Amazon MTurk — Everything You Need to Know

woman at home on her computer

Flamingo Images / Adobe Stock

Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine
If you’re looking for simple, non-time-consuming tasks to earn you money, you’re living in the right era. Paid crowdsourcing is a relatively easy way to augment your income. You’ve probably heard of—and may have used—services like TaskRabbit, in which people request tasks like errands, furniture assemblage, and plumbing and pay “Taskers” to complete them.
But what if manual labor isn’t really your thing? If you prefer complete small tasks from the privacy of your own home, MTurk may be the service for you. Run by Amazon, MTurk “aims to make accessing human intelligence simple, scalable, and cost-effective,” according to the website. Is MTurk the right opportunity for you? Read on to learn about the platform and how “Workers” rate their experiences.

What is MTurk?

Amazon Mechanical Turk describes itself as “a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence.” That means it includes tasks that a computer wouldn’t be able to complete—or at least not as well as a human can. Businesses or people, “Requesters,” submit tasks, called Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs), they need to be completed. These are small jobs, most of which don’t require special skills or know-how, such as surveys, data entry, and audio transcriptions.

As a Worker, you can select for the jobs you want to complete on a job board. The Requester may filter for certain Workers (such as Masters, who are highly-rated Workers who have completed a good deal of quality work) or ask you to take a qualifying exam before allowing you to work on the project. When you complete the HIT and submit it, the Requester will review your work. She may reject “incorrect” work that is not up to her standards, which means you won’t be paid for the HIT. For high-quality work that goes above and beyond, the Requester may elect to give you a bonus.
The pay varies based on the business and task. Some people report making up to $8 per hour, while in many cases, the rate is closer to $6 per hour. For the most part, you’ll be paid based on a unit of the task you're completing. For instance, you might be paid $1 or 50 cents to complete a survey.

How to get started on Amazon Mechanical Turk

It’s pretty easy to set up an account on MTurk. Start by going to the main MTurk page and click Get Started with Mechanical MTurk.

You’ll be asked whether you want to create a Requester or Worker account. Choose Worker (unless you’re looking for Workers to complete tasks for you).

Next, you’ll be prompted to create an account. You’ll fill out basic information, include your name, address, and phone number. You’ll also be asked how you learned about MTurk and your primary reason for using the service, which you’ll choose from a list. Then click Create Account.

Once your account is approved, you’ll be able to go to your Worker account, which will open to a job board of HITs.

On the top bar, you’ll also see your Dashboard, which shows you the status of your HITs, earnings available for transfer, your HIT approval and rejection numbers and percentages, earnings to date, and earnings by period.

On the Qualifications page, you’ll see your HIT abandonment, approval, rejection, return, and submissions rates, along with your total approved HITs. To accept a HIT, you can click on a task on the HITs page, read the description, and click Accept & Work. Some tasks will require you to qualify first (these often pay better than those that don’t), which usually requires you to take a short test. The description will also include time allotted, which is the amount of time you’ll be given to work on the task.

You can have your money transferred to your bank account through an automatic bank transfer or receive it as an Amazon gift card balance.

MTurk Glossary

MTurk has its own special lingo. Some terms are created by Amazon, while others are slang words or phrases developed by the MTurk community. Here are some important terms to learn:
• Assignment: A task a Requester submits to multiple Workers to check for the accuracy of the responses
• Dashboard: Includes Worker-specific information such as HIT statistics and open HITs
• Human Intelligence Task (HIT): An individual task a Requester creates for a Worker to complete
• Qualification Types: A filtering system that allows Requesters to specify that they are looking for Workers who, for instance, have a certain percentage of approvals for a certain number of tasks (Note: Requesters may create their own filtering systems)
Masters: Workers who have “demonstrated superior performance” on thousands of tasks for a wide range of requesters
• Queue: The batch of HITs you have accepted and still need to submit
• Requester: The person or business who creates a task
• Reward: The money a Requester pays to the Worker after the Worker satisfactorily completes a HIT
• Worker: The person completing a HIT

How to make money on MTurk

Since the pay is low on MTurk, you’re going to have to work hard and often to make any kind of meaningful profit. This could be difficult if you’re earning your entire income from the service; many people use it to supplement another regular income. Not only will you generally be working well below minimum wage, but you’ll also have to keep in mind that you’ll pay taxes on your MTurk income as well.
That said, some Workers fare better than others. Here are some tips for maximizing your MTurk income:

1. Stay involved in the MTurk community and forums.

You can learn tips and tricks, receive advice on specific offers or in general, and discuss problems, how-tos, and other aspects of MTurk with fellow workers on forums like Reddit. There are also several MTurk-dedicated forums such as TurkerNation and MTurk Forum. Staying active in these forums, asking questions, and bouncing ideas off of fellow workers will keep you apprised of potential HITs and allow you to learn you can maximize your use of MTurk—and earn the most money possible.

2. Be picky about the rate of pay, not the type of activity.

The more tedious, undesirable tasks are often higher-paying than the fun ones. In order to be successful in earning money on MTurk, you’re going to have to take on more annoying tasks. Meanwhile, the low-paying tasks, those that pay one or two cents, aren’t going to make you much money.

3. Work quickly but thoughtfully.

In order to make any significant earnings, you’ll have to work quickly, since you’re making very little money per task. However, if you don’t complete a task correctly, it can be rejected by the Requester, which means you won’t get paid. Your quality score will decrease if you receive a number of rejections, which affects which HITs you’ll be able to complete. That means you have to be diligent. You should also be careful to read the instructors thoroughly before accepting a task, because if you find you want to “return” a task without completing it, your hit return rate will be affected, and that will limit the number of Requesters who want you to work for them.

4. Weed out scammers and low payers.

Many workers recommend installing the Turkopticon script or extension (depending on which browser you’re using) to immediately know whether a requester is worth your time. Some, for example, may reject work that should be up to par or simply pay poorly. The toolbar allows you to see reviews from other workers before you accept a HIT. The newer version, Turkopticon 2 Beta, allows you to see worker reviews of the specific HIT in which you are interested.
Keep in mind that if any requester asks you for personal or financial information, it’s a scam. Real requesters won’t ask for this information.

MTurk Reviews

Reviews from Workers vary in terms of how much success users found on the site. In general, reviewers appreciate the flexibility the site affords in terms of being able to choose the tasks you want to complete from the comfort of your own home but find the low pay a challenge. A Fairygodboss reviewer, for example, praises the ability MTurk allows Workers to “work from home when you want” but notes that you’ll only earn “small pocket money.”
The lack of pay is a common complaint.  One Indeed reviewer writes, “The wages were way too low for tasks performed.” Another agrees, “Don’t expect to get rich.” Another frequent complaint is that Requesters may reject your work without providing a reason for doing so, which can severely diminish a Worker’s pay after putting in the effort.
One Indeed reviewer notes that learning about the ins and outs of MTurk is crucial to being successful in any way, writing, “You must understand the system to get paid.”

The Bottom Line

Whether MTurk is worth the time and effort depends on your personal situation. In order to turn over a real profit, you’ll have to be diligent and work hard. Despite the fact that the labor is largely unskilled, you do have to put effort into your tasks, or else you risk not being paid for your work. For people who want to make a little extra cash, MTurk can be a good means of supplementing your income. Since you can work from home, you’ll enjoy a flexible schedule and can work at your convenience. However, people who hope to use the platform to support themselves completely may be disappointed in the low pay.
In today’s gig economy, more and more workers are performing a range of jobs and often working from home. For more resources to help you find jobs that support a work-from-home lifestyle, read How to Find Remote Jobs: 31 Places to Look.