Fine-tuning Won't Add New Knowledge To Your Model

Learn why you should not fine-tune a model to add new knowledge to it, and what's the right approach for that.

Fine-tuning Won't Add New Knowledge To Your Model

One question I often hear during project sales is, "Can we use our knowledge base to fine-tune a model and build a chatbot that can answer questions about it?"

The answer is no. I mean, you can, but it won't accomplish what you're trying to do.

Fine-tuning isn't meant to add new information to your model. It's meant to change how your model behaves. Typical use cases of fine-tuning include:

  • Ensuring the model responds in a specific way
  • Learning to generate complex outputs, like in tasks that currently require a chain of prompts.

In addition, fine-tuning might reduce the number of tokens you need and/or the latency of a request for many use cases.

So, what should you do?

To add new knowledge to a model you need to use Retrieval-augmented Generation (RAG). It doesn't actually add new knowledge per se. Instead, it provides relevant information to the model in the prompt used in the request. Then, the model uses that data to respond to the user's query.

Because this question keeps coming up, I decided to write some sample code to demonstrate the difference. Here's what I did:

  1. Created a synthetic dataset with information for the model to "store."
  2. Fine-tuned a model using that dataset.
  3. Built a small RAG pipeline with the same dataset.
  4. Asked both the fine-tuned model and the RAG pipeline + vanilla model questions from the dataset.
  5. Compared the accuracy of both models.

Let's dive in.

Fine-tuning vs. RAG

For the first step, I generated a synthetic dataset with the population of fake cities as follows:

import json
import random


scenarios = [
        "messages": [
            {"role": "system", "content": "You're a helpful assistant"},
            {"role": "user", "content": f"What is the population of City_{i}?"},
            {"role": "assistant", "content": f"City_{i} has about {random.randint(100000, 10000000)} inhabitants."}
    } for i in range(1, 101)

jsonl_data = "\n".join(json.dumps(scenario) for scenario in scenarios)

with open("cities_population.jsonl", "w") as f:

This code follows the format defined by OpenAI for fine-tuning, creating 100 fake cities with random population values.


Using that dataset, I fine-tuned gpt-3.5-turbo:

import json

from dotenv import load_dotenv

load_dotenv() # to load OPENAI_API_KEY

from openai import OpenAI

client = OpenAI()

# Upload file
  file=open("cities_population.jsonl", "rb"),

# Start fine-tuning (use FILE_ID returned after uploading the file)

This code loads the OPENAI_API_KEY to the environment (it should be in an .env file), then uploads the file with the fake cities, and starts the fine-tuning.

This will take a few minutes. After it's over, you can try the model by copying the model ID in Fine-tuning:

And running this code:

response =
  model=<MODEL_ID>, # replace MODEL_ID to the id you got from the UI
    {"role": "system", "content": "You are a helpful assistant."},
    {"role": "user", "content": "What is the population of City_1?"},

Next, I built a simple RAG pipeline.


I set up a ChromaDB client and add data the I generated earlier to it, to use in the RAG pipeline:

import json
import chromadb

chroma = chromadb.Client()
chroma_collection = chroma.create_collection("rag")

with open("cities_population.jsonl", "r") as f:
    jsonl_data =

data = []
for row in jsonl_data.split("\n"):

assistant_responses = []
ids = []
for i, message in enumerate(data):


This function creates a new collection called rag in Chroma (and deletes it if it already existed), and adds the messages with the responses (i.e., "City_2 has a population of 580000 inhabitants").

Comparing results

Then, I created a few utility functions to retrieve answers from the RAG pipeline and the fine-tuned model. Using these functions, I wrote a piece of code to get answers to the same question. Here's what I did:

comparisons = []
for i, row in enumerate(data):
    question = row[1]["content"]
    documents = chroma_collection.query(
    response_comparison = {
        "response_model_ft": get_finetuned_answer(question),
        "response_model_rag": get_rag_answer(question, documents, "gpt-3.5-turbo-1106"),
        "answer": row[2]["content"],
        "question": question,
    print(i, response_comparison)

This generated a structure as follows with the answers:

{'response_model_ft': 'City_1 has about 6476472 inhabitants.', 'response_model_rag': 'City_1 has about 1967825 inhabitants.', 'answer': 'City_1 has about 1967825 inhabitants.', 'question': 'What is the population of City_1?'}

Then, it was easy to extract the responses and check whether they were correct:

import re

def extract_number(text):
    matches = re.findall(r"\s(\d+)", text)
    if len(matches) == 0:
        return None
        return int(matches[0])

correct_ft = 0
correct_rag = 0
for comparison in comparisons:
    ft_number = extract_number(comparison["response_model_ft"])
    rag_number = extract_number(comparison["response_model_rag"])
    answer_number = extract_number(comparison["answer"])
    print(ft_number, rag_number, answer_number)

    if ft_number == answer_number:
        correct_ft += 1
    if rag_number == answer_number:
        correct_rag += 1

print("Accuracy FT:", correct_ft / len(comparisons))
print("Accuracy RAG:", correct_rag / len(comparisons))

After running this code with the data I generated earlier, I got these results:

  • Fine-tuned model accuracy: 0%
  • RAG + vanilla model accuracy: 95%

It seems very clear: fine-tuning doesn't add new knowledge to your model. It's worth noting that the RAG's accuracy could probably be increased to 100% on this dataset, but the 95 percentage point difference feels like enough enough to prove my point 😄

You can check the code for this article on GitHub.