Symbolic Chain-of-Thought Distillation: Small Models Can Also "Think" Step-by-Step


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Chain-of-thought prompting (e.g., "Let's think step-by-step") primes large language models to verbalize rationalization for their predictions. While chain-of-thought can lead to dramatic performance gains, benefits appear to emerge only for sufficiently large models (beyond 50B parameters). We show that orders-of-magnitude smaller models (125M -- 1.3B parameters) can still benefit from chain-of-thought prompting. To achieve this, we introduce Symbolic Chain-of-Thought Distillation (SCoTD), a method to train a smaller student model on rationalizations sampled from a significantly larger teacher model. Experiments across several commonsense benchmarks show that: 1) SCoTD enhances the performance of the student model in both supervised and few-shot settings, and especially for challenge sets; 2) sampling many reasoning chains per instance from the teacher is paramount; and 3) after distillation, student chain-of-thoughts are judged by humans as comparable to the teacher, despite orders of magnitude fewer parameters. We test several hypotheses regarding what properties of chain-of-thought samples are important, e.g., diversity vs. teacher likelihood vs. open-endedness. We release our corpus of chain-of-thought samples and code.
small models,chain-of-thought,step-by-step
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