The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Easy Training Data for Hard Tasks


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How can we train models to perform well on hard test data when hard training data is by definition difficult to label correctly? This question has been termed the scalable oversight problem and has drawn increasing attention as language models have continually improved. In this paper, we present the surprising conclusion that current language models often generalize relatively well from easy to hard data, even performing as well as "oracle" models trained on hard data. We demonstrate this kind of easy-to-hard generalization using simple training methods like in-context learning, linear classifier heads, and QLoRA for seven different measures of datapoint hardness, including six empirically diverse human hardness measures (like grade level) and one model-based measure (loss-based). Furthermore, we show that even if one cares most about model performance on hard data, it can be better to collect and train on easy data rather than hard data, since hard data is generally noisier and costlier to collect. Our experiments use open models up to 70b in size and four publicly available question-answering datasets with questions ranging in difficulty from 3rd grade science questions to college level STEM questions and general-knowledge trivia. We conclude that easy-to-hard generalization in LMs is surprisingly strong for the tasks studied, suggesting the scalable oversight problem may be easier than previously thought. Our code is available at
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