I'm making a binary classification model using gradient boosting (lightgbm). I usually use learning curves to check if my model is overfitting. The metric I'm using is sklearn's average precision-recall score.

When use the default model parameters parameters, I get a test metric of 0.69 but when I look at the learning curve there is a large difference between the train and validation scores with iteration number (as shown in first image).

enter image description here

Usually, when this happens, I would reduce model complexity. In this case I reduced max_depth, num_leaves and max_bin. The learning curve is shown below, but its test score is 0.63.

Less complex model

My question is, which is the better model. The one with best test score that looks overfit or the one with similar learning curves?

  • $\begingroup$ The one with similar curves. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2018 at 10:29
  • $\begingroup$ How have you come to this conclusion? $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2018 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ Because there is less overfitting going on in the second image, in the first image there is some major overfitting going on, even though the test score is slightly higher here. How did you get these scores (CV, test set)? $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2018 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ train, validation, test procedure $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2018 at 12:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I have noticed that but the lightgbm documentation says it does. lightgbm.readthedocs.io/en/latest/Parameters-Tuning.html $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2018 at 12:23

2 Answers 2


One recommendation: look at the distribution of your scores and add confidence intervals to your curves. This may help to contextualize whether the 0.69 score you're getting in model A test is really higher from the 0.63 model B test score. If there's enough variation in your scores, this difference may not be meaningful.

Otherwise, you could argue that model A is a bit more performant than model B, BUT, you could also argue that model A is less adept at pinpointing the "true" patterns in your data. In other words, model B is probably better at explaining what's going on, whereas model A has probably picked up on a lot of patterns/noise that you don't care about.

Having said that, it somewhat depends on what your goals. Are you in a situation where it's a priority to have a model that is closer to understanding what's going on your idea, even if it takes a small hit in performance? Or is eking out performance the priority, even if your model has misinterpreted the signal? I think most people would go with a model that has a better idea of what it's doing, ie model B, but there are some circles where performance is everything (not weighing on whether this is valid) and model A would be chosen. Just be aware, model A is something of a wild card - you don't know what patterns it has latched on to, and it's not unreasonable to say that model A could perform a lot worse in the real world relative to model B.

params = {}
params['learning_rate'] = 0.2
params['boosting_type'] = 'goss'
params['objective'] = 'multiclassova'
params['metric'] = ['multi_error', 'multi_logloss']
params['sub_feature'] = 0.8
params['num_leaves'] = 15
params['min_data'] = 600
params['tree_learner'] = 'voting'
params['bagging_freq'] = 3
params['num_class'] = 3
params['max_depth'] = -1
params['max_bin'] = 512
params['verbose'] = -1
params['is_unbalance'] = True
#params['lambda_l2'] = 60

aa = lgb.train(params,
               init_model = aa,
               valid_sets=[d_train, d_test],
               early_stopping_rounds = 2000,   

Here above is an example from my codes. By feeding verbose_eval = 10, you will be able to print the loss metric of both the training and the test sets at every 10 iterations. You will see the point where your test loss does not decrease anymore, and afterwhile it increases, starting to overfit. Do not compare two with their loss numerically, they can differ. Moreover, by early_stopping_rounds you can make your algorithm automatically stop at a point where your loss stops decreasing. Moreover, you can plot the training and test losses that evals_result has recorded for you per iteration to see how your test losses behave in time:

lgb.plot_metric(evals_result, metric='multi_error')

lgb.plot_metric(evals_result, metric='multi_logloss')

Note: LightGBM allows us to use more than one metric, it is usually wise to monitor multiple rather than observing one. For example, multi_logloss can still keep decreasing, where multi_error starts to increase, from experience.

  • $\begingroup$ I use early stopping. The point is on the test set (separate to train and validation) the overfit performs better. I'm not sure which is the better model, the one that is best on unseen data or the one where train and validation are closer to each other. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2018 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ I get your point, but that depends on your task or metrics ,or even definition of performing better . For example, I have a LightGBM model same as you where overfit model performs better (less accuracy and precision as metric) but does better what I want to do. Rather than getting the fit point, you may train at small N iterations and retrain the same model. between N iterations you can check your model, if it is doing what you need, or where it is going. Also, you can find a better metric. For some tasks, classic interpretations can be useless, or deceiving. $\endgroup$
    – Ugur MULUK
    Nov 30, 2018 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ Just a little addition, we may want slightly overfit models, since our performance may depend on catching some of the outlier data as well, while not too much concentrating on them. Still depending on the task, you may want to catch only extreme points as the task which have strong deviation from the distribution, then you need completely overfit model. This field of science has some ill-defined parts, involving abstractness. $\endgroup$
    – Ugur MULUK
    Nov 30, 2018 at 12:21

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