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Chain of Thought Prompting

by Stephen M. Walker II, Co-Founder / CEO

What is Chain of Thought reasoning?

Chain of thought or reasoning is a sequential process of understanding or decision-making that connects the ideas or arguments in a structured manner. It begins with an initial thought, leading to a series of logically connected ideas, and ends with a final conclusion. This reasoning process includes analysis, evaluation, and synthesis of information, and it is fundamental to problem-solving, decision-making, and critical thinking. The strength of the chain of thought depends on the quality and relevance of each link within the chain. Frequently, visual tools like flowcharts or diagrams are used to illustrate this chain of thought for better understanding.

How does Chain of Thought Prompting work?

Chain of thought prompting in Machine Learning refers to the process of guiding a machine learning model through a series of related prompts to generate more coherent and contextually relevant outputs. This process can significantly enhance the performance of machine learning models as it provides them with a structured way to generate outputs.

Chain-of-Thought (CoT) prompting is a technique that enhances the reasoning capabilities of large language models (LLMs). It guides the LLM to think step by step, providing a few-shot exemplar that outlines the reasoning process. The model is then expected to follow a similar chain of thought when answering the prompt.

Understanding Chain-of-Thought Prompting

CoT prompting is particularly effective for complex tasks that require a series of reasoning steps before a response can be generated. It has been found to significantly improve the model's performance on tasks that require arithmetic, commonsense, and symbolic reasoning.

For instance, consider a task where the model is asked to determine whether the odd numbers in a group add up to an even number. A CoT prompt would guide the model to first identify the odd numbers, then add them up, and finally determine whether the sum is even or odd.

Zero-Shot CoT Prompting

CoT prompting can also be used in a zero-shot setting. This involves adding a phrase like "Let's think step by step" to the original prompt, which can also be used alongside few-shot prompting. This simple addition has been found to be effective at improving the model's performance on tasks where there are not many examples to use in the prompt.

Automatic Chain-of-Thought (Auto-CoT)

While CoT prompting can be effective, it often involves hand-crafting examples, which can be time-consuming and may lead to suboptimal solutions. To address this, researchers have proposed an approach known as Automatic Chain-of-Thought (Auto-CoT). This method leverages LLMs to generate reasoning chains for demonstrations automatically, thereby eliminating the need for manual effort.

Limitations and Future Research

Despite its advantages, CoT prompting has its limitations. For instance, smaller models have been found to produce illogical chains of thought, leading to lower accuracy than standard prompting. Future research will likely focus on refining this technique and exploring ways to make it more effective across a wider range of tasks and model sizes.


Chain-of-Thought prompting represents a significant advancement in the field of artificial intelligence, particularly in enhancing the reasoning capabilities of Large Language Models. By encouraging these models to explain their reasoning process, CoT prompting has shown promise in improving performance on complex tasks. While the technique has its limitations, it opens up exciting possibilities for the future of LLMs.

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