ACT Reading: Roman Numeral Questions

Few ACT Reading question types pose as many challenges as the Roman numeral type. Roman numeral questions are especially difficult because you’ll have to identify whether a reading passage contains the details asked in the questions. Since these questions are extremely difficult, it’s crucial that you find enough time for test prep. Take a look at the following tips for this question type and a sample problem below.

How to Tackle Roman Numeral Questions

  • Read the passage before looking at the question

    Since you’ll be asked multiple questions for each passage, make sure you read the entire passage before looking at a single question. Reading the questions first may mislead you when reading the passage.

  • Take notes

    You have plenty of room in your test booklet to take notes. Make sure you outline main ideas, key points, and any transitions from one idea to another. Transitions or additional supporting evidence will be especially important for Roman numeral questions.

  • Check to see if each Roman numeral detail is in the passage

    Roman numeral questions will ask you to identify if one or more details is in a particular passage. Ensure that you verify and/or eliminate each of the three Roman numerals. After you do this, you’ll be able to find the correct answer choice.

Sample Roman Numeral Question

Keeping these three tips in mind, let’s check out a sample Roman numeral question:

If we compare the flowers of different plants, we shall find almost infinite variety in structure. This variation at first appears to follow no fixed laws, but as we study the matter more thoroughly, we find that these variations are quite significant, and almost without exception have to do with the fertilization of the flower.
In the simpler flowers, such as those of a grass or rush, the flowers are extremely inconspicuous and very simple. In such plants, the pollen is conveyed from the male flowers to the female by the wind, and so this can occur easily—the former are usually placed above the latter so that these are dusted with the pollen whenever the plant is shaken by the wind.
If we watch any bright-colored or sweet-scented flower for any length of time, we can hardly fail to observe the visits of insects to it, searching for pollen or honey and attracted to the flower by its bright color or sweet smell. In its visits from flower to flower, the insect is almost certain to transfer part of the pollen carried off from one flower to the stigma of another, either of the same or a different kind, thus effecting pollination.
The fertilization of a flower by pollen from another flower is better for the flower than self-fertilization is. This has been shown by many careful experiments which show that the number of seeds is nearly always greater and the quality better where cross-fertilization has taken place than where the flower is fertilized by its own pollen. From these experiments, as well as from very numerous studies on the structure of the flower and on the insect’s role in fertilization, we can reach the conclusion that all bright-colored flowers are, to a great extent, dependent upon insect aid for transferring the pollen from one flower to another, and that many are perfectly incapable of self-fertilization. In fact, these flowers usually have effective preventives for avoiding self-fertilization.
Each flower, then, has found the optimum way to ensure the survival of its species.
As it is described in the passage, fertilization occurs between:
I.  Parts of the same flower
II.  Parts of different flowers
III.  Parts of different species

  1. I only.
  2. II only.
  3. I and II.
  4. I, II, and III.


Now, we have to figure out if I, II, and III are ways fertilization occurs according to the passage. Can parts of the same flower fertilize itself? In the fourth paragraph, there’s mention of “self-fertilization,” so it appears a flower can fertilize itself. Can parts of different flowers fertilize each other? Yes, they can, either with the help of the wind (paragraph 2) or with the help of insects (paragraphs 3 and 4). Since both I and II are ways fertilization can occur, we can eliminate both A and B as the correct answers. Now, can fertilization occur between parts of different species? Remember that the passage has to state this fact, and it doesn’t. It mentions insects going flower to flower, but it doesn’t say that the flowers are different species. That means the correct answer is C) I and II.