Unsupervised Contrast-Consistent Ranking with Language Models



Language models contain ranking-based knowledge and are powerful solvers of in-context ranking tasks. For instance, they may have parametric knowledge about the ordering of countries by size or may be able to rank reviews by sentiment. Recent work focuses on pairwise, pointwise, and listwise prompting techniques to elicit a language model’s ranking knowledge. However, we find that even with careful calibration and constrained decoding, prompting-based techniques may not always be self-consistent in the rankings they produce. This motivates us to explore an alternative approach that is inspired by an unsupervised probing method called Contrast-Consistent Search (CCS). The idea is to train a probing model guided by a logical constraint: a model’s representation of a statement and its negation must be mapped to contrastive true-false poles consistently across multiple statements. We hypothesize that similar constraints apply to ranking tasks where all items are related via consistent pairwise or listwise comparisons. To this end, we extend the binary CCS method to Contrast-Consistent Ranking (CCR) by adapting existing ranking methods such as the Max-Margin Loss, Triplet Loss, and Ordinal Regression objective. Our results confirm that, for the same language model, CCR probing outperforms prompting and even performs on a par with prompting much larger language models.