Scaling Laws for Downstream Task Performance of Large Language Models


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Scaling laws provide important insights that can guide the design of large language models (LLMs). Existing work has primarily focused on studying scaling laws for pretraining (upstream) loss. However, in transfer learning settings, in which LLMs are pretrained on an unsupervised dataset and then finetuned on a downstream task, we often also care about the downstream performance. In this work, we study the scaling behavior in a transfer learning setting, where LLMs are finetuned for machine translation tasks. Specifically, we investigate how the choice of the pretraining data and its size affect downstream performance (translation quality) as judged by two metrics: downstream cross-entropy and BLEU score. Our experiments indicate that the size of the finetuning dataset and the distribution alignment between the pretraining and downstream data significantly influence the scaling behavior. With sufficient alignment, both downstream cross-entropy and BLEU score improve monotonically with more pretraining data. In such cases, we show that it is possible to predict the downstream BLEU score with good accuracy using a log-law. However, there are also cases where moderate misalignment causes the BLEU score to fluctuate or get worse with more pretraining, whereas downstream cross-entropy monotonically improves. By analyzing these observations, we provide new practical insights for choosing appropriate pretraining data.
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