?

If you fail the topographical test, you will have one more chance to try and pass. However, should you fail on your second attempt, you will have to re-apply for a PCO licence, setting you back time and money. As such, it’s crucial that you take the test seriously and prepare as much as possible.