Townships, Sections, and the Government Survey System Explained


Government Survey Systems were originally created by the US Congress in 1785 as a way of identifying land faster and more accurately. This system has also become known as the rectangular survey system and geodetic survey system.

The government survey system divides the country into a huge grid using principal meridians that run north to south and baselines that run east to west. Across the country, there are 36 principal meridians, which are not equally distanced. Each piece of land is measured by its distance from one meridian.

There are also range lines, which run north to south between the principal meridians. They are spaced six miles apart from each other and create columns of land known as ranges.  

The lines that run east to west and which are also spaced six miles apart are townships lines. These rows are known as township tiers.  

Range lines and township tiers create boxes of land across the country that are knowns as townships. Townships are identified by their location from a baseline and principal meridian line.   

Each township has a 24-mile perimeter, is 36 square miles, and a total of 23,040 acres. 

A township is further divided into sections, which is one square mile, meaning that there are 36 sections in each township. Each section is 640 acres. Sections are numbered 1 through 36 starting in the northeast corner, moving west. When the row is completed, section 7 started on the second row in the west-east corner. The numbering pattern continues until all 36 sections are numbered.  

Sections are then further divided into quarters and halves for the identification of smaller portions of land.  

When writing a description of a parcel of land, you write it from smallest to largest. For example:  

The SE 1/4 of Section 14 in Township 14 South, Range 34 East, Willamette Meridian. 

On a real estate exam, you may be asked a math question, for example, how many acres are in this description.  

Before taking your exam, it's important to be comfortable with the government survey system and how to use it.

If you want to see some examples of questions that will be on the actual real estate exam, check out our free real estate practice exam. We have been named as the best real estate exam practice for 7 years in a row!

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